PUBLISHED IN THE TIMES OF INDIA – BY AMBIKA PANDIT
Electricity is yet to touch lives here and few dare to come to Nisha’s village even during daytime. There’s the fear of Maoists in the villages along the forested border of Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. There’s an even bigger fear for girls like Nisha: the threat of ruthless human traffickers.
You might have read about Nisha but won’t remember her. She appeared in one of those newspaper stories about maids’ abuse. This was in May this year — a story about a girl who was lucky to escape from the vicious grip of a placement agency servicing upscale New Friends colony and Maharani Bagh in south Delhi.
Two other girls trafficked in April 2013 from Khunti villages failed to survive. One died in Delhi and the other on the way back. There are numerous such cases. Human trafficking from this poverty-stricken, extremely backward part of the world is endemic.
The girls here are very vulnerable — extreme poverty being its biggest cause. Since 2009, Jharkhand has not been reporting figures of missing children and persons to NCRB. Experts admit the available data don’t reflect, therefore, the enormity of the problem.
For instance, Jharkhand CID statistics show a mere 282 registered cases on human trafficking between 2001 and September 2013, while a 2010 report by NGO Bharatiya Kisan Sangh put the number of girls trafficked to metro cities at 42,000. Most victims are below 20 years and the main destination is Delhi.
In Khunti alone, a dozen traffickers have been identified — those taking girls regularly out of villages for work to Delhi or Mumbai with promises rarely kept. Search is on for the small-time traffickers operating as intermediaries.
The danger of human trade is amplified by warnings painted in red and black cautioning against “manav vyapaar” (human trafficking). Detailed advisories are stuck on tree trunks and mud walls. Villagers know about the danger, but can they heed it always?
TOI did a reality check on the status of victim families to see why they can’t. Any promise of money is very tempting for those in dire poverty. Like Nisha’s parents, most villagers here work as farm or manual labour earning a meagre daily wage of Rs 50. Some lucky ones on lucky days can get Rs 250. But never more. And there are several days when there’s no work.
Government anti-poverty schemes might have helped but schemes like MNREGA are yet to reach intended beneficiaries who have no awareness and little access to information. In the circumstances, the poor don’t have either the resource or mental strength to ward off the lurking traffickers.
Take Nisha’s case. Her family does not want her to pursue the case against her trafficker and the village community has already made its discomfort known to the police. They don’t want trouble. To keep her afloat, a school in Ranchi earlier this month agreed to take her on as a caretaker. The opportunity came her way only after the intervention of Khunti’s anti-human trafficking unit. Nisha now dreams of resuming her education.
There are a few stories of hope too. The Dwarka maid is one of them. Remember her? She is the one who was locked her up by a doctor couple while they were holidaying abroad. She now lives in a village 40km from Khunti. After her rescue she was enrolled at a state-run residential facility in Ranchi. She stood first in the Class VII exams. Now in Class VIII, she has so far not missed a single hearing of her case in Delhi.
Her parents live in a mud hut in the midst of a bamboo groove. With their daughter determined to fight for justice, the mother told TOI that some relatives of the doctor couple came to the village and tried to persuade them to close the case with an offer of “lots of money”.
Khunti district’s SP Anish Gupta said the anti-human trafficking unit has drawn up a list of traffickers for investigation. He said the Gumla-Khunti-Simdega belt of Jharkhand was a special target of traffickers and the police was planning to step up checks of public transport like buses to catch traffickers and prevent teenage girls from leaving villages for work with persons posing as relatives.
IG (provisions) Anurag Gupta, who was earlier IG (CID), said there was no mechanism to regulate and monitor migration for domestic work. “We cannot stop people from moving out but a system has to be in place to check trafficking in the garb of migration. Once an incident happens the victim has no dedicated commission or authority to seek help. The matter gets stuck in jurisdictional issues,” says Gupta.
The Jharkhand government is asking boys and girls who want to leave for work in cities to register with the gram panchayats. Education is being posed as an attraction and girls are being given cycles to go to school.
But villagers say traffickers target girls while they are on way to school. As things stand, these measures are no match to the magnitude of the trafficking racket threatening to wreck innocent lives in tribal Jharkhand.
Traffickers linked to Maoists, cops say Intelligence agencies told TOI there are links between traffickers and Maoists. Trafficking of girls from Jharkhand villages to cities like Delhi and Mumbai is a source of income for the outlawed outfits.
Armed with evidence of this link, Jharkhand police is now preparing to impose the Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment Act, 2008, on traffickers. It’s a harsh law that comes down heavily against those having links with banned outfits.
With no central or state legislation in place to regulate domestic work and placement agencies, the Jharkhand police are planning to confiscate the property of identified traffickers having links with banned outfits in keeping with provisions of the UAP Act.