Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 43, Dated Nov 01, 2008
Human trafficking is the third largest illicit industry
after arms and drugs. Neha Dixit went undercover
to meet the traffickers and the young victims sold by
their own families to pimps and placement agents
Photo: SALMAN USAMNI
• Every Sunday, 17-year-old Rita was
forced into sex with at least 50 men.
• Vijay was still in the womb when his
mother fixed the price he was sold at.
• Seven-year-old Parul’s meals were
thrown into a toilet bowl. She had no
choice but to eat.
• Priyanka was nine when she was shot
in the thigh for eating too much.
• Preeti has not been allowed outdoors
since she was eight. It’s been 15 years.
• Two months into their marriage, 14-
year-old Puja’s husband began pimping
her to his friends.
EVEN THOUGH India’s
poverty rate has dropped
from 60 to 42 percent
according to the World
Bank, the number of
Indians scraping by on less than Rs 60 a
day is at an astronomical 467 million.
That hunger has almost half the Indian
population in its grip is not all that this
figure implies. Among huge swathes of
India’s poor, life is little more than a
bare, often brutalised attempt at staying
alive, a struggle in many cases hijacked
by human trafficking, deemed by the
United Nations the world’s third-largest
illicit industry, after arms and drugs.
Extreme poverty and the low premium
traditionally placed on female lives sees
thousands of girls, most of them more
children than women, sold into unmitigated
hell by family members and
acquaintances. As TEHELKA witnessed at
close range during a three-month investigation,
the grievous trade in human
lives is plied not only in the country’s
brothels, but in urban domestic placement
agencies and rural bride markets
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: TORTURE
AND DOMESTIC SERVITUDE
PM Nair’s Trafficking in Women and
Children in India indicates that nearly 75
percent of the victims of trafficking are
tricked into it by the promise of a lucrative
Photo: SALMAN USMANI
area A victim sits amidst her luggage in a cramped hostel
Photo: SALMAN USAMNI
With the nuclear family
fast becoming the norm among the urban middle-toupper classes, the demand
for the live-in maid servant (euphemism: ‘domestic help’)
has exponentially risen. In response, domestic placement agencies have
mushroomed across the country’s metros. Posing as the mother of
a three-year-old, we visited several such agencies in Delhi and saw at
first hand how easily minor girls are brought from villages in West Bengal,
Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh to live under extreme exploitation, first at
the placement agency’s ‘transit area’, and then at the
Husband and wife Kiranjeet and Julie,
known only by their first names, are traffickers from Alipore Dwar, West Bengal.
In trade jargon, they are known as
‘johns’: they supply placement agencies
with girls from the villages at commissions
ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 10,000
per girl. TEHELKA got Kiranjeet talking
about his profession.
Tehelka: How do you bring the girls to
Kiranjeet: By the Mahananda train…not
the Northeast Express because it comes
via Guwahati and there is a lot of checking
there. The Mahananda train comes to
the station directly, which is why we use it.
Tehelka: What do you tell the girls?
Kiranjeet: I tell them there are a lot of
employment opportunities in Delhi and
good money also…I don’t give them too
many details…The placement agent here
in Delhi gives me Rs 2,500 for each girl I
get… In the train, the police come on their
rounds at night. If they find a number of
girls being taken, they ask for money.
Tehelka: They take money for bringing
Kiranjeet: Yes. They take Rs 200 per girl.
KIRANJEET AND JULIE, Traffickers
ANIL, Domestic placement agent
ONCE IN the city, the girls are kept
in so-called hostels until the
placement agent finds them an
employer. The ‘hostel’, as we found on
visits to many such establishments, is no
more than a single room where several
girls, all in the 8 to16 age group, are
claustrophobically packed together in
conditions unhygienic in the extreme.
When we asked these girls who they
were and where they were from, their
unvarying answer was that they were the
placement agents’ relatives — the reply
they are told to give on arrival, to avoid
attracting the attention of the police. The
transit period involves doing the placement
agent’s household work and, frequently,
submitting to sexual molestation
Smita, now 16, was one of four girls
brought in June 2005 from their village in
Jharkhand by an acquaintance of her
father to a placement agency in Punjabi
Bagh, New Delhi. There, while no employment
came her way, she found the
placement agent continually harassing her for massages. She refused. Three
months later, the agent punished her
with rape. “I ran away that very day, and
stayed on the streets for the next two
days. I had no money and I didn’t know
any Hindi.” An NGO, Domestic Workers’
Forum, Chetnalaya, finally came to her
aid, but her parents refused to take her
back because she had been raped, leaving
her nowhere to turn but the rescue
home where she still lives. A case was
registered last year against the placement
agent; he, however, is absconding.
