Shakti Vahini opposes and condemns the National Commission for Women Chief statement on Legalisation of Prostitution

NCW

New Delhi October 28, 2014 : Shakti Vahini Press Release

Prostitution is Organised Crime and Violation of Fundamental Rights. Trafficking and sexual slavery is worst form of Human Rights Violation. No women joins this inhuman trade out of choice. More then 95% of the women have been trafficked and forced into the sex trade.Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956 criminalises the organised crime of Prostitution.Organised Prostitution creates a demand for young girls for the brothels which is met by trafficking of minor girls from across the Country. .Giving Prostitution a legal status will be giving boost to demand of young minor girls who will be trafficked. In countries where such legalization has happened it has led to exploitation of women and girls and also commodification of women bodies.

There is no doubt that women who have been caught in the sex trade “need access to all Government facilities and schemes and efforts must be made to see that they join the mainstream and are properly rehabilitated. Also those who indulge in this organised crime of human trafficking which leads to kidnapping of young girls from across the country need to be properly punished”.

The sad part is that inspite of various recommendations from the Supreme Court in various cases no geniune efforts have been made by any Government to see that this social malice which results from Organised Crime be eradicated. The statement of the National Commission for Women Chairperson for legalising prostitution is deplorable.
It is time that the Government of India ammends the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act and brings in harsher punishments to the people who are involved in this organised crime.

NCW Chiefs Remarks on Legalization of Prostitution is deplorable

NCW Chiefs Remarks on Legalization of Prostitution is deplorable

The Supreme Court on July 26,2012 had clarified ” The Supreme Court today modified one of its order on welfare and rehabilitation of sex workers on the Centre’s submissions that the last year’s order gave an impression that it seeks to legalize prostitution. Allaying the Centre’s fears that it was giving its seal of approval to prostitution, a special bench of justices Altamas Kabir and Gyan Sudha Misra modified its earlier order, saying “the modification shall not be construed that by this order any encouragement is being given to prostitution.” Modifying its earlier order, the bench clarified that it would only examine the “conditions conducive for sex workers to work with dignity in accordance with provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution.”

The bench stated that it was keen that sex workers should be given opportunity to avail rehabilitation measures of the government and other agencies for them. While adjudicating a petition for rehabilitation of former sex workers, the apex court had on July 19, 2011 framed three terms of reference. Appointing a broad-based panel to look into the matter, the apex court by its July 2011 order had formulated three questions related to prevention of trafficking, rehabilitation of sex workers who wish to leave the sex work and “conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity.”

On the Centre’s submission that the third term gave an impression that prostitution has been sought to be legalised, the apex court modified it to read as “conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution”. “The above modification shall not be construed that by this order any encouragement is being given to prostitution,” the bench added. Justice Sudha had also observed, “While we do not wish to encourage sex trade we would emphasise rehabilitation of sex workers for which we had taken the issue. “We wish to add although the sex workers have right to live with dignity. There has to be collective endeavours by courts and sex workers to give up flesh trade in case they are given alternative platform on employment.”

The Supreme Court in its order dated July 26, 2012 in Budhadev Karmaskar vs State of West Bengal (Criminal Appeal 135 of 2010 ) had clarified:

While concurring with the views of my learned brother Justice Altamas Kabir, I prefer to add in regard to the second issue that this Court should not be misunderstood to encourage the practice of flesh trade or advocate the recognition of sex trade merely because it has raised the issue to emphasize the rehabilitation aspect of the sex workers, for which this Court had taken the initiative right at the threshold. I consider this essential in order to allay any apprehension which prompted the Union of India to move this application for modification, by highlighting that the sex workers although have a right to live with dignity as the society is aware that they are forced to continue with this trade under compulsions since they have no alternative source of livelihood, collective endeavour should be there on the part of the Court and all concerned who have joined this cause as also the sex workers themselves to give up this heinous profession of flesh trade by providing the destitute and physically abused women an alternative forum for employment and resettlement in order to be able to rehabilitate themselves. I, therefore, wish to reiterate by way of abundant caution that this Court should not be perceived to advocate the recognition of sex trade or promote the cause of prostitution in any form and manner even when it had stated earlier in its terms of reference ‘regarding conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity’.

Thus, when we modify the earlier term of reference and state regarding conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution, the same may not be interpreted or construed so as to create an impression or draw inference that this Court in any way is encouraging the sex workers to continue with their profession of flesh trade by providing facilities to them when it is merely making an effort to advocate the cause of offering an alternative source of employment to those sex workers who are keen for rehabilitation. When we say ‘conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity’, we unambiguously wish to convey that while the sex workers may be provided alternative source of employment for their rehabilitation to live life with dignity, it will have to be understood in the right perspective as we cannot direct the Union of India or the State Authorities to provide facilities to those sex workers who wish to promote their profession of sex trade for earning their livelihood, except of course the basic amenities for a dignified life, as this was certainly not the intention of this Court even when the term of reference was framed earlier.

