At a time when trafficking of women and children continues to be a major concern for policy makers in West Bengal, activists have launched a signature campaign highlighting the need for a legislation to curb the activities of illegal placement agencies operating in the State.
Activists cite instances of Chhattisgarh and Delhi where mechanism to regulate activities of placements firms have been introduced in recent past. Chhattishgarh, a State with significant tribal population, where migration and trafficking is common, has recently framed rules under the Private Placement Agencies (Regulation) Act passed by the State Assembly.
In the Capital after the intervention of the Delhi High Court, a notification was issued in September 2014 which provides for compulsory registration of private placement agencies operating there within 30 days.
“We urge the State Government to regulate the placement agencies operating here, form a committee to verify credentials of all placement agencies, define rights of domestic workers and ban employment of children by the placement agencies,” Rishi Kant, an activist with NGO Shakti Vahini told The Hindu.
Pointing out that the campaign has been endorsed by over 4,000 people on different social networking sites, Mr. Rishi Kant said the campaign is aimed to complement schemes like Kanyashree Prakalpa, a scholarship scheme started by the State government aimed at reducing drop out of young girls.
A compilation of the signatures will be presented to the State Department of Women and Child Development, Mr. Rishi Kant said.
Vinod Kumar Tikoo, a former member of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, also supported the initiative. Mr. Tikoo, who has worked in Chhattisgarh and Bengal, said that in certain rural areas of Chhattisgarh there were graffitis by a number of placement agencies.
RAIPUR: She may not be a decorated encounter cop or a trained undercover agent, but she displayed unusual grit and gumption to bust organised trafficking rings at vulnerable patches of Delhi to earn the sobriquet of Chhattisgarh’s ‘Mardani’. After nabbing 15 traffickers and rescuing 20 missing children from Delhi’s hellholes, she’s become a blockbuster star in the state.
In a cat-and-mouse chase with entrenched child traffickers and prostitution kingpins, it was a mindboggling race through maze of accomplices for sub-inspector Mallika Banerjee of the anti-human trafficking cell. And she played a role of a super cop in a bigger-than-life rerun of the Bollywood thriller Mardani in real life.
Disguised as salesgirl, selling body massagers on the street, facing life threats and spurning big bribe money to withdraw investigation, SI Mallika Banerjee, 30, struggled to meet Supreme Court deadline to trace missing children. When she began her Mission Delhi, she only had a tip-off. She shares with TOI how a small rescue operation turned into a month-long gruelling mission.
“On reaching Delhi on November 13 with a five-member team, I had to raid placement agencies of Nirmala and Guddu at Motinagar and Shakurpur. As it was part of protocol to conduct simultaneous raids, we needed to do recce, gather intelligence and keep vigil outside their offices,” Mallika said.
Meanwhile, kingpin Guddu got a wind of raids and released two kids of Bagbahar region and sent them back with four agents. She suspected involvement of Delhi police for tipping off Guddu on raids. But Mallika was constantly keeping watch and kept Jashpur SP, Jitendra Meena in the loop. “We rescued two kids and arrested four agents from a train on Ambikapur-Sitapur stretch.”
While Nirmala was an easy catch, documents seized from her office revealed that children were sold for Rs 30000-35000 with monthly fixed payment of Rs 5000.
From Guddu’s office, Mallika rescued a 12-year-old girl of Jharkhand who was locked in a dank room. Surveillance of Guddu’s phone showed he was in Champaran in Bihar. He had wriggled out of clutches of police .
“It was 12.40 am when I received an anonymous threat call, asking me to leave Delhi. ‘Madam, aap muje nahi jante, meri pahunch mantriyon tak hai. Mahila ho, nikal lo, warna aapke saath kya hoga aap soch nahi sakti’ (You have no idea I am in touch with influential persons and politicians, better leave the place or be ready for the worst),” the caller said.
Mallika was unfazed, persistent. She called Guddu again and finally the call went through. She persuaded him to meet her and help find few missing children, assuring him he won’t be touched. Guddu returned from his Bihar hideout and called her. They were to meet at a parking lot at Daryaganj.