WHEN WE went looking for a
babysitter to Phoolchand
Placement Agency in
South Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar, six or seven
girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were
displayed before us like mannequins in a
shop window. The placement agent told
us he would charge a commission both from us and the girl, depending on
whether she was untrained (a firsttimer),
semi-trained (had worked before)
or fully trained. The fee, accordingly,
ranges from Rs 6,500 to Rs 10,000.
had a talk on the phone about a small girl for babysitting.
Agent:Will be done. Call the girls. (A few
Tehelka: I want this one. What is your
Tehelka: How old are you?
Tehelka: Have you worked before?
Shilpi: Yes. In Noida. For two years.
Tehelka: Okay. I’ll take this one.
Agent: Her mother will come in sometime.
Talk to her.
injured forehead (above)
and acid burnt hands (below)
The girl’s monthly wage is fixed at
Rs 3,000. The agent tells us there will be
an 11-month contract and the girl will
get two off-days a month. But, when we
protest that we cannot allow leave, we
are told she’ll work with no offs for an
extra month’s salary. After a while,
Shilpi’s mother, Jharna arrives.
Tehelka: Is this your daughter?
Tehelka: What do you do?
Jharna: I get girls from the village and
supply them to placement agents in Delhi.
Tehelka: Where is your village?
Jharna: Between Siliguri and Kishangarh.
It’s called Darkula.
Tehelka:My sister also needs a small girl
like her. Can you get me one?
Jharna: See, there’s a problem in bringing
minor girls because of the police check
here. There’s no problem sending one’s
own daughter. Then nobody can ask me
While one remains unsure whether
Jharna is Shilpi’s actual mother, the interaction
reveals one of the key techniques
johns use when trafficking minor girls.
The placement agent also insisted
that Shilpi’s wages be paid by cheque
into the agent’s bank account. A façade
that promises security but means exactly
Latika Das from Alipore Dwaar arrived
in Delhi in January 2005. Illiterate, a complete stranger to city life and without
a soul she knew, it was no surprise
that the 14-year-old could not manage to
open a bank account. She turned to
Praveen, her placement agency owner,
who said she could deposit her money
into his account. A year of hard labour
in domestic service netted her Rs 12,000,
collected in Praveen’s name. Says Latika,
“When I asked him to give me my
money and send me home, he refused.
When I insisted, he raped me and told
me that if I complained, he would get me
arrested.” Fearing the legal repercussions
Praveen could cause her to incur, Latika
agreed to work at two different places for
the next two years, during which she had
no contact with her parents. Befriended
by NGO Prayaas, Latika registered a case
this May against Praveen, who now owes
her Rs 36,000. He, however, is absconding.
Speaking from a rescue home, she
tells us, “I can’t go back to my parents till
I get my money. How will I tell them
about what I went through here?”
FORCED LABOUR, exploitation, fraud
and sexual assault — Latika and
Smita faced all these at the hands
of the men who were supposed to get
them work. Once work is found, however,
life can descend into nightmare. Geeta,
Priyanka and Parul were 12, 9 and 7
respectively when they were sent to work
at the house of Manish and Ritu Gupta in
Faridabad, Haryana, in January 2006.
Priyanka and Parul would wash the
clothes and manage the household cleaning
(which included scrubbing the washrooms
barehanded with acid), and Geeta
would do the kitchen work. By the girls’
account, punishment in the Gupta household
for slip-ups at work was nothing if
not sadistic. Being locked into a wet bathroom
on winter nights was perhaps the
mildest. Beatings with dumbbells and
cricket bats were common; the children
would be gagged so their screams would
not be heard. “When we did not finish
our work on time,” says Parul, “Madam
(Ritu Gupta) would throw our food into
the commode from where we picked it
up to eat.” During the two years the children
worked for the Guptas, they neither
got any money nor were they allowed to
visit their homes. Says Geeta, “I was
desperate to call my parents, and I once
became adamant about it. She (Ritu
Gupta) snatched the paper on which I
had the number, put chillies in my eyes
and tied me naked to the kitchen door.
