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And the unwilling who get trapped

Women from the Northeast are lured to New Delhi and Mumbai with job offers that often lead to dreary brothels. Teresa Rehman reports on how they are trapped in this web

Crusader: Ela Sangma
Photo Anu Boro
At the Tesigong bus park in Myanmar, the army found blood oozing from a gunny bag when they pierced it with an iron rod. It was a child being taken to China to be sold
She was christened Sarika in her new abode, a brothel in GB road in New Delhi. Ela Sangma of Nigam Garo basti in Bhalukpong in Arunachal Pradesh was only 11 when life took a cruel turn. One fine day, the eldest of six siblings, Ela saw her mother negotiating a deal with a stranger after she came back from school. The man, one Praveen Pandit from New Delhi, had come to their village to look for a maid. Despite her repeated pleas, her mother insisted that she should go with the man to work in his house as a maid. After a long train journey, they landed in New Delhi where she was lodged in the man’s house. After a few days, she was taken to a brothel in the GB road area in New Delhi.

“I had refused to give in and I was thrashed badly for that. I was asked to wear a skimpy dress and attend to the needs of the clients. On my repeated refusal, one day I was raped by one of the customers,” she narrates her tale without batting an eyelid. There was a cold look in the teenager’s eyes as she gave an account of how she also acted as a pimp in the area for two years when she finally landed in a women’s home. She is now a crusader with extraordinary grit and determination. She’s now associated with Impulse NGO Network (ignon), an NGO based in Shillong, Meghalaya. Ela, a survivor, is now travelling all over to tell her story. “Girls like us also have the right to lead a normal life and be accepted in society. The society and police in particular can do a lot to check the problem of human trafficking,” she said.

Trafficking of children and women is a complex phenomenon interwoven with many issues. Hasina Kharbhih, president of ignon and vice-chairperson of Meghalaya State Commission for Women said that recently their NGO had recovered four young girls from Mumbai, who were actually from Meghalaya and Assam and were conned by agents who promised them good modelling assignments.

“The situation is quite serious with sly operators flooding the Northeast hunting for young girls on the pretext of modelling assignments and plum jobs. But the fact is that many of these girls were forced into prostitution,” said kharbhih. She added that most of the times, these girls were mistaken to be from Nepal because of their mongoloid features. Few understand their mother tongue and therefore can’t recognise them as being from the Northeast.

Gunottam Bhuyan, IGP, CID, and nodal officer, anti-trafficking, Assam said that trafficking is increasing in the Northeast and the instances of Assamese girls being rescued from brothels in Siliguri, Mumbai, New Delhi and Haryana were registered. He pointed out that there are no proper statistics available with the police and there are no organised red light-areas in the region. “The statistics belie the actual happenings, only 22 cases of human trafficking were registered in Assam in the last five years with 42 arrests,” he said.

A comparative study of crime figures in Assam regarding cases registered under Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act, 1956 reveals that it reflected a mixed trend. There was an increase in the number of cases in 2002, in comparison to those in the year 2001, but there was a decreasing trend in 2005 as compared to 2004. In 2005, there were 268 recorded cases of missing adult females and 319 female children from Assam. “We could trace 78 missing adults and 118 children in 2004. But these traced cases may be of an earlier date,” said Bhuyan.

All the district superintendents of police in Assam have been asked to keep strict vigil in the railway stations and bus stops to detect girls who may run away from their home and who are vulnerable to induction into the flesh trade by touts. “Stern legal action will be taken against any such racketeers. We also keep contacts with the village headmen and the village defence parties to keep track of missing children and women,” said Bhuyan.

The Meghalaya model in “combating child trafficking through networking in Northeast India” which evolved after Impulse NGO Network conducted a need assessment study to understand the basic issue that needs intervention needs to be replicated in rest of the Northeast. The assessment was shared at the state, regional and national level meetings to be able to emanate the idea of strategic planning. In the process, Impulse NGO Network was elected as Meghalaya convener of action against trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.

“We used the process of letters, campaigns through emails and advocacy with law enforcements, government departments, NGOs, media to work as collective partners in combating trafficking. We also conducted trainings with different stakeholders to strengthen capacity building, especially with the law enforcing authorities,” said Kharbhih.

The region being a conflict zone and its complex geographical location makes it more prone to trafficking. “Due to poverty and ignorance, parents are willing to send their children anywhere for a job to support the family,” said Kharbhih.

A. Romen Kumar, IG nodal officer, anti-trafficking of 1st Manipur battalion said, “Manipur police is more into fighting militancy rather than fighting social evils, hence it shows a lack of awareness on the rules and regulations of trafficking issue. Trafficking of drugs, arms and human beings is an organised crime. There has to be a healthy interaction between the public and the law enforcement department.”

Citing an instance of cross-border trafficking, Sobita Mangsatbam, secretary, Women Action for Development, said that a bus going from Moreh in Manipur to Mandley was checked at the Tesigong bus park in Myanmar by the Myanmarese army. The army found a child in a gunny bag. The army personnel found blood oozing out from the gunny bag when they were piercing it with a pointed iron rod. It was suspected that they were taking the child to sell in China. Moreh, in Manipur, which is on the Indo-Myanmar border, is a transit point for cross-border trafficking.

Champa Dasgupta, chairperson of Tripura State Women Commission stressed that the incidence of human trafficking is very high in Tripura. “We need the cooperation of NGOs and enforcement authorities in handling trafficking as a need based initiative,” she said. The Voluntary Health Association of Tripura (VHAT) had conducted a survey on the real problem of trafficking which revealed that 40 percent of the girls marry before the age of 18 and 25 percent get married to older men. 47 percent of the marriages were arranged by middlemen and 32 percent were men from Haryana and Punjab. According to reports, every year hundreds of girls are trafficked to places like Haryana and Punjab, where the sex ratio is low. Most of these girls are from poor families residing in Belonia, Sabroom and Udaipur sub-division. “74 percent of the families live below poverty line and illiteracy is high. These are the root causes,” said Sreelekha Ray, executive director of VHAT.

The issue of cross border migration of people and those concerning children needs to be looked at from the perspective of migration of economically displaced people from Bangladesh, Myanmar and other neighbouring countries into the region, thereby making it an easy hunting ground for human trafficking. “There exists a strong linkage between migration and trafficking in the region. There is an urgent need to launch a sustained campaign in addressing the vulnerability of migrants,” said Kharbhih.

May 20 , 2006

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