Mallika’s team was prepared in civil dress when Guddu’s aide approached Mallika and said “Guddu is innocent, stop chasing him.” Guddu suddenly appeared from shadows with a cash-loaded briefcase and offered Rs 10 lakh. “Take this and leave. I will handle other senior officers,” Guddu told Mallika. The cops in civvies pounced upon him and arrested him. Guddu had been trafficking children from several states since 2001.
Sales Girl Disguise
Hunting down Hamida, another trafficker, was the toughest. Mallika disguised as a sales girl, sold body massagers at Aman Vihar area for five days. She gathered inputs from households and finally zeroed in on Hamida’s hideout.
“I made excuses, asked for water to get inside her home and arrested her with documents of girls trafficked. Several arrests followed,” said Mallika. It was first experience for this woman officer in tough situations, saying she suddenly felt more connected to those innocent kids.
Jashpur superintendent of police Jitendra Meena said, “Meticulous planning, multiple recces and technical support were required. The operation was closely monitored by us and every success boosted team’s confidence.”
Delhi based NGO Shakti Vahini that supported the mission right from first day said, “AHTU in Chhattisgarh led by ADG Rajeev Srivastava and OSD PN Tiwari certainly create a forward impact on action against child trafficking, as they assure proper training to officials like Mallika who perform courageously even in odd situations.”
Two minor girls reportedly brought to Faridabad some days ago and allegedly sold for Rs 30,000 to a resident as domestic helpers have been rescued. The girls, one of whom is a Bangladeshi national and the other is from West Bengal, have been lodged at a protection home.The girls, aged around 14 years, were allegedly sold as housemaids by a trafficker to the owner of a house in sector 16 here recently. They managed to escape from the house on Wednesday night.
While they reportedly tried to hide behind a vehicle parked near the main market, taxi driver Raju spotted them and asked them about their identity. Raju informed NGO Shakti Vahini whose representatives took the girls to the police station where their statement was recorded. While one of them said she was brought here from West Bengal’s 24 Parganas district on the promise of suitable employment, the other was from a village near the Bangladesh border.
Her exact address is yet to be ascertained.“We have traced the parents of the girl who is from West Bengal and have asked them to come here to get their daughter’s custody,” said Rishikant of Shakti Vahini. Stating that Childline, another NGO, had also played a vital role in the girls’ rescue, he said both would stay at a protection home till their repatriation.
A medical test has been ordered to detect the correct age of both girls. The district child welfare committee has asked the police to lodge a FIR.Though this is perhaps the first such case this year in the district, two victims of trafficking – including a 10-year-old girl — were rescued from Rohtak and Faridabad last December. At least four other trafficked victims were rescued from other parts of the state in the past year.
Business in brides is booming in north-west India as a result of female foeticide, but the women bought and sold are often trapped in lives of slavery and abuse
Just 90 minutes’ drive from the thriving city of Gurgaon, near Delhi, a business hub in India and home to corporate giants Google and Microsoft, Hari Singh Yadav, landowner, farmer and eldest of seven brothers sits outside his front door and bemoans his bachelor status.
“There are not enough girls from my caste in our village, and I’m already 34 years old, so now no one wants to marry me,” he says. Only three of his brothers have found wives. “Here, if you don’t marry, people shun you. I want to go to [the southern city of] Hyderabad and get a wife but it will cost $1,500. Will you loan it to me?”
In the north-west of India, the business in brides is booming. Skewed sex ratios in states including Haryana, where there are only 830 girls for every 1,000 boys(pdf) and young women being lured away to jobs in India’s booming cities, means men like Yadav are increasingly left with few options when it comes to finding a wife.
“Among land-owning castes in rural areas, female foeticide is rampant because people bitterly oppose laws which say girls should inherit equally,” said Reena Kukreja, who teaches gender studies at Queens University in Ontario, Canada. “So they make sure daughters are never born.”
Nearly 50 years after the introduction of ultrasound technology, which campaigners say has led to the sex-selective termination of up to 10 million healthy female foetuses, families in search of wives are increasingly turning to traffickers to counter their sons’ diminishing marriage prospects.