She did not give me food for the next five
or six days.” Geeta says Manish Gupta
attempted to rape her several times. He
also shot Priyanka in the thigh with an
airgun, apparently because he thought
she ate too much. “They did not even
call a doctor after that,” Priyanka says.
Manish Gupta is an architect; his wife is
what is commonly referred to as an
The three girls were rescued in
December 2007, when a neighbour informed a local NGO, Shakti Vahini.
Manish Gupta and his wife managed bail
the same day; they evaded TEHELKA’S attempts
to contact them. The three children
they brutalised wait in a rescue
home in Sonipat in Haryana for their
case to close so they can return home.
Says Priyanka, “More than these people,
I am angry at my brother who brought
me from Chhattisgarh and dumped me
here.” Gita’s response is impassioned.
The Bengali girl speaks in the Haryanavi
accent she has acquired during her stay
in the rescue home. “I want to kill them
both, I want them to suffer exactly what
they did to us.” Parul, the youngest and
the most traumatised, has only one reply
to all questions: “I want to go home to
my parents and my brother, then I will
tell you everything.”
Gita, Priyanka and Parul did at least
find a way out of the hell they had been
left in. Not Preeti, 23, who has worked at
the house of KC Dutt — a resident of the
Railway Colony off the capital’s Lodhi
Road — since she was eight. Brought
from West Bengal by her uncle and sold
to a placement agency, Preeti has not left
the Dutts’ house once in the 15 years she
has been here. Her years in the house
have not only silenced her, but have left
her with a pervasive inability to trust
anyone she meets. This includes her sister,
who found her here after years of
searching. When we visited the Dutts,
they refused to let her out. The only contact
she was allowed with us was
through a small window. All the while,
as we tried to coax her to talk, not once
did she lift her head to look us in the eye.
All she said was “I don’t want to go back,”
the same response her sister says she
gave two years ago when told her father
had died of the trauma of not being able
to locate her for 13 years. She has always
been spotted in the same clothes with
injury marks all over her face and body.
How she got them, she never tells.
TERROR OF the employer and the
placement agent and of the social
and financial consequences of returning
home keep hundreds of thousands of girls and women silent about the
torture and humiliation they daily suffer.
The National Commission for Women
(NCW) receives at least eight cases every
day from across the country of the murder
of housemaids, says NCW member
Manju Snehlata Hembrom. “When the
girls become pregnant after they are
raped, the employers kill them and claim
they committed suicide,” she says.
Sister Leona, co-ordinator, Domestic
Workers Forum, Chetnalaya, points out
the chief hurdle in tracking the abuse of
domestic servants. “There is absolutely
no record of the number of girls that are
brought from the villages to these agencies,
nor is there any record of the number
of agencies in the country.” Even the
registration certificates that the placement
agents show employers, under the Indian Partnership Act, are false because
the practice is altogether illegal.
The Domestic Labour Bill has been
sent to Parliament and, according to
Hembrom, will take at least eight
months to pass. Till it becomes law, it
will remain next to impossible to assess
the magnitude of this kind of trafficking
or to formulate a domestic workers’
database, not just for policy makers and
social workers but for parents trying to
track children they once sent out to earn
and who are now lost forever.
THE SEX TRADE: NO EXITS
ON GB ROAD
A report by the United Nations Centre for
Development and Population Activities
indicates that approximately 200 girls
and women in India enter sex work every
day. More than 160 are coerced into it.
Pimp, GB Road
former sex worker
For ages, the commercial
sex trade has been the chief destination for trafficked girls. According
to a report by the Ministry for Women and Child Development, India has
nearly 2.5 million prostitutes in nearly 300,000 brothels in 1,100 red-light
areas across the country.
RITA KAMBDE was kidnapped
from her home in Latur, Maharashtra,
in 1997 and sold for
Rs 3,000 to a brothel on GB Road, Delhi’s
red-light locality. She was then 17. When
she refused to sleep with customers, she
was thrown into a tiny room where, she
says, there were at least a 100 other girls.
Locked up for 20 days, they were neither
given food nor even allowed to leave to
defecate. Periodically, the brothel bahadurs
— the term used for the husbands
of the madams, the women heading the
brothel — would pick off a girl to rape
before the rest to terrorise them. At other
times, Rita says, chilli powder would be
applied to the girls’ vaginas to torture
them into consent.