We, therefore, wish to be understood that we confine ourselves to the efforts for rehabilitation of sex workers which should not be construed as facilitating, providing them assistance or creating conducive conditions to carry on flesh trade for expanding their business in any manner as it cannot be denied that the profession of sex trade is a slur on the dignity of women. Conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution be therefore understood in its correct perspective as indicated above.

Trafficking Kingpin Pannalal Arrest Brings Focus to Illegal Placement Agencies Indulging in Human Trafficking

SUNITASHAKTI VAHINI PRESS RELEASE/ 24 October 2014

The hide and seek of Panna Lal and his wife came to an end on 19th October, 2014 with their arrest by Crime Branch Delhi and Jharkhand Anti-human Trafficking Unit under various charges from Shakurpur area of Delhi. 31 years old Panna Lal and his 37 year old wife Sunita were most wanted in various FIRs in Jharkhand. Human Trafficking kingpin, Panna Lal and his wife have been trafficking minor and young tribal girls from the remote areas of Jharkhand.

Search For Pannalal and His Wife

On 13th October, Panna Lala’s Sister in law Gayatri was arrested for illegally bringing minor girls from Jharkhand and then selling them off in domestic Slavery. Gayatri was also a named accused in a FIR in Jharkhand. Fearlessly, she was running a Gayatri placement agency in M Block, Shakurpur, Delhi and operating from there.

On 13th October, 2014 a raid was conducted by Jharkhand AHTU team and Delhi Crime Branch along with Shakti Vahini (for search of trafficked victims) in which Gayatri was arrested. She was produced in Rohini court same day and was later taken to Jharkhand.

A search for Panna Lal and Sunita was also conducted at different hideout of Panna Lal in Shakur Pur but the couple was not found. Meanwhile a strong informer network was developed by Jharkhand AHTU in Shakurpur to get the details of Panna Lal and his wife.

Arrest of Pannalal and His Wife

Jharkhand AHTU S.I Aradhana Singh kept a watch at the house of Panna Lal in Shakurpur through informers. Getting a tip off from the informer about the whereabouts of Panna Lal and Sunita, Sub Inspector Aradhana Singh immediately Co-ordinated with Delhi Crime Branch and a raid was conducted early morning at Panna Lal’s residence in Shakur Pur and both were arrested on 19th October, 2014.

Jharkhand AHTU team reached Delhi to take the custody of Panna Lal and Sunita. With no remorse on their faces, the Couple was produced before Duty Magistrate, Rohini Court at around 2:30 P.M and were sent to Tihar Jail. Jharkhand AHTU will be given the custody of the couple in their next production before the court.

IMG_5222Modus Operendi of Panna Lal and Sunita

Panna Lal and Sunita were running more than 200 illegal placement agencies with different names in Delhi whereby they were bringing minor girls from Jharkhand and were selling them as domestic slaves with an advance payment of Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000/- per girl, in the affluent house of Delhi.

Panna Lal and wife Sunita used to target the minor girls and the most vulnerable families of remote and tribal areas of Jharkhand. Once a girl is being targeted, she is lured with false promises of marriage, good job, education or good life. Families were also given assurance that the girl will be given a good life and her salary will be sent to them every month. After the girl is being taken to Delhi, she is confined and placed into houses by these placement agencies of Panna Lal, to work from early morning till late nights without any break or holiday. The salary of the girl is also taken by Panna Lal. Every girl is placed in a house for 11 months and was then after 11 months she is further placed in other house. Victims are not allowed to go back to their home or to meet their relatives.

The trafficking victims were exploited not only by these persons but also by their employers. Those who are fortunate enough get rescued by Police or anti-Trafficking organisation while other stay confined as slaves.

Delhi: A hub of illegally running placement agencies

Delhi has rapidly become a hub for placement agencies in past few years. Areas like Tughlakabad, Ranibagh, Punjabi Bagh, Shakurpur, Shakarpur etc emerged out as centres for these placement agencies. There more than 10,000 placement agencies illegally running in Delhi and more than 4000 of these agencies are situated at Shakurpur only under the jurisdiction of Subhash Place police station. While a very small number of these agencies are registered under Labour Department but they have not comply with the rules yet. There is no law to regulate these agencies so far due to which these agencies are fearlessly trafficking minors from States of Jharkhand, Bihar, Assam, West Bengal and Orissa. Even if an agency is raided and closed down, the agents get away easily and reopen a new agency with different name and address and the never ending cycle of exploitation of minor girls continues.