There are no official statistics on trafficked and migrant brides in India, but according to a survey conducted across 1,300 villages in Haryana and Rajasthan by Queens University, there has been a 30% increase over the past three years in the numbers of women lured or coerced into marriage.
The UN Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has identified organised bride trafficking rings increasingly operating in Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, where gender ratios are among the least balanced in the country. A 2013 UNODC report (pdf) cites a survey of 92 villages in Haryana which shows that in 10,000 households, 9,000 married women had been bought from poor villages in other states.
The business of bride trafficking is proving so lucrative that local people are setting themselves up as dealers or brokers, sourcing women for families seeking partners for their sons.
Bashir, who refused to give his surname, is from Tijara in the north-western state of Rajasthan. He used to make his living harvesting crops or quarrying rocks. Now he supplements his meagre income by travelling to Assam twice a year – with his own purchased wife – to bring back brides for local village families.
“We tell them they’ll get good husbands here. We pay the families $70-100 [£45-65],” Bashir says, sitting outside his family home. “It’s a community service. We are poor, they are poor, so it’s a win-win situation.”
Yet the reality of these marriages for women bought and sold as brides is often a life of slavery and abuse. The UNODC says thousands of these women are raped, abused, used as domestic slaves and often eventually abandoned.
Sahiba was only 16 when a distant relative told her family in Assam that he could marry the poor teenager into a good home. He took her away, raped her twice and sold her as a bride to a family in Palwal, Haryana, 60km from the Indian capital Delhi. “I didn’t want to be raped again, so I went along with it,” she says. “And I thought it was a real marriage.”
She later discovered from her sister-in law that she had been bought for 13,500 rupees (£135) for her mentally ill husband, whom the family thought no one else would marry. “My blood began to boil and I decided to escape,” Sahiba says. “When I refused to sleep with my new husband, I was beaten and attacked with a knife. ‘We bought you,’ his family told me. ‘You have to obey.’”
Shafiq ur-Rehman is an activist and founder of Empower People, a charity that works with trafficked brides in 10 Indian states, including Haryana, where his offices have been set on fire and his employees shot at by locals. He says women who are bought and sold into marriage are often used as unpaid labourers. “It’s simple economics,” he says. “A local day labourer costs $140 for a season. But a girl only costs $100 for life. If it doesn’t work out, she can be resold and there’s no family nearby to help her. It’s no different from the former slave plantations of the US.”
Ghaushia Khan, 40, an activist, was sold into marriage in Haryana as a young woman and now provides legal aid to other trafficked brides. She says that, once sold, many women are considered worthless by the community they find themselves in. “In 1992, a [trafficked bride] in my neighbourhood was doused in kerosene and burnt alive,” Khan says. “Her skin began to peel off and I would hear her crying out, ‘please give me water’.”
Khan travels throughout Haryana trying to help these brides get access to legal support and assistance. She says few of the women she encounters are prepared to go to the police because they believe that, far from delivering justice, a complaint will leave them further isolated.
Some women, like Farida, have spent decades in villages far away from their families. Only 11 when, 20 years ago, she was sold to a 70-year-old man, her first experience of marriage was rape and violence. She gave birth to the first of seven children soon after. “That same day, I was ordered to get up and cook for everyone,” says Farida.
What is most painful, she says, is that her children have been taught to hate her. “My eldest son says to his grandmother, ‘Why don’t we sell her on? There are many others like her,’” she says. “What can I do? I don’t think I’ll ever see my sister again. I don’t even remember how to get back home.”
Others, like Sahiba, have managed to escape their marriages. Sahiba’s brother spent months tracking her down with the help of lawyers and activists with the Delhi-based Save the Childhood Movement. However, the chances of Sahiba getting any kind of justice or compensation are slim. Save the Childhood Movement estimates that, despite thousands of women being affected, there have been only two or three convictions a year for bride trafficking.
“There’s a very low conviction rate in cases of bride trafficking because the law is so fragmented,” says Rakesh Senger, an activist with the organisation. “One section deals with kidnapping, another with trafficking, another with rape, so cases usually took up to five years to prosecute. There is no inter-state police cooperation either, so it’s difficult to get victims to court to testify. However, with the new rape laws, we’re hopeful things will improve as cases have to be tried within a year.”