When Rita finally agreed, she was
made to sleep with 20 to 30 customers a
day and with 50 customers on Sundays.
When she mustered the courage to say
she wanted out, the brothel madam
told her to repay the sum she was bought
for. Says Rita, “How could I have paid
her anything? I was never given any
money, just food and clothes.” Nine years
later, Rita contracted tuberculosis and
managed to escape when she was taken to
hospital for treatment. She now works as
a children’s helpline co-ordinator. Her case
has been in court for two years. She has
AIDS and just two or three years to live.
Posing as a research scholar, the
TEHELKA reporter visited GB Road and
met Abdul, a pimp.
Tehelka: Since when have you been here?
Tehelka: You must know a lot about the
area. How much were girls sold for then?
Abdul: At that time, for anywhere between
Rs 20,000 to 50,000.
Tehelka: What about now?
Abdul: Now it’s much higher.
Tehelka: Who brings these girls here?
Abdul: Parents, brothers…
Tehelka: And the police must also ask for
Abdul: Is it possible without their commission?
Tehelka: They must know that parents
bring the girls?
Abdul: Yes. In fact, the police themselves
facilitate a sale every 10 to 15 days.
Situated across from
New Delhi Railway Station, the brothels of GB Road occupy the upper floors
of Asia’s largest spare parts
market. A maze of
narrow, dark passageways and staircases, filled with paan stains and cigarette
smoke and guarded by bahadurs at every exit, lead to the brothels. It
is a labyrinth impossible to navigate for anyone attempting to escape.
We first go to brothel no. 64, which we
are told is the best in the area. When we
step into the display room, we find faircomplexioned
minor girls from Nepal
and the Northeast, dressed in Western
outfits and accompanied by middleaged,
well-to-do men drooling over
them as they await a ‘room’. These socalled
rooms are little more than wall
cupboards, not even three feet deep,
their shelves replaced by a single plank.
Makeshift arrangements to accommodate
the maximum customers at any
given time, each ‘room’ has a mattress but
no fan, ventilation or light. Rarely cleaned,
these cramped quarters are, naturally, the
automatic breeding ground for infection.
The popularity of brothel 64 indicates
that a large number of minor girls
are available here, especially virgins.
Since sections of our culture still
subscribe to the myth that intercourse
with a virgin cures sexual dysfunction,
the demand for virgins is high, the
younger the better. The looks and
complexion of the girls also play a
great part in deciding the rates they are
AS WE leave, we meet
Rani, nearing 40, a prisoner of the trade for over three decades. Rani
was eight when she was kidnapped from a village in Siliguri, West Bengal,
and sold to a brothel in Delhi. Twenty-five years later, her abused body
was no longer attractive to customers; her dark complexion also impeded
her graduating to the status of madam, a trajectory sex workers commonly
follow. One day, she says, she came down with an unspecified illness;
it took the brothel owners no time to throw her out. In the 25 years she
had lived in the brothel, Rani had never once been paid. “I was
completely stranded,” she says. “I didn’t have a single
penny.” She saw hope only in her village; she managed somehow to
put the money together for the return. “My mother wept the moment
she saw me. She was so happy I had come home. But when my father saw me,
he kicked me out on the spot. He said I would bring him a bad name if
people found out where I’d been all these years. I was forced to
return. Sometimes, I wonder if he’d have done the same if I’d
come back with money. Was it my fault I was kidnapped?”
When she returned, Rani was
fortunate in being able to find a job
with Shakti Vahini, an NGO that helps
rescue trafficked victims. The money
she earns provides her enough to raise
her two daughters. That is not the usual
fate of most of the flesh industry’s castoffs,
many of whom end their days begging
in the dark staircases that lead to
IN 2007, 15-year-old Puja Singh’s
father married her to Pratap, 20, in
Begu Sarai, Bihar. After the wedding,
her husband brought her to a
village near Bahadurgarh in Haryana
and, two months later, began inviting
his friends in to sleep with her. When
Puja resisted, he told her she was his
property, for her father had sold her
to him for Rs 3,000. Shocked, Puja
plotted her escape and was able to run
away. She lives now in Nari Sadan, a rescue
home in Rohtak, Haryana. Determined
not to go home, she has no idea
what she is to do now. Tears and anger
burst from her as she speaks. “My father
sold me, my husband turned me into a
prostitute, I am not even educated, you
tell me what to do.”
