India’s obsession with white skin leads to a large number of foreign women being trafficked into Delhi, say senior police officers.
They are lured with promises of employment but end up as sex workers, mostly operating from posh localities and even high-end hotels.
“The traffickers seize the passports of women who try to put up a fight on learning the reality,” says a senior police officer involved in several operations to rescue trafficked women, both Indian and foreign.
These women, mostly from poorer countries like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Ukraine, usually come to India on three to six months of work or tourist visas.
“By the time their visa ends, they are deep into prostitution and find no other escape. So they keep returning on extended work permits,” says the officer.
A few of them turn into pimps, often luring their own relatives and country-women into India and later forcing them into prostitution, the police say.
The traffickers employ several means to lure victims.
“Those who aspire for more than mere employment are lured on the pretext of joining a dance group. Some others are promised employment as clerks with big private builders,” the officer said.
Instead, they are sent out across the country to provide sexual services by brokers who mostly operate through the internet. Charges for their services can range between Rs.2,000 and Rs.1 lakh per night, with the women themselves being given very little money.
When they turn old and are no more sought-after, some return to their country while many others are confined to GB Road.
NAINITAL: Traffickers of earthquake-affected girls and women from Nepal seem to be finding new routes. In the latest rescue, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) brought to safety on Friday, 10 teenage girls — all between the ages of 12 and 16 years — at Banbasa in Champawat on Nepal-Uttarakhand border.
Security forces also apprehended a 55-year-old man who accompanied the girls along with his minor daughter, after he failed to produce proper identification and papers.
The girls were residents of Nepal’s Kanchanpur district. SSB informed the girls’ parents, who travelled to Banbasa, after which the girls were handed over to them on Saturday evening. Poonam Sareen, assistant commandant of the SSB said, ‘The man accompanying them was drunk and could not produce any identification papers.”
“We apprehended him, suspecting trafficking, as the racket has gripped the country hard after the devastating earthquake earlier this year,” she added.
As per various reports and studies, the United Nations Organization and local NGOs estimate that around 10,000 to 15,000 women and children are trafficked from Nepal every year. The majority are said to end up in Indian brothels, while the others are taken to various countries including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Recently two Nepalese women rescued from the clutches of a Saudi diplomat in Gurgaon revealed that the Gulf has long been a hellhole for women and children trafficked from Nepal.
An alleged trafficker arrested by Delhi police in July this year had said that traffickers approach villages in remote districts affected by the quake of April 25 this year. They offer lucrative jobs and take the women to Delhi from where they were booked onto international flights to the Gulf.
Janakchand, director of REEDS, an NGO working to prevent human trafficking at the India-Nepal border, said, “Most of these criminal networks are based in India, which makes identification of traffickers tricky and difficult. The gangs have representatives and agents looking for ‘suitable targets’ across Nepal, particularly in deprivedand affected areas.”
The website of UNICEF says that it is already “supporting” the police to establish or strengthen at least 84 checkpoints and police stations throughout the country and in earthquake-affected districts.
In order to check trafficking, the Nepalese government suspended international adoption rights after the quake and also banned children from travelling between districts and across international borders without parents or approved guardians. The registration of new orphanages has also been suspended by the Nepalese government.
RANCHI: A case of theft under the guise of providing domestic helps came to light on Monday after a victim of theft from Phagwara, a city in Punjab, called up Khunti SP Anish Gupta reciting her woes.
Navdeep Walia, a resident of Phagwara was duped by placement agent Rekha, a resident of Murhu block in Khunti district of Jharkhand around a month ago. Talking to TOI over phone, Walia said, “I was in desperate need of domestic help when I got the contact number of Rekha from a person I know. She runs a placement agency in Punjabi Bagh area of Delhi. I spoke to her over phone and a few days after that, in the first week of September, she came to my house with two girls.”
Rekha allegedly demanded Rs.20,000 per girl and said that the girls would be taken back after one year. “One girl ran away the next day after arriving at my home. The second girl who acted innocent about the whole issue also ran away a day after that, taking with her my jewelleries,” Walia said.
After trying to contact Rekha for around a month, Walia finally decided to contact someone in Jharkhand and came across contact number of Baidnath Kumar, a social activist working against trafficking in Jharkhand. Kumar provided her with contact numbers of Khunti SP.
“I have spoken to Khunti SP and he has asked me to send all the details I have about this woman. I will also be lodging FIR here at Phagwara against Rekha and the two girls,” Walia said.
Khunti SP Anish Gupta said, “The woman (Rekha) has been identified. We are trying to apprehend her as getting to her may lead to disclosure of more such cases.”