Jharkhand C.I.D, last year handed over a list of 240 agents and agencies running illegally in Delhi and involved in trafficking minor girls from Jharkhand, a copy of which was also given to Shakti Vahini. The names of Panna Lal and Sunita were also exposed in the list. The Jharkhand police was looking out for these two traffickers since a long time and with the arrest of Panna Lal and Sunita, Jharkhand police hoping that many other names may come out.

PLACEMENTRole of placement agencies in Child Trafficking

Placement agencies are playing a major role in trafficking minor girls as well as children for the purpose of labour, sex slavery and forced marriages. The traffickers have changed their modus operandi with the changes in law and society.

In most of the cases the trafficker is known to the victim who convinces the victim and her/his family and further sell them over to placement agent. The placement agencies generally recruit a person to target the girls and then pick them up (By luring or sometimes by kidnapping) and bring them to main cities of the state. From the main cities another person come in charge and further take the victims to railway station from where they are handed over to another person and brought to Delhi. After reaching Delhi, the victims are further handed over to another person and brought to Placement agencies.

Some victims are then placed in various houses as domestic help with a payment of Rs 20,000/- to Rs 30,000/- , while others are sold off into forced marriages or Prostitution. The girls who are placed in houses with a monthly salary of Rs 1000 or Rs 3000 never get their wages. A girl is placed in one house for 11 months and every month the placement agencies take their salary which never reaches the victims or their families. Once a victim completes her 11 months in house, she is further placed into another house and the exploitation continues.

For objecting the work given by placement agencies, the victims are tortured, thrashed and beaten up badly, many times these victim girls report sexual violence and assault by the placement agents and even by their employers. The girls are kept confined in the placement agencies till the time they are sold further.

These placement agencies keep on changing their addresses, name and contact details to escape from law. Taking benefits of various loop holes in law and government machineries the placement agencies operate freely and actively.

What can be done?

A time when, the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi is focussing on labour reforms and giving dignity to labour, the country on the other hand fails to recognise one of the main work force i.e. Domestic Labour. Domestic Labour or Domestic Worker constitutes a huge work force in India which usually remained hidden in closed doors of our houses.

Need to regulate the placement agencies

There is an urgent need to regulate the placement agencies operating in Delhi. A bill to regulate the placement Agencies and to recognise domestic worker as a work force, named “The Delhi Private Placement Agencies (Regulation) Bill 2012, was presented before the government. But, the bill is not passed yet.

Chhattisgarh in this context has taken a vital step by becoming the first state to launch the Private Agencies (Regulation) Act this year.

Recently, on 25th September, 2014, Labour Department, Governemnt of National Capital Territory of Delhi in compliance with the order of Delhi high court in writ Petition (Crl.) 82/2009 , passed an executive order whreby the placement agencies are directed to get themselves registered under “Delhi Shops & Establishment Act, 1954” or “Inter State Migrant Workmen (Regulation of Employment and Conditions of Service) Act, 1979 before 25th October, 2014.

Silent Features of the Order:

A domestic worker is defined as the person who is of the age 18 years or more who performs domestic work only sporadically and is employed through a contractor.

Placement agencies shall provide the details of their details, Number of persons/ domestic workers, who are employed through them with their names, age and addresses, Details or salaries fixed, addresses of employers, period of employment, nature of work, details of commissions received from the employers.

The applicant will be given a license to run his/her placement agency after 15 days of issuance of the registration certificate by Labour department.

Every Domestic Worker will issued an attested pass book by his/her placement agency indicating name, age, address, employer’s name, period of employment, payment of wages etc.
Agreement for engagement of domestic workers by the employer through placement agency shall be in writing.

If placement agencies do not comply with the provision of the order, a penalty will be imposed or the registration/license will be cancelled to run the agency in Delhi-NCR

The Delhi Commission for Women and Child Welfare committee are given special powers and duties in virtue of the direction of Hon’ble High Court of Delhi.

Taking a strong stand against the trafficking of minors in Delhi for domestic workers and their exploitation, the order has also given power to Delhi Commission for Women and Child Welfare Committee to examine the complaints related to withholding wages not less than minimum wages, harassment or abuse by placement agencies and employers, non-compliance of the agreed terms, abusive working conditions, long working hours, lack of basic facilities etc.

State Plan of action to Combat Human Trafficking.

States have to come up with a state plan of action for the Rehabilitation of trafficking victims and preventing trafficking of children and Women. The State plan of action will focus on ensuring protection, Rehabilitation, and rescue of trafficking Victim, and providing Training, education and awareness at mass level about human Trafficking.

Providing training and skills to Domestic helps

The domestic helps working in our houses shall be treated with dignity and shall be given training for skill development. The harassment and exploitation of domestic helps can come to an end if they are provided with education and skill development training.

slavery freeGive Dignity to your Domestic help.