Back at GB Road, at brothel no. 70, we
meet Sonia, the ‘deputy madam’, who
confirms the view that the most
common sources of girls for the brothels
are their own relatives.
Tehelka: Where do the girls come from?
Sonia: See, earlier the pimps would get
them but now the mothers themselves
bring them here. Girls from Calcutta,
Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh…After
selling them, they come back every two or
three months to collect their share of their
Tehelka: The pimps used to get the girls?
Sonia: Yes. Pimps made a lot of money
earlier. But now their method has
changed. They pretend to fall in love with
the girls, promise them marriage and
convince them to elope. Then they sell
them here. When traffickers come here,
they come disguised as customers and
ask to take them out. Once they do so,
they sell them at some other brothel.
Tehelka: How many times is a girl sold?
Sonia: Don’t ask. There this girl in
brothel no. 71 who married her pimp. He
promised to take her out, but he now
forces her to sleep with customers and
lives on that money.
Tehelka: Do the police know?
Sonia:What will the police do? They get
their commission every month.
When we speak to Bala Sharma, SHO
of the Kamla Market police station under
which GB Road falls, all she tells
us is, “To the best of my knowledge,
there are no minor girls in the area and
no girls have been sold here since I
Rescue does not always guarantee
release, for traffickers and brothel owners
keep close tabs on the girls. Says Bharti
Sharma, chairperson, Nirmal Chhaya,
a rescue home for girls in Tihar Jail,
“Traffickers often disguise themselves
as relatives of the rescued girls. That is
why we don’t allow the girls to go with
anyone but their parents. We ask for
pictures and other details before we hand
the girls over.”
But even these precautionary measures
are not always adequate to the purpose.
Jaswanti, who runs the Rohtak
rescue home, Nari Sadan, tells of how a
couple once came with photographs,
birth certificate and other such documents
and claimed that one of the girls
at the home was their daughter. They said
the girl, then 16, had been trafficked
when she was five; now that she had been
rescued, they wanted to take her home,
they said. All formalities completed, the
girl was allowed to leave. Two days later,
Jaswanti got to know that the parents
were in a nearby locality, forcibly marrying
their new-found daughter to a 50-
year-old man. “I rushed to the place with
the police and rescued her,” says Jaswanti.
SAAT PHERE: SEVEN CIRCLES
Despite the Pre-Natal Diagnostics Test
Act, which has banned foetal sex determination
since 1994, nine lakh unborn
girl children are aborted in India each
year, as per official statistics.
Rana Suraj Mal (centre) who sold Savita into marriage
PHOTO: TRILOCHAN S. KALRA
The desperation for
a son has left states like Haryana and Punjab with some of the worst sex
ratios in the country: 861 women per 1,000 men for Haryana and 876 women
per 1,000 men in Punjab. Depleted of their women, states like these resort
to procuring girls sold as sexual brides from villages in Orissa, Jharkhand,
Bihar, Assam and West Bengal.
Life was never easy for Sita, a 16-year-old from Punjab’s Murinda village.
The combined incomes of her father, a
truck driver, and her mother, a domestic
help, were insufficient to support their
family of five. Sita followed her mother
into domestic service for a few months
when she was 14, but it was still not
enough and she was soon handed over
to a ‘dera’ in Fatiabad. A police raid
shortly thereafter got her out, but left
her in the custody of the Nari Niketan,
Karnal, a dismally corrupt institution
that did not always take the trouble to
provide its inmates food and water. Sita
fled in less than a year. At a bus stop in
Panipat, another Haryana small town,
she fell into the clutches of Jasbir, a
motorcycle mechanic, who raped her,
then promised her marriage and finally
left her last year at the town’s Bal
Bhawan Ashram. In April, Amarjeet, the
Ashram co-ordinator, not only raped her
but also got a false birth certificate made
in her name, changing her year of birth
from 1993 to 1990, to show her as being
of the age of consent. He later sold her
into marriage with 25-year-old Sanjay
Verma, a glass factory worker in Gurgaon,
Haryana, for Rs 36,000.