Walia informed that after she was duped she contacted many other people in Phagwara and nearby areas and found that Rekha has allegedly done similar crime at many more households. “We got to know about nine such families who were duped by her. We have direct contact with two of the families,” Walia said.
Baidnath Kumar, who was the first person to be contacted by Walia said, “The lady (Walia) provided me with the contact number of Rekha. I called up on her number but her son Raghu received the call. When I confronted him about the issue he said arrogantly ‘neither Jharkhand police nor Delhi police can touch us, do whatever you can’.”
Meanwhile, Rishi Kant, member of Shakti Vahini NGO in Delhi said, “Such cases of people being duped by domestic helps and placement agents, especially in Delhi and Punjab, has come to limelight recently. People have to be more careful in such cases and should avoid getting in touch with unregistered placement agencies.”
Millions of domestic workers, who help us work our jobs and parent our children, are often victims of modern-day slavery and trafficking. Our homes, in fact, are at the edge of India’s rich-poor divide, says Gargi Gupta as she looks beyond cases of violent abuse to examine the status of the invisible but vital workforce
In mid-September, around the time the media was raging against the brutal sexual assault of two Nepalese domestic workers by a Saudi Arab diplomat, another bit of news was tucked away in the inside pages of some Delhi newspapers. It was about a 12-year-old girl, employed as a domestic help in a Noida high-rise, who’d used a sari tied to the balcony grill to climb down from the 13th to 12th floor, in her desperation to flee her “employers”.
They would, she told the police, not let her leave the house, make her work all hours of the day, and give food just twice – tea in the morning and two chapattis in the evening; the bathroom was off limits, so she’d have to use the balcony.
Horrifying? Yes, but no more shocking than the condition of a 15-year-old girl from Jharkhand, who was rescued from Vasant Kunj, a middle-class neighbourhood in south Delhi, some years ago. She was found half-naked with knife and bite injuries and burn marks; her employer, a 50-year-old senior executive in an MNC, would beat her regularly and make her drink urine.
And then was the case of another minor girl from the northeast whose air hostess employer would lock her up for weeks on end when she flew abroad.
And this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. While sensational cases of abuse and violent assault hit the national spotlight, what gets ignored is the daily exploitation of domestic help in urban Indian homes, the irregular work hours, lack of leave, poor pay, and worse, the lack of dignity. Indeed, how many times have you gone to a mall or a restaurant to find these young maids tagging along, holding heavy bags or minding the child, standing by as the family tucks into their meal? It is as if they’re invisible.
The government recently announced that it has prepared a draft national policy for domestic workers, which mandates a minimum monthly wage of Rs 9,000, mandatory leave, social security cover, a tripartite agreement involving the worker, the employer and the placement agency, but it’s still at the proposal stage — very far from becoming an actionable legal tool that will protect the domestic worker.
Bindu, a 22-year-old maid who works as a full-time domestic help in east Delhi, gets paid Rs5,500 a month — this works out to Rs.184 a day, far less than the minimum wage of Rs.385 a day for unskilled labour notified by the state government. The family she lives with has four members and Bindu cooks, looks after a four-year-old child and keeps the house clean. Though her employers don’t sting when it comes to food, “there’s just so much work that it is often two or three in the afternoon, that I get to eat lunch”, she says.
“I was ill this summer. I had diarrhoea and high fever. I would have recovered fast had I rested but where was the time? Madam had to go to work; the child had to be got back from school and fed, and a hundred little jobs to do in the house,” says her friend Vasudha. Vasudha was lucky – her employers took her to the doctor and paid for her treatment. They even took a few days leave when her health took a turn for the worse.
Bindu and Vasudha are lucky in other ways too – their employers do not grudge them a little time off every evening when they accompany their wards to the playground. “We are from the same area in north Bengal and belong to the same Oraon tribe,” Vasudha says smiling. “We chat a bit, compare our employers, our pay, what work we do, tell each other what happened through the day. It feels nice to speak in our own language.” They’ve also opened bank accounts back in Siliguri and get their employer to transfer the money direct into their accounts.
These days, Bindu and Vasudha are worried about Pinky, a girl from their part of the country who’s recently come to work in the same apartment complex. Pinky is not allowed to step out of the house. “Her employers say that we gossip and will spoil her. But she told us, when she sneaked out once, that they don’t give her proper food, only leftover daal and sabzi and that too after everyone has eaten,” says Bindu. “We are worried about her and have told her to speak to the agency that has brought her here if things get too bad.” But that too is an uncertain hope – after all, as Vasudha chips in with the wisdom of her six year’ work experience, “all the agency cares about is their commission. They don’t care about us”.