It is very much needed that each and every person shall come forward and give respect and dignity to the domestic help. Make sure that you are not employing anyone who is below the age of 18 years. Verify the identity of your Domestic help’s. Check the registration of the placement agency with local police. Pay the salary according to the minimum wages prescribed by the government, directly to him/her in bank accounts.

Most of the domestic worker comes from the back breaking poverty background with a hope of assisting their family in financial condition. But Irony is that the amount that we pay to placement agency as advance or as salary of our domestic help never reaches them. Hence in cases a girl is rescued and restored back to her family, have the high chances of getting trapped by the traffickers again.

RWAs have to come forward

Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) are playing a vital role in cities like Delhi to look into the general affairs of the locality. RWAs have to take up the command to see that no child or a woman is forced to work in its locality. RWAs shall time to time sensitize residents about the Domestic helps. They shall take the responsibility of their locality and make it a slavery free locality.

Every day, Thousands of innocent children and women are being at a risk of trafficked and forced to work as slaves in and around our houses. The number of missing children and girls is increasing day by day.

We at Shakti Vahini have been actively working in bringing the victims close to the justice.

Two girls from Bengal rescued in U.P.

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PUBLISHED IN THE HINDU

A heavily skewed sex ratio in Uttar Pradesh is resulting in trafficking and ‘forced marriages’ of many girls from eastern India. The girls are lured by ‘so-called lovers’ and sold to ‘clients or would-be husbands’ at a premium price. The girls are often used as ‘sex slaves’ and then resold. Two girls from the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal were sold as ‘brides’ on the outskirts of Noida in western Uttar Pradesh. Both the girls, aged 19 years, were rescued by the West Bengal Police in a joint operation with Shakti Vahini, an NGO, earlier this week. Consequently, a major trafficking racket was busted.

In another instance, a minor girl from Uttar Dinajpur district was rescued from Bilaspur district of Himachal Pradesh around the same time.

The two girls from North 24 Paraganas were lured by Akhtar Ali, a resident of the same district. They were forced into marriage to two villagers in Western U.P .who allegedly paid Rs. 40,000 for one girl and Rs 50,000 for the other.

“The girls who are forced into marriages typically end up as slaves. Due to skewed sex-ratio in places such as western UP, Haryana and Punjab, girls from West Bengal and other parts of eastern India are trafficked on a regular basis,” said Rishi Kant, an activist with Shakti Vahini. The number of females per thousand males in Uttar Pradesh is 912, which is below the national average of 940, as per census of 2011.

Physically tortured

After winning the confidence of the girls, Ali took them to Noida in separate trips. The girls were initially confined in the house of Basanti, an elderly woman, who later sold them to Sanju and Tinu of Khatna village and Tulsivihar in Noida, respectively. The girls were practically imprisoned by these men and ‘physically tortured’. However, they managed to get in touch with their relatives in West Bengal, who in turn approached the police and the NGO.

The accused (Basanti and Akhtar Ali and two buyers in UP) have been booked under relevant sections of the law on the basis of two complaints made at the Hasnabad and Deganga police stations of the district,” said Bhaskar Mukherjee told The Hindu, Additional SP, North 24 Paraganas.

According to Sarbari Bhattacharya, an officer with the anti-human trafficking cell of the West Bengal police, the practice of ‘forced marriage’ in the illegal trafficking business, is ‘relatively a new phenomenon.’

“I can recall an incident in 2012 when the remains of a girl were recovered by the police at Khurja in UP, after she was trafficked and forced into a marriage, and then killed and buried,” the officer said.

Trafficked girl awaits aid after 3yrs

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Guwahati Telegraph By Pankaj Sarma

Sept. 9: Almost three years after she was rescued from Haryana, a 20-year-old victim of human trafficking from Assam is still awaiting assistance from the state government for her rehabilitation.
Rekha (name changed), who hails from Hajo in Kamrup district, is now struggling for a livelihood as she is yet to get any form of help from the government despite repeated pleas. “Without any source of income, I have become a burden on my family,” she told The Telegraph.

As a result, she is finding it difficult to arrange even two square meals a day for herself and her two-year-old son. Rekha, who was trafficked to Haryana and forced into marriage, was rescued by Shakti Vahini, a Delhi-based anti-trafficking NGO, with the help of Haryana police from Shahpur in Haryana’s Jind district on October 4, 2011.

Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini told The Telegraph that she had written many times to the state government seeking help so that she can sustain herself and take care of her child but till date her efforts have yielded no result.

“After prolonged persuasion, joint secretary of the social welfare department M. Baruah wrote an official letter to the director of the department, Dilip Borthakur, on March 5 this year asking him to look into the matter and do the needful,” he said.

“Six months have passed since then, but unfortunately nothing came of it,” Kant rued. When contacted, Borthakur said one of his officers, who is looking into the matter, is currently on leave.
“I would be able to tell you about its present status only after he returns from leave,” he said.