Kept as a household drudge, Sita was
driven out by Sanjay’s extended family and
sent packing in a month. Now in the care
of the BBD Balashram, an NGO-run rescue
home in Karnal, Sita is a shattered human
being, wrecked even before she left her
teens. Says Balashram founder PR Nath,
“In one week alone, she tried to hang herself
twice, attacked other girls with a
kitchen knife and tried to set the ashram
on fire. There is no counsellor locally we
can take her to.” A case has been filed
against Sanjay, Amarjeet and Jasbir, but
that will take its own lengthy course. Sita
is currently in hospital, recuperating with
no psychological help at hand. When we
asked her if she wanted to go back to her
parents, she could only reply, “If I go back
now, my father will kill me.”
This is the inflexible code that binds
the lives of innumerable girls in shelter
homes across the country — once a
social taboo is broken, there is no going
back, no matter that it is no fault of the girl at all. A trafficker told us that when
girls from the brothels go back to their
villages, they are called ‘Delhi-returned’
and are considered impure. As with
Rani, parents succumb to societal pressure
and reject them.
THE STORY of 14-year-old
Jyoti, from Durgapur in West Bengal, is a little different. One of a family
of five daughters, Jyoti did not find getting sold into marriage to 40-year-old
BD Singh a surprise — her father was no more, her mother could find
no work and the
Photo: TRILOCHAN S. KALRA
marriage brought the
family Rs 15,000. What followed, however, was a shock. Married in Aligarh
in Uttar Pradesh last October — “just before Durga Puja,”
Jyoti says — the girl soon discovered her newly-wed husband was
not only already married, but also had four daughters from his first wife.
“She used to beat me and make me do all the housework. She would
say she’d see to it I’d never give birth to a boy.”
That, she finally understood, was why Singh, a brick kiln worker, had
married her: the quest for a male heir. In March, Jyoti ran away; the
police caught up with her and lodged her in the Karnal Nari Niketan, which
was then plagued with a contagious skin disease. The ordeal ended when
she was transferred to another rescue home. “I don’t want
to see my mother’s face,” Jyoti now says. “Don’t
send me home. I want to become a teacher and take care of myself.”
Twelve-year-old Savita from Koochbihar
in Assam has perhaps not got off so
relatively lightly. With both her father
and brother mentally retarded, her
mother sent her away three months ago
with Rana Suraj Mal, a man from her
village who worked as a tailor in Bahadurgarh,
Haryana. Says Mal’s neighbour
Asha, “Savita would come running
to us, crying. He would rape her, make
her do all the work at home.” Suraj Mal
has been arrested and has confessed to
selling Savita into marriage for a sum he
did not disclose. Savita, however, is missing;
the search for her is still on.
Says Sunil Singh, co-ordinator,
Rahi Foundation, a Lucknow-based
NGO that works for women’s empowerment,
“These girls get no social acceptability
all their lives. Treated as
commodities, they are reduced to sexual
brides, exploited in the most heinous
manner.” Most times, the girls do not
even understand the language their husbands
speak. Despised by the community
they are forced to live in, they have
nowhere to turn, for the magnitude of their tragedy is well-hidden behind the
sacrosanct matrimonial guise.
ADVANCE BOOKING: SELLING
It is not girls alone
who are trafficked; the Indian hunger for a male child will do deals in
boys as well. This is the story of 35-year-old Kamlesh, from Asandh, Haryana.
On July 28 this year, Kamlesh sold her fifth child, Vijay, the day he
was born. Three months before that, her husband had raped their daughter
and thrown her onto the railway tracks near their home, after her slitting
her throat numerous times. He is in jail now; Kamlesh says she has told
the police to hang him. “I am thinking of giving away my other children
too,” she says.
Kamlesh: The only money I get is on the
days when I get work as a daily wage
labourer. The rest of the time, I have to beg
my neighbours for food. My children are
dying of hunger. That is why I sold my son.
Tehelka: How much did they pay you?
Kamlesh: Rs 3,000.
Posing as adoption agency officials,
we met Savitri and Ramdev, the couple
from Madhubani, Bihar, who bought
Vikas. What they told us was astounding.
Tehelka: How did you come to know
Ramdev: Inderdev, my elder brother,
negotiated it all. He fixed it up a year ago.
Tehelka: As in, when Kamlesh was
Ramdev: Yes. Inderdev told us she
wanted to sell the child.
Tehelka: Did you give her anything when
she was pregnant?
Ramdev: No money, just some groceries.