We Indians can’t do without domestic help – the entire motley of part-time bais who sweep and mop, cooks who whip up the daily daal-chawal and drivers who negotiate the chaotic traffic as we chat on the mobile. With the rise in double-income nuclear families in urban India, the demand for domestic help has risen by leaps and bounds in recent years. Numbers are hard to come by in this unregulated, grey sector, but a recent estimate by KPMG for the government’s National Skill Development Corporation estimates the domestic workforce in India to be six million strong in 2013, and projected to grow to 10.88 million by 2022.
Sushmita Dasgupta, a senior marketing executive who lives with her two children and parents in a Gurgaon high-rise, speaks for an entire generation of working women when she says, “I couldn’t do without my full-time domestic help. They are my lifeline. Who will look after my father-in-law, who is an invalid and has a separate diet and needs to be given his medicines on time? Who will meet my children at the school bus and give them lunch when they come home? Besides, I have a hectic schedule and get late coming the evening and have to frequently travel on work.”
Dasgupta has been procuring domestic help from a “placement” agency in Delhi for the past five years — she has two maids, both in their late teens-early twenties, and pays them Rs.10,000 each; of this, Rs.7,000 goes to the girls and Rs.3,000 to the agency. But it hasn’t been easy for her as well. “None of the maids are trained when they come. I’ve had some girls coming straight from the village – one didn’t even know how to read the time while another was so homesick she ran away, and I spent a few sleepless nights until she was located. Many don’t know how to put on the gas, much less use the microwave or washing machine. Their personal hygiene is so poor that I insist that they first have a bath, wash their hair with anti-lice shampoo and clean their clothes properly with detergent.”
Few of us think of the issue in these terms, but in reality our homes are poised on the edge of India’s rich-poor divide, the convergent point of a great wave of migration, mostly of women, taking place from the rural remote interiors of the country, by desperately poor hordes untouched by the benefits of government development programmes, and into the cities where they hope to make their fortune.
At the forefront of this migration is a network of “placement agencies” with, at one end, local toughs who act as recruiting agents in the villages and, on the other, grungy rooms located in crowded, rundown localities of cities where these girls are brought to. “The families are promised either that the girl will be made to study or that the work will be veryhalka-pulka – baccha dekhna hoga,” says Rishikant of Shankti Vahini, an NGO in Delhi that works with the police to rescue these girls. “The parents, often, don’t care. The promise of money, often, is as low as Rs.3,000.”
The employers, says Rishikant, are equally to blame. “These placement agencies have no legal standing. Most of them give a receipt with a registration number, but how many care to check whether it is genuine? The forms have the girls’ names, address and ages – but where’s the proof? There should at least be a certificate from the school, as most have been to one until class two-three – but who thinks of asking?”
Another matter of concern, as Rishi kant points out, is the overlap between the placement agency network sourcing domestic help and the one trafficking women into the flesh trade. The government too, he says, has been slack in monitoring the agencies, or implementing the laws against child labour, or those governing minimum wage, work conditions, hours of work, etc.
“Only one state in India – Chhattisgarh, has a law to regulate domestic workers and placement agencies. In Delhi, which is where most of these placement agencies operate from, the government brought out a notification last year requiring registration of all placement agencies, passbooks issued to every employee, three-way contracts and payments to be made into bank accounts. But it’s been nearly a year and not a single placement agency has been registered and neither have the Delhi women’s commission or child welfare committee, which are supposed to monitor this, done anything.”
The domestic help, it seems, is invisible to the government too.
About 50 km south of Ranchi, in Khunti district, a narrow dirt road leads to Ganloya village.
Makeshift shops selling tobacco and mobile recharge cards are interspersed with thatched huts and tamarind trees in the hamlet of Panna Lal Mahto, allegedly one of India’s biggest human traffickers.
Despite the scorching heat, girls play barefoot in a clearing by a rice field. Nearby, a group of men sitting on a charpoy drink hadiya or rice beer. Of late, the village has been nicknamed Chora Ganloya — village of thieves — because of the growing number of young men turning to crime, primarily the trafficking of girls to ‘placement agencies’ in Delhi and the National Capital Region.
Khunti is one of five districts that form the Jharkhand belt — the others are Gumla, Simdega, Lohardaga and Latehar. The Jharkhand belt supplies domestic help to thousands of homes in Delhi and satellite towns such as Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad.
Unlike the state’s industrially developed districts, think Ranchi, Dhanbad or Bokaro, endemic poverty marks these districts, with more than 35% of the tribal population living below the poverty line. These pockets are also the Maoist war zones of Jharkhand.