Rishi Kant said Rekha was trafficked when she was 17 with the lure of a job since she was from a very poor family. “After that she was forced to marry a person named Rakesh, who not only sexually abused her but also forced her to do all the household chores,” he said. At the time of her rescue, Rekha was five months pregnant. According to Kant, they reunited Rekha with her family and sent her back home.

Girls rescued from Delhi Rajdhani

index.phpPUBLISHED IN THE HINDU- BY SHIV SAHAY SINGH
The Committee in its order directed that statements of the girls be recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC on their return to the State.

The rescue of three teenage girls in Delhi has once again brought to the fore the problem of trafficking from West Bengal. They rescued girls hail from Gobardanga in North 24 Parganas district.

Huddled inside a toilet of Sealdah-Delhi Rajdhani Express, the girls between 13 and 16 years arrived in Delhi on September 4. But before they could fall into the trap of traffickers, the police took them under their protective custody.

The three Class VIII students were produced before a Child Welfare Committee in Central Delhi on Monday. The Committee directed that a police officer who had reached Delhi from West Bengal should escort the girls to their homes and put them back in school. The Committee in its order directed that statements of the girls be recorded under Section 164 of the CrPC on their return to the State. “Though the girls said that they wanted to escape home, there are inconsistencies in the statement. References to an aunt of one of the three girls who was earlier working as a bar dancer have also emerged in the conversation with them,” Rishi Kanta an activist of Shakti Vahini, told The Hindu over phone from Delhi. When the matter came to the notice of the representatives of the NGO, they informed the West Bengal Government, which sent a police team to Delhi.

“It is a matter of concern how three minor girls reached Delhi, a long way from West Bengal and that too by the Rajdhani Express. Nothing could be revealed during discussion, whether the Ticket Examiner examined their ticket or not. The girls said they came without ticket,” reads a letter addressed to West Bengal Women and Child Development Department and the State’s Criminal Investigation Department by a representative of Shakti Vahini.

As trafficking of women and children continues to be a major concern of the State, NGO representatives suggested that strict vigil should be ensured at every railway station in the State to prevent such cases.

Human trafficking: A phone call to the heart of darkness

trafficking--621x414PUBLISHED IN THE MINT : By Ashwaq Masoodi

Siliguri: It usually starts with a missed call. When the call is returned, the person at the other end of the phone compliments the caller on, say, her voice. Unlike a normal relationship, these “phone relationships” in poor villages of North Bengal take quick leaps. Within a day or two, the person who had given the missed call proposes marriage to the teenager. He doesn’t want to wait. They must elope. There is a promise of love, faithfulness and always a better life in a big city. It’s a promise that is false. As many as 82,101 children went missing across India in 2013-14 (till February), of whom 48,688 were from West Bengal, according to government figures.

A 2004 report by the National Human Rights Commission on trafficking of women and children said that one-third of children reported missing every year in India remained untraced and that many of these were trafficked. Child labour, illegal adoption and prostitution are the main reasons why children go missing. According to National Crime Records Bureau data, 3,940 cases were registered in 2013 under different provisions of the law that come under the generic description of human trafficking. Many of those trafficked end up as domestic workers, working in slave-like conditions. Placement agencies illegally earn Rs.13,000-41,000 crore per year by exploiting an estimated 7-17 million domestic child labourers, according to a report, Economics Behind Forced Labour Trafficking, by Global March Against Child Labour, a non-governmental organization (NGO). “In the National Capital Region, the estimated number of registered and unregistered placement agencies is around 3,000. At least 30% of these engage child labour. Each agency is able to place 60-100 children as domestic workers every year. The agencies receive commissions of Rs.20,000-50,000 per child. They pay the child anywhere between Rs.1,500 and Rs.4,500 per month. This money, too, is often kept by the agency and does not reach the child,” the report states.

