Born in Bengal, ‘sold’ in Delhi

TELEGRAPHPUBLISHED IN THE TELEGRAPH

New Delhi, Nov. 7: Some 55,000 women and girls trafficked from Bengal are working as maids in Delhi, many of them “sold as bonded labourers” to wealthy households where they slog for ungodly hours without pay and are often tortured or sexually abused.

More than half these women are minors — many as young as 10 — who are duped with promises of a better life and brought to the capital by “scouts” appointed in Bengal by Delhi-based illegal placement agencies.

The dismal picture was painted by Delhi police, government officials and NGOs whom The Telegraph spoke to after an MP and his wife were arrested here on the charge of abusing two maids from Bengal.

Rakhi Bhadra, who has died allegedly of torture by Jagriti, wife of Bahujan Samaj Party MP Dhananjay Singh, had been “sold” to her employers for Rs 1.2 lakh about ten months ago by a south Delhi-based placement agency, a police officer said.

“The MP paid the money to the agency. Rakhi was confined to the ground floor and forced to slog in subhuman conditions. She was never paid any wages; she was only provided two meals a day,” the officer said.

Rakhi had come from Rabindranagar in Dum Dum. Meena Sardar, 37, also a resident of North 24-Parganas, was sold by the same agency to the MP but the amount is unknown, the officer said. Meena is in hospital for her injuries, suffered allegedly at the hands of her employers.

Police raids are on to arrest the people running the agency, deputy commissioner S.B.S. Tyagi said.

Children in demand

Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, an NGO working for the rehabilitation of trafficked children, said girls aged between 10 and 15 were “the most in demand” for maids’ jobs in Delhi.

He accused the government of not doing enough. “The capital has become the country’s child-trafficking hub. The government should regulate the placement agencies, enforce the law against child labour and form a task force to curb this racket,” he said.

Kant alleged that most of the illegal placement agencies paid a monthly bribe to the local police station.

Raj Mangal Prasad, former chairperson of the Delhi government’s child welfare committee, said more than 2,000 illegal placement agencies operated in the capital.

“Their hired scouts travel to remote areas of Bengal and Jharkhand (which accounts for 50,000 maids in Delhi) and promise young girls a better life and a fixed monthly income which would allow them to send money back home,” Prasad said.

“They bring these girls here to work as bonded labourers, who are tortured and even sexually abused by their employers. Some of the girls are rescued by the police and NGOs and a few manage to flee, but most of them have no choice but to work as virtual slaves their whole lives.”

An official at the Delhi government’s social welfare department said the administration had made it mandatory for all placement agencies to be registered under the Shops and Establishment Act, but there was hardly any mechanism in place to monitor compliance.

Tyagi said all police stations had been asked to compile a list of placement agencies in their areas.

“We are also appealing to people to report to us if they come across children working as domestic help in their locality.”

18-month ordeal

In August last year, the child welfare committee had asked the police to crack down on illegal placement agencies after hearing the plight of two minor girls trafficked from Jalpaiguri in Bengal.

The police had rescued the girls, both of whom had been forced to work without pay by clients of Astha Placement Agency in Delhi. The agency’s three co-owners — Rajesh, Ashish and Ranvir — were arrested.

One of the Jalpaiguri girls was duped by an acquaintance from her village and brought to the agency. She worked for over a year and a half at several houses, slogging from 8am to 11pm without pay. A probe suggested she had been raped by one of her employers.

The other girl was trafficked to Delhi on May 30 and forced to work with the first girl. The child welfare committee asked Astha’s owners to pay Rs 60,000 to the first girl and Rs 5,500 to the second.

When welfare committee officials went through the agency’s register, they were shocked to see the list of girls it had allegedly trafficked from Bengal and supplied to homes in Delhi as maids.

“The agency had also sent some to neighbouring states like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. We directed the police’s crime branch to probe the case and rescue the girls,” Prasad said.

A probe has revealed that agency co-owner Ranvir was a vegetable seller but had made enough money from the racket to be able to own two flats in Delhi.

“He was from Cooch Behar in Bengal and had his scouts in several areas of the state,” a crime branch officer said.

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