These factors make it prime hunting ground for traffickers such as 42-year-old Mahto, who had amassed assets worth over Rs 65 crore in Delhi and Jharkhand, having allegedly trafficked about 3,000 girls and women by the time of his arrest last October, the result of a joint operation by the Delhi police Crime Branch and the Jharkhand Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU).
“Most of these placement agencies are organised crime syndicates and they regularly indulge in trafficking of women and children. The business of placement agencies has been fuelled by huge demand of maids from eastern tribal states in the National Capital Region of Delhi,” noted the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) India Country Assessment Report, 2013.
About 4,000 children have gone missing in Jharkhand over the past 10 years. Of these, 1,000 are yet to be traced, according to the CID. Approximately 42,000 girls have been trafficked from Jharkhand to metropolitan cities, as per the NGO coalition Action against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children (ATSEC), making it a major hub of human trafficking in India.
Anubhuti Nag*, a tribal girl who will turn 18 next month, was among the first few girls in Patsera, a Naxal-affected village of about 100 families in Gumla district, to make the trip to Delhi.
Within two weeks of her arriving in the city, a man named Mukesh Kumar, a Jharkhand native in his late 40s running a placement agency, hired her for Rs 5,000 per month. Anubhuti’s job was to receive potential recruits at the railway station, bring them to the office of the agency, keep a check on about 50 girls placed across the city by the agency, and accompany the new recruits on their maiden visits to the homes of their employers.
Gradually, Mukesh spotted a potential trafficker in Anubhuti and offered her Rs 10,000 for each girl she could get from her village to Delhi. One afternoon, Anubhuti discovered that the bag containing all her ID documents was missing. She confronted Mukesh.
“Don’t pay me, but please return my documents. I want to go home,” she reportedly said. When he wouldn’t listen, she became angry and slapped him. Enraged, Mukesh and two aides raped her, she says. The following week, Anubhuti was rescued in a joint operation by the Jharkhand and Delhi police, but the rape was not recorded or investigated, on her request.
Back in their villages, girls like Anubhuti find themselves out of place as the government does not run any programmes for their rehabilitation. Wearing branded jeans and a T-shirt, with a smartphone in her hand, she looks starkly different from the rest of Patsera’s inhabitants. She is more confident, speaks fluent Hindi with a smattering of English words such as ‘park’, ‘society’, ‘hello’ and ‘bye’.
The villagers call them ‘Dilli return’ girls. There are few prospects for them here. Anubhuti supports her family of five on her savings of Rs 25,000. She hasn’t thought about what she, or they, will do once that is exhausted.
Alakh Singh, member of the district child welfare committee, a quasi-judicial body, says that in addition to the financial insecurity, Anubhuti and others like her find it difficult to readjust to village life. This makes them vulnerable to re-trafficking, he adds.
The signs of distress are visible in the numerous child care institutions that have mushroomed across the state. And in the fact that many families do not come to claim daughters that have been rescued. Anjali Munda*, 15, a tribal from a village in Khunti and a trafficking survivor, has lost hope of ever being reunited with her parents. They were contacted by the police three months ago, but have stayed away.
At her Sahyog Village (Sahyog is Hindi for assistance) facility alone, there are more than a dozen survivors in the same predicament. “Some parents are not willing to take them back. Others don’t have the resources to support them,” says Altaf Khan of Sahyog Village.
As with most survivors, for Anjali too, the first point of contact in her ‘life-changing’ journey was an acquaintance based in the Capital — a friend’s cousin who worked in a jeans-manufacturing unit in Delhi. “He asked me if I wanted to see the city. One day I left with him without telling anyone. I think this is why my parents are angry with me and do not come to get me,” she says.
Weekly markets and village fairs, local buses, and crossroads in Ranchi city where villagers gather in search of work are points of contact for traffickers and potential victims.
“These chowks are also now becoming recruitment centres for agents who lure women and girls to Delhi for work,” noted a report on human trafficking in Jharkhand prepared by Shakti Vahini (Vehicle of Strength), an NGO working against organised crime.
While some leave without telling their families, there are parents who send their children off with ‘agents’ in the hope that they will find employment in a big city.
Even those that are placed in jobs as promised end up isolated and dependent, forced to work as domestic help in slave-like conditions. Most are never paid.
ATSEC found that only 25% of the women who leave the Jharkhand belt with agents remain in contact with their families. “Usually, parents stop hearing from their children and the agents stop taking their calls,” says Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini.
Approaching police is a taboo in Naxalaffected villages, so many cases remain unreported. The women just disappear, and there is no one equipped to look for them.
In Gumla’s villages, the writing is literally on the wall. Messages warning people about human trafficking are scribbled on the exterior walls of houses and read, “Saavdhan. Kahin aapke bacche maanav vyaapar ka shikaar toh nahin (Beware. May your child not fall prey to those who trade in humans).”