On 27 May, a 16-year-old and her family went to attend a wedding, just a few miles from her house in Buraganj village, 32km from Siliguri. Among the guests was Rani, a woman in her 30s, dressed in a gaudy sari encrusted with sparkling crystals, and in distinctive, bright make-up. All eyes were on her and everyone speculated on what she did for a living. Over the wedding meal, Rani started a conversation with the teenager. She asked for her phone number and a photograph. The teenager handed over her details along with a crumpled passport-size photograph she had somewhere in her bag. Two days later, the teenager received a missed call, and called back. The man at the other end introduced himself as Mahesh Mardi. He said a mutual friend had given him her number and photograph. He was already in love with her, he said. Never having received such compliments and flattery before, the teenager believed every word. The youngest of eight siblings, the teenager grew up pampered with hardly any housework to do. The family is not poor by the standards of their village. All the brothers work, some in their own fields, others in the tea gardens close by. The family has cattle, lives in houses built of mud, bamboo and tin, the children have bicycles and the women wear gold. Three days after their first conversation, Mahesh asked the teenager to come to Naxalbari, which is located towards the north of her village. She happily said yes. When she reached, four people including Mahesh and Rani were waiting. Alarmed at seeing so many people, the teenager faltered; she said she wanted to go back home. But Mahesh swore undying love; he would consume poison if she didn’t come with him, he swore. Even more panic-stricken, the teenager tried to run, but Rani held her hand and pulled her into a bus headed to New Jalpaiguri railway station, 32km from her village. At the station, they gave her some food to eat while they waited for a train to New Delhi. Since everyone else was eating, she didn’t suspect anything. The next thing she remembers is waking up at 3am the following day. They were in Delhi. From there it was a short auto ride to a placement agency. Placement agencies rely on sub-agents such as Rani who provide them with information and “recruits”. How much the sub-agent earns depends on the “quality” of the recruit, in terms of how good looking they are. Along with local muscle like Mahesh, the sub-agents take new recruits like the teenager to the nearest bus or railway station to take them to their destination or else hand them over to either a new sub-agent who completes the journey. Moving through several hands, the recruits then land up at the so-called placement agencies for “employment”, a euphemism for slave wages and working conditions, as domestic workers. In Delhi, the teenager was kept in the placement office for a day before she was assigned to an employer. “I said I wouldn’t work. But they didn’t listen to me,” she says. Boys and girls are taken from tea gardens or poor villages to places such as Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Bangalore, Kerala, Kashmir, Bhutan and Sikkim with a promise of jobs or a better life. Nearly 3,600 children from poor families in the shut-down tea gardens of West Bengal migrated to Indian cities and West Asia, to work mostly as child labourers in 2010-11.

Of the total, 317 have gone missing, according to a study carried out jointly by the Unicef, Save the Children (an NGO) and Burdwan University, across 12 tea gardens in the state. The study was carried out between May and July 2011. When no one came to take her back, the 16-year-old told her employer that she had been forced by Rani to take up the job. Infuriated on hearing this, the owner called the placement agency, which decided to send Rani to work on the teenager’s behalf. But within a couple of days, Rani tricked the teenager into believing that she wouldn’t have to work for more than a week, and fled after the 16-year-old resumed her work. Left with no option, the teenager called her brother saying: “I have been sold.” According to the US department of state’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2013, in India, an increasing number of job placement agencies lure adults and children for sex trafficking or forced labour, including domestic servitude, under false promises of employment. “Activists estimate 20% of domestic workers who are rescued from Delhi homes complain of sexual abuse, either by the employer or those in job placement agencies,” the report said. Following the name of the placement agency that the teenager had given on the phone, her maternal uncle and brother filed a first information report (FIR) and headed to Delhi. “We kept calling. It was frustrating because we didn’t even know where to start from,” her maternal uncle, who is a tea garden manager, says. The girl was eventually rescued in a joint operation by NGO Shakti Vahini and West Bengal Police. Nearly a month after her rescue, Rani was arrested as well.

What happens in such cases, NGOs claim, is that only the destination trafficker is arrested and the entire chain of people involved or the racket isn’t busted—which means the investigating officers stop after arrests in the destination states. And because of gaps in investigation, acquittals take place. Furthermore, poor victim-witness protection generally discourages victims from testifying against their alleged trafficking offenders. “For every case of human trafficking, we should involve all the law enforcement agencies across the country and network with them so that all the traffickers from the source area till the destination area are booked,” says Shakti Vahini’s Ravi Kant, a Supreme Court lawyer. Even though a few states have victim compensation schemes, due to inadequate implementation, victims have to wait for several years to receive funds. “The criminal justice system in India is more focused on punishment for the perpetrator. Police efforts are towards punishing. There is no care and protection for the victim. The victim is left on her own to fight her battle. Even if a case reaches the trial level, summons from the place where she was arrested reach her, but not the money. She has to come on her own. In most cases, the state is not a facilitator in getting justice… All this discourages the victims. And if the victim doesn’t take interest, in several cases, it leads to acquittals,” says Kant.

The government has set up the Anti Trafficking Cell under the ministry of home affairs (MHA), launched a certificate course on anti-human trafficking under Indira Gandhi National Open University in partnership with the MHA, and implemented a comprehensive scheme for strengthening law enforcement response by establishing integrated anti-human trafficking units (AHTUs). The ministry released funds—Rs.8.72 crore and Rs.8.33 crore in 2010-11 and 2011-12, respectively, for the establishment of 225 AHTUs. The ministry of women and child development also runs shelter-based homes, such as short-stay homes, and Swadhar homes for women in difficult circumstances, including trafficked victims. The teenager has started going to school again. She says something happens in her spine whenever she tries to dredge up the memory of those 15 days. “I wouldn’t listen to anyone now. I will not let anyone befool me again,” she stammers. Her maternal uncle says that after this incident, even though she is safe and with her family now, she is traumatized. “She cannot complete even one sentence without stopping more than once or without forgetting while speaking,” he says. Over the last few years, many cases of exploitation of domestic help have been reported—almost all of them females—many of whom were abused, some brutally. Early this year, an 11-year-old domestic help from Uttar Pradesh was allegedly starved for days and tortured by her employers (in Thane), who inserted green chillies into her genitals to make her obey their orders. A civil engineer in Bangalore was booked in August for physically and mentally harassing an 18-year-old domestic help in his house. Even though the teenager is still traumatized, she was at least lucky to have escaped; not every story has a happy ending in such cases.