Ravi Kant, president of Shakti Vahini, one of India’s most high-profile anti-trafficking organisations, agrees. He says that, despite successfully bringing cases of forced labour – where they have prosecuted families for buying women from another state and forcing them into domestic servitude – they have persistently failed to bring cases of bride trafficking to court.
“We’ve tried to prosecute traffickers and men who’ve purchased wives in at least 20 different cases,” Kant says. “They stay in jail for two to three months, get bail and then either the prosecutor doesn’t actively pursue the case, or the victim never testifies because she’s afraid to face her tormentor again. The local police don’t see the accused as having committed any crime, so they don’t investigate properly, and they make no effort to cross state lines to bring victims to court.”
Sahiba’s future remains uncertain. She says that although she has been rescued, the end of her marriage means she can’t go home to her family. “I can’t go back because of the shame of leaving a husband,” she says.
RAIPUR: Chhattisgarh police camping in Delhi for two weeks to traffickers have arrested the mastermind, who is accused of trafficking of over 10,000 minors, mostly tribals, from Chhattisgarh Jharkhand and Assam. Shockingly, the state woman police official leading the team in raids was threatened of dire consequences if she continues the crackdown and also tried bribing her with Rs 10 lakh.
Calling it the biggest breakthrough, state police said that it was for the first time that 15 traffickers and sub-agents were arrested with rescue of 20 minors including boys in series of raids.
Arrested accused Guddu was wanted for 12 cases registered against him for abducting and trafficking of minor children from tribal Jashpur district and many FIRs were lodged against him in other states. Chhattisgarh police were trying to trace him from November 19 after raiding his Guddu placement agency and arresting four other traffickers from there.
Talking to TOI from Delhi, state police officer Mallika Banerjee who’s leading the raids, said that he used to run placement agencies with several other names to play safe and used to mention age above 18 years of all minors he appointed for domestic slavery.
Explaining about how challenging it was to get hold of him, Banerjee said that she was getting continuous threaten from him over phone. “Guddu used to call me midnight, threatening of returning to Chhattisgarh and stop raiding placement agencies. He threatened me of dire consequences claiming that he enjoyed considerable clout in the region. He also tried to lure me and bribe me with Rs 10 lakh to keep mum and return.”
Banerjee said that she was consistent in raids and continued attending his calls to get clue of his locations. “Then I challenged him to meet and discuss the deal on Monday evening. He has brought a briefcase of cash with him and persuaded me but I arrested him then and there,” the police officer said.
The team has seized 700 placement forms from his possession which indicates that there were several more children forced into domestic slavery in Delhi, Jammu, Panipat and parts of Punjab. “Guddu confessed that he was working since 2002 and has trafficked around 10,000 children from several states. We reached him through his sub-agents who were earlier arrested from Jashpur and Delhi. The kids trafficked through Guddu had accused him of beating and thrashing them forcing them to work,” Banerjee added.
Now, police will take him on remand to Chhattisgarh and investigate further based on statements of kids rescued.
Action by Chhattisgarh police in last few days comes in wake of tracing children gone missing between 2011 and May 2014 which turning into an anti-trafficking movement, led to arrest of 15 traffickers and rescue of several children. The chain has been linked and more such arrests are possible in next few days.
Condemning the act of threatening a police officer on duty, Delhi-based NGO Shakti Vahini assisting police in the operation said, “A separate case of threatening a police official on duty should be lodged against Guddu and intense investigation is needed to find out the number of girls he procured from different states.”
New Delhi, Nov. 22: All she remembers is that she was working as a domestic help for about a week in a three-storied house with 10 to 12 members.
Thankfully now, 15-year-old Payel (name changed) is going back home to Khunti, thanks to a couple of Good Samaritans who found her crying on the streets of Mayur Vihar, Delhi, on October 23, battered and bruised, and handed her over to the police.