Tehelka: She told us she spent the
money you paid her on treatment for
Ramdev: Yes. We paid her Rs 5,000-
6,000. We talked with her when she
was pregnant and it was decided that if
she had a boy, I would take him. When
this boy was born, a lot of people came to
take him. From places like Ambala and
Panipat. They were offering sums as high
as Rs 30,000 for him. Then we told her she
should give him to us, since she had
promised us beforehand.
Tehelka: So she gave him to you because
you had booked him when she was
Ramdev: Yes. Otherwise that man from
Ambala would surely have taken this
OUTLASTING TRAUMA: WHITHER
According to a recent
report by the National Human Rights Commission, an average of 22,480 women
and 44,476 children are reported missing in India each year. Of these,
a yearly average of 5,452 women and 11,008 children are never traced.
Another report, Action Research on Trafficking in Women and Children
in India, 2002-2003, indicates that many of the missing are not really
missing but are instead trafficked.
IF THEIR parents do not farm them
out, extreme poverty and large families
often compel girls to leave
home on their own and come to the
cities, looking for work. To take the case
of West Bengal, the maximum number
of trafficking victims from the state are
girls from the tea gardens. A hundred tea
gardens have closed down over the last
five years, leaving at least 17,000 tea
garden workers jobless; Bengal employs
three-fourths of those in the tea industry.
Says Vasudev Banerjee, chairman,
Tea Board of India, “Most of the plantation
workers had migrated from Chota
Nagpur to Bengal, over a hundred years
ago. They have no land in Bengal and
no skills apart from plucking leaves.
With the closure, they are left with no
options and nowhere to go.” Moreover,
according to official figures, at least
54 percent of the tea plantation workers
are women. With the West Bengal
government’s monthly Rs 750 stipend to
the laid-off being nowhere near adequate,
these women migrate looking for
jobs and many end up as victims of
Digambar, a co-ordinator with Nedan,
an NGO that works on human trafficking
in the Northeast, adds a different spin to
the predicament. Describing the state of
affairs in Assam, he says, “Due to the
ethnic violence between the Bodos and
the tribals, hundreds of people took shelter
in refugee camps. Many still live
there and, with no access to their traditional
livelihoods, are more than willing to send their children to work. These
children fall prey to trafficking.”
Girls from Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh’s
deeply impoverished tribal areas are
also easy targets. Says Manju Hembrom,
“For years, the tribals have been caught in
the web of the money lenders, and when
they can’t repay their debts, parents send
daughters to the cities to earn money, not
realising they may never come back.” Similar
stories from among farmers in Maharashtra’s
suicide country, Vidharbha, have
also been reported over the last few years.
DELHI-BASED SOCIAL activist
Rishikant, 32, has rescued more
than a thousand girls over the
last ten years. A sex worker once told
him his phone number was scribbled on
an AIDS awareness poster on GB Road,
from where he gets the most calls for rescue.
“I never switch off my phone,” he
says. “I can’t morally afford to.” In the
course of the week, Rishikant receives
dozens of text messages, faxes and post
cards, each a stark vignette of desperation,
violence and sorrow. When rescued,
the girls often do not even know the
name of the place they belong to. “I once
brought in an eight-year-old who had no
idea of where her home was,” Rishi says.
“I tracked down her village by the dialect
of a song she would often sing. But I have
now slowed down the process of rescuing
because over the years I have realised
I only end up saving them from one hell
and putting them into other.”
Rishikant is referring to the rescue
homes that are the only places girls
from the brothels can go to. Nirmal
Chhaya’s Bharti Sharma admits that the
girls brought to the homes — almost all of
them illiterate and many of them
teenagers or younger — do not receive
any counselling or medical attention, despite
the relentless trauma they have been
through. With their psyches shattered, no
skills to fall back on and their parents
refusing to let them back home, many girls
end up locked into the rescue homes’ section
for the mentally disturbed, whether
they qualify for being there or not.
Even though the Ministry of Women
and Child Development launched the
Ujjawala Scheme in December 2007 for
the rehabilitation of trafficking victims, it
has found takers in only a few states and
even fewer NGOs have got permission to
pitch in. It is this indifference, bland and
merciless, that, Rishikant says, has made
him vow to never shake hands with any
bureaucrat or minister.
(Names of victims have been changed
to conceal identities)