Although the state government has taken some initiative to combat trafficking, establishing district child protection forces and special juvenile police units, implementation and enforcement are poor.
The result is that the trade continues unabated, even as Panna Lal Mahto and 75 others are lodged in Khunti prison, facing charges of trafficking.
“It’s like a flood. You stop the flow from one side, and it finds another way,” said Aradhna Singh, sub-inspector with the AHTU in Khunti, one of 225 such units set up across the country by the union home ministry in 2011-12. “According to our information, Mahto’s aides remain very active.”
Earlier this month, Mahto’s nephew, Manan*, a minor, was arrested at Ranchi railway station with three girls. None of the arrests seems to have deterred the rest of the trafficking network. The crackdown has just prompted them to modify their operations.
“Recruiting minor traffickers is a new trend,” Singh says. “It is difficult to prove their criminality in such cases. Even if it is proved, they will be tried under the Juvenile Justice Act and not the Indian Penal Code.”
Many traffickers now opt for Ranchi-Delhi Rajdhani train to evade the task forces that now watch the Jharkhand Sampark Kranti Express, dubbed the Slavery Express. “On the Rajdhani, you don’t raise suspicion. Who would expect a trafficker to travel in the second class coach of an air-conditioned superfast train?” says Baidnath Kumar, program officer at Diya Seva Sansthan, a grassroot organisation in Ranchi.
The market has changed too. “Some of the victims are sent to Haryana where there is a demand of brides… Jharkhand women and children have been also in high demand to work as bonded labour in Haryana and Punjab,” according to the UNODC report.
Will Jharkhand ever tackle its trafficking menace? Mahto offered a worrying perspective during his arrest. “I have given jobs to far more people than the state government has,” he reportedly said.
Guwahati, Sept. 15: Severe floods in Assam have fuelled fears of a spurt in trafficking of women and children from the ravaged areas of the state.
Police and NGOs are keeping vigil in the vulnerable areas since disasters have in the past caused largescale displacement of people, leading to migration, a situation that traffickers try to take maximum advantage of.
Shakti Vahini, an anti-trafficking NGO, said at least five minors from Assam, who were being trafficked to Delhi, have been rescued from trains in West Bengal and Bihar since August.
Deep Banerjee, regional project manager (North Bengal) of Shakti Vahini, told The Telegraph that on August 27 they had rescued a 16-year-old girl from Kokrajhar in Assam at New Jalpaiguri railway station and reunited her with her family.
“Another teenager from Dhubri in Assam was rescued at Katihar railway station in mid-August. At present, she is lodged in a shelter home at Araria since she is not been able to give the correct address of her village which is creating problems in locating her house,” he said.
“On September 3, two girls from Dhubri district, aged 15 and 16, were rescued from New Jalpaiguri railway station while they were being taken to Delhi by a suspected trafficker with the lure of employment. The trafficker managed to escape,” he added.
Banerjee said with floods hitting Assam, there could be a rise in trafficking of women and children from the vulnerable areas of the state. To prevent trafficking, the NGO is maintaining vigil on trains coming from Assam and at New Jalpaiguri, Siliguri junction and Delhi railway stations.
Director-general of police (CID) Mukesh Sahay said trafficking cases have been detected in the state in the past 15 days. He said it has been observed that post-disaster, both natural and manmade ones like riots, which cause displacement, incidents of trafficking are on the rise.
“We are aware of it and directions have already been issued to police, other government agencies concerned and civil society groups to remain alert and look for traffickers and their agents who become active in such situations,” Sahay said.
An official of the state social welfare department said people who have lost their agricultural land and homes due to erosion and floods are most vulnerable to trafficking since it becomes easy to take them to Delhi and other places with the lure of employment.
Digambar Narzary, chairperson of Nedan Foundation, a Kokrajhar-based anti-trafficking NGO, said the condition of the tarpaulin-roofed relief camps in Kokrajhar district, which shelter the riot-affected people from Adivasi and Bodo communities, had become pathetic following heavy rainfall in past weeks.
“Inmates of these camps are most vulnerable. Every week, we are getting two to three reported cases of trafficking from these areas,” he said.
Though there has been a steady improvement in the flood situation, even today 1,063 hectares of crop land and 62 villages are under water. Around 62 people have died in the latest wave of floods.
Shakti Vahini spokesperson Rishi Kant said there had been a rise in trafficking from Nepal after the devastating earthquake this year, from the Sundarbans after cyclone Aila hit Bengal in 2009 and the same could happen in Assam if preventive measures are not taken.