Human trafficking caters to demand for brides

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PUBLISHED IN THE MINT : By Ashwaq Masoodi

A field study in Haryana found that over 9,000 married women were bought from other states

Jhajjar/New Jalpaiguri: Last year, she was raped by someone she called mausa (uncle) in front of and on the bed of a woman she called mausi (aunt). Then, the mausa sold her off as a bride to a 45-year-old widower, father of a three-year-old, in Haryana. Price of the exchange: Rs.70,000. Haryana, with the country’s worst sex ratio of 879 girls to 1,000 boys, now has to increasingly import brides from poverty-stricken states such as Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Odisha. It’s the same story in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh where female foeticide is high and the sex ratio skewed. According to the 2013 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, 24,749 children and women between the ages of 15 and 30 were kidnapped and sold into marriage across the country.

Hundreds of girls and young women are sold into forced marriages in northern India, finds a report by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Shakti Vahini. “They are bartered at prices that vary depending on their age, beauty and virginity, and exploited under conditions that amount to a modern form of slavery,” the report states. A field study on the impact of the sex ratio on marriage by NGO Drishti Stree Adhyayan Prabodhan Kendra that covered over 10,000 households in Haryana found that over 9,000 married women were bought from other states. The study, which covered 92 villages of Mahendragarh, Sirsa, Karnal, Sonepat and Mewat districts, said that most people accepted this as a common practice, even though they personally denied having purchased a bride in their family.

With its blend of poverty, illiteracy, naiveté, trust and betrayal, the story of this family in North Bengal is being repeated in countless villages across India. An old, ailing mother, an estranged son, a 23-year-old illiterate, unmarried daughter, another daughter, and a deaf and mute son—the family’s sole breadwinner making no more than Rs.80 a day by working in a tea plantation.

Most households in the Darjeeling hills and the Dooars-Terai region located in the foothills of the Himalayas depend on the 300-odd plantations located here. In the late 1990s, when tea leaf prices dropped, many owners cut wages and, in some cases, abandoned their plantations altogether. By 2003-04, many tea estates had shut down. Newspapers reported starvation deaths; according to The Times of India, nearly 100 people have died of starvation and acute malnutrition in the five gardens closed in the Dooars since January last year. Five died in June alone. Tall with sharp features and long hair, the 23-year-old lives in a village in Banarhat, nearly 95km from Siliguri. She walks with difficulty and complains of soreness and a constant stomach ache. The weakness caused by malnutrition is evident. Those who could afford to migrate did. But for this family with its physically disabled son, migration was not an option and so they stayed on, even though there were days when the chulha (cook stove) could not be lit. The so-called mausa, Rajendra Pal, lived next door. Originally from Haryana, he had married the teenager’s neighbour by hiding the fact of his previous marriages. It was Rajendra Pal who suggested the family make a trip to Haryana to see a famous godman who, he claimed, would cure them of their chronic problems. He even offered to pay for their travel. The girl was reluctant. “I kept saying I am a woman. They wouldn’t do anything to my mother. They couldn’t have taken anything from my brother. But I am a woman. They can do anything they want to with me, and I will be ruined for life,” she says she told her mother. But Rajendra Pal persisted. She was like his daughter, he said. Just stepping into the godman’s ashram would cure her problems. Why, the godman had even healed mausa’s leg after an accident, he said. The family relented. “The problem with us poor people is that we trust very easily, and we trust everyone,” says the 23-year-old’s elder sister. Three days after they reached Haryana, mausa locked the girl’s mother and brother in a room and raped the 23-year-old. “Mausi was watching and kept asking me not to cry. Let him do what he wants. He is your mausa,” the girl says. Two days later, Pal sold her to a 45-year-old resident of Kheri Mansingh village in Karnal district of Haryana and married the two off in his lawn. He told the girl he would kill her if she tried to run away. There was nowhere to run to. Once, she said, she hid in a maize field for close to 24 hours, hungry and thirsty and soaked in sludge till her waist. She thought she had escaped till they found her again. “I had to do all the household chores—cleaning the house, cooking, rearing the cattle and a horse—and still they kept complaining,” she says.