“It was extremely difficult to trace Payel’s village,” said police sub-inspector Aradhana Singh, head of the anti-trafficking unit in Khunti, who is leading a team from Jharkhand that reached Delhi yesterday to take her back home, along with four other girls who had also been kidnapped from the state.
“She can’t tell the address, but it turns out that her village is in a Maoist-infested hamlet in the interiors of Khunti,” said the policewoman who has pieced together a likely chain of events that led to Payel’s abduction to Delhi.
Payel was at a village fair near her home in Khunti when three women picked her up and put her on a bus to Ranchi.
From there, she was brought to Delhi by train. Days later, she found herself employed as a domestic help in an east Delhi house.
On October 23, a few local residents spotted her on the streets of Mayur Vihar and brought her to the police station from where she was transferred to Snehalaya, a shelter home for girls in north Delhi.
“As a domestic help, Payel was made to do household chores for over 12 hours a day. She was abused and beaten up if she did not follow orders. But she is very confused and, therefore, unable to provide details of the women who had brought her to Delhi,” said Singh.
Based on her conversations with Payel, Singh believes, she was abducted a fortnight before October 23 when she was brought to the Mayur Vihar police station.
Payel, who dropped out of school after her father and siblings died of illness, can’t believe she will be going home. “I want to go to my mother. She is alone there… just like I am here,” she said.
Authorities at Snehalaya, where Payel has been staying for a month, said she keeps to herself. “Most of the time she cries,” said an employee.
Sub-inspector Singh said they had traced four other girls who had been abducted from Jharkhand and had been employed as domestic helps in various parts of Delhi. While two of the girls are from Chaibasa, the others are from Khunti and Gumla.
One of them was brought to Delhi by the network operated by Panna Lal Mahto, a trafficking kingpin who was arrested from Delhi last month.
Now, all of them, including Payel, will be heading for Ranchi on Monday. Their families would be asked to pick them once they reached the state capital, said Singh.
Those working for NGO Shakti Vahini, that helped the police team track the victims in Delhi, rued the fact that trafficking of young tribal girls from Jharkhand was a continuing menace.
“It does not seem the Jharkhand government is serious (about curbing trafficking). Otherwise, the district administrations would be much more vigilant at exit points to keep a check on such cases,” said Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini.
NEW DELHI: Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh have joined 18 other states to empower the Centre to bring a legislation against honour killings, in what could be a turnaround moment for the effort to curb the powers of caste and community bodies which seek to be the final arbiter of social mores and arrogate unto themselves the power of judiciary.
In its affidavit to the Supreme Court the Union law ministry has said besides Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Odisha, Rajasthan,, West Bengal and UTs like Chandigarh, Dadra and Nager Haveli, Daman and Diu, Lakshwadeep and Puducherry, have supported the “Prohibition of interference with the freedom of matrilineal alliances bill.”
Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh — all marked by poor sex ratio and high incidence of gender inequality — have been among the sites of gruesome instances of honour killings in the recent past. For them to sign up to the campaign against honour killings is significant because of the political class’s diffidence thus far about taking on powerful khaps. All the three states opposed an earlier move for a central legislation against against honour killings. In fact the group of ministers set up by UPA on honour killing could barely meet a couple of times in the absence of unanimity on the issue.
The development is also significant because states can be extremely reluctant to delegate their law making powers to the Centre on matters concerning law and order.
Law ministry’s affidavit, comes in response to a writ petition by Shakti Vahini which is scheduled to be heard on November 19.
The proposed bill drafted by the law commission in 2012, was expected to check the high-handed and unwarranted interference by caste assemblies or panchayats with sagotra, inter-caste or inter-religious marriages. In view of the rising number of incidents where young couples were excommunicated, tortured and killed for marrying within the gotra under orders from the Khap panchayats, the law commission recommended a threshold bar on congregation of people for condemning a marriage on the basis that the marriage has dishonoured caste, community or brought disrepute to the family or community concerned.
The penal provision for such unlawful assembly was proposed at imprisonment of six months to a year and a fine of Rs 10,000. The bill elaborated that criminal intimidation of the couple or their families would invite imprisonment ranging between one to seven years and a fine of Rs 30,000. The bill also proposes to make all offences cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable.