In the last of the three-part series, dna travels to remote villages of India’s ‘slavery belt’, some of the remotest and backward areas of Jharkhand. Rescued slaves and the parents of those who have never come back reveal what makes these tribals easy targets
Ranchi: The road to Jahupkokotoli village in the Maoist-hit district of Gumla is a contradiction of sorts. As the two-lane road snakes through the forests and rolling hills of the Chottanagpur plateau, bauxite-laden trucks are the only constant reminder of activity here. Yet the public transport to this part of Jharkhand from the state capital Ranchi is rickety. The only bus everyday is as uncertain as life in this extremely backward region of India. Despite the lack of public transport, thousands of tribal boys and girls from Gumla-Khunti-Simdega region, India’s unofficial ‘slavery belt’, are transported and trafficked to upper middle class and rich homes of Delhi. After a period of enslavement and unpaid forced labour, many return battered and bruised. Some are never to be seen again. Some still carry on.
In Jahupkokotoli, an aboriginal hamlet of 160 Oraon tribal families, 45-year-old Mathoo comes running with a picture of his 14-year-old daughter. “Help me find her. I haven’t seen her after she went away in 2007,” says Mathoo. His daughter would be 21 now, but Mathoo doesn’t know her fate after she was taken by a ‘placement agent’ from a neighbouring village to Delhi to work as a domestic help. Within two months, the agent sent Mathoo Rs 1000 as a payment for his daughter’s ‘services’. Next year, he called up the agent again to inquire about his daughter. “The agent said that my daughter had run away and that he did not know her whereabouts. I do not know whether she is dead or alive,” says Mathoo.
A few houses away from Mathoo’s is the hut of Hari Oraon. His 16-year-old daughter Pramila was taken by an agent to Delhi in early 2014. But she ‘escaped’ within four months and came back. According to her statement to police, Pramila was taken to Delhi by another woman of the same village in the promise of a better life. As soon as she arrived in Delhi she was escorted to a Shakurpur-based placement agency by an agent. They took her finger prints on a piece of paper and sent her to work as a domestic maid at three different homes in Delhi. Facing ill-treatment and not having been paid by any of her employers or the placement agency, Pramila escaped. Lost on the streets in Delhi, she begged another woman to take her home. The woman instead handed her over to the Delhi police. The Delhi police handed her over to a shelter home in the capital from where she was taken to Kishori Niketan, a rehab centre for trafficked women in Bijupara, Jharkhand. Finally in April 2014, she was re-united with her family. For her work as a domestic help in Delhi, Pramila wasn’t paid any money. “The police left her in nearby Bishunpur from where we picked her up and got her home,” says Hari Oraon. “She says she will never go back to Delhi.”
Off the road from Bishunpur lies the Dalit village of Hadiya Toli, literally translating into ‘wine village’. There is no road connectivity to the village and reaching here requires walking a kilometre on a dusty track. The name of 15-year-old Sarita alias Budhni evinces a peculiar response from the village men. “That Dilli-return?”, one asks with a wry smile. “Who knows where she is,” says another. “Ask her mother. She might know.” We find her mother working outside her hut and as the conversation about her daughter nears completion, she says, “Who will marry her now? Who knows what might have happened to her in Delhi?”
Sarita disappeared from her house in 2013 with five other girls after an agent in her village promised her lucrative money in Delhi. Sarita says, “I was promised a monthly wage of Rs 5000. After working four months for an agency in Motinagar in Delhi, I asked for some money. They refused and locked me up instead. I begged to let me go home. But they said I cannot go home before I completed five years. Then one day the police raided the place and they took me in their custody,” says Sarita. She was finally sent home in April 2013.
“There were other girls in that house. I do not know what happened to them. I did not even get the money for my work,” says Sarita. When asked about the nature of her work, Sarita maintains an uneasy silence. Sarita is lucky enough to be back in her village. Even though her village doesn’t have either electricity, drinking water supply or roads, she feels safer here than in any of Delhi’s slave holes.
Phulin Murmu, 18, however doesn’t want to return to her village. Phulin Murmu is not a name that would ring a bell. But when she was found burnt, battered and bitten in a house in South Delhi’s posh Vasant Kunj locality it made national headlines in October 2013. She was found in the house of Vandana Dhir, an executive with a French multinational. Murmu’s body bore hot girdle-induced burn marks, deep scars on the head and bite marks all over her body. She was forced to drink urine, prevented from using the bathroom and confined in the house in a semi-naked condition before being rescued. She was working unpaid for two years before being rescued.
DNA tracked her down at a rehabilitation centre in Khunti, one of the hardest hit districts of the slavery belt. She is being educated and trained at the Mahilya Samkhya Society, which she shares with around 30 other minor girls, many of whom are rescued slaves. Phulin can barely write her name, the scars still show on her face. But she details her three years of enslavement with a brave face and with no emotion. “It is for the first time that I am seeing her talk so openly. It seems she is recovering well from the trauma,” says Asha Kusum, the warden of the institution. The Mahilya Samkhya Society is wary of letting Phulin rejoin her parents in her village. They ask her father to come to town for Christmas. They don’t want to take a chance again. “Most kids are from extremely poor tribal families. Their parents will send them to Delhi for any small amount. Phulin is safe here – from poverty and from agents who would want to prey on her again. She is still scared inside. She will only get better,” says Ms Kusum