Brides for sale Large-scale bride trafficking has been taking place in Haryana, Punjab and other low-sex-ratio states for over two decades, say NGOs. Even if the Haryana government ensures that not a single sex-determination test or sex-selective abortion takes place, demographers believe it will take 50 years for the population to stabilize and return to its natural ratio. The challenge before not just Haryana but also western Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan is to ensure that bride demand is not catered through human trafficking. “The governments in these regions should ensure legislations which protect the rights of women and children,” the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)’s anti-trafficking report released in 2013 states.

Many men in Haryana, however, claim that the shortage of brides is not caused by the skewed sex ratio as much as the rising levels in women’s education.“Women here study much more than men do. And she obviously will want to marry a man who has studied at least as much as she has, if not more. This is making it increasingly difficult for lesser educated men to find brides,” says Vinod Bala Dhankar, a social activist and woman khap leader based in Jhajjar district of Haryana. Moreover, bringing in a molki, or purchased bride, actually works out cheaper. “Even if you are poor, you would give a bride from Haryana gold worth at least Rs.1.5 lakh plus clothes and other gifts. But for a molki you only pay for a mangalsutra and a gold ring,” says Dhankar. Strict caste and marriage rules among the Jats of Haryana also place restrictions on marriages between two people from within the same gotra, same village or even adjoining villages. This, too, limits the options before the state’s marriageable men. Faced with these limitations, organized groups of unmarried youth have sprung up in the state with famous slogans such as bahu-dilao-vote-lo (brides-for-votes).

The Kunwara Union (Unmarried Youth Organization) was founded five years ago by social activist Pawan Kumar. A similar outfit, Avivahit Purush Sangthan (Unmarried Union), was set up by Bibipoor village panchayat head Sunil Jaglan to look into the issue of gender imbalance caused by female foeticide. Dhakla village in Haryana’s Jhajjar district has a population of nearly 4,000 people. A narrow, dusty, single lane leads to Rekha’s house. She has tied a dupatta around her head in the form of a bandana, and speaks Haryanavi as fluently and with as much confidence as the locals. In 2007, she came to Sonepat from North Bengal, after her cousin invited her to visit. The day she arrived, she was sold off for Rs.50,000. But Rekha bursts into laughter at the suggestion that she was sold. “I don’t want to think of what happened. Probably I wouldn’t have had such a happy life if I was still with my family. We were very poor,” she says.

Just half a mile from Rekha’s house lives another woman, nearly 30 years old. Five years ago, her sister sold her off to a man who had two brothers, one older and one younger. The two brothers have decided not to marry. The woman, who does not want to be named, says her husband beats her up almost every night and has asked her more than once to leave. Worse, within a month of her marriage, the elder brother tried to rape her. Just last month, he sexually assaulted her again, she says. Even the younger brother has assaulted her twice.

“The scarcity of women has been there for long. But earlier, if a family had four brothers, they would just get one woman and she would take care of everyone and everything,” says Om Parkash Dhankar, Sarv Khap Panchayat coordinator in Haryana. Since the women are “purchased”, men think they can do whatever they want to with them. “In the beginning, brides were imported from adjoining regions like Ganganagar and Rajasthan’s Alwar area, but slowly women were brought from West Bengal, Assam and such states,” says Rakesh Senger from NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan. “These women do not go back to their native places and so their husbands do not feel accountable to anyone. They think they can do anything with them and no one will question them. Because they have purchased them, these women serve both as sex slaves as well as labour slaves for these men.”

Recently, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s National Kisan Morcha president O.P. Dhankar stoked a controversy by saying his party would get girls from Bihar for the unmarried young men of Haryana. More than a month after his controversial statement, Dhankar says: “We cannot stop migration. What we should look for is ways to legalize this process. I think both the source and the destination states should make it mandatory to register these inter-state marriages.”

On September 16 last year, when the 23-year-old was working in the kitchen, she heard someone shout her name. It was her sister accompanied by Haryana Police and NGO Shakti Vahini. When the villagers learned about the joint rescue operation, a huge crowd gathered around her house with knives and sticks, shouting that they wouldn’t let anyone take their bride away as they had paid for her and she was their property. Under police protection, the 23-year-old was brought to the local thana. “Finally I was free. It felt like nothing worse could happen to me any more,” she says. And then a pregnancy test confirmed that she was pregnant. The child, she says, is Pal’s, who is now out on bail. Even though nothing legally stops an investigating officer from conducting an investigation anywhere in the country, Pal has relocated to West Bengal, out of the reach of Haryana Police. “They forced us to withdraw the case against Pal’s wife by emotionally blackmailing us, saying she has a small child,” the 23-year-old’s elder sister says. “But my sister’s life is ruined. Nothing happened to the people who did this to her. When an item in the market is damaged or has some flaw, no one wants it…there are no buyers.”