Pain, perseverance and happiness may be the trinity of life. But if there is a single skill that can get anyone through life above all others, it is ‘resilience’. And no one can develop resilience in a vacuum. So, to understand this, what could be better than some winning stories of trafficked survivors?
Human trafficking is a shocking crime that is taking its toll on the City of Joy. According to the 2016 report on human trafficking cases by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), West Bengal retains number one position, with 3,579 cases reported, followed by Rajasthan, with 1,422 cases. West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Odisha are common routes for trafficking to red-light areas across India, according to the India Country Assessment Report, 2013, on anti-human trafficking, brought out by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Lincoln Hall Mela
According to the NCRB, human trafficking is a group of crimes involving trafficking of men, women and children for sexual exploitation, or for financial gains, or other exploitation of trafficked persons. The victims are lured, or abducted from their homes and forced to work against their wishes in various establishments. They are forced into prostitution, or subjected to various indignities — and even killed or incapacitated for begging, or human organ trading.
Human trafficking has emerged as a significant problem worldwide. Recently, the American Centre, in association with numerous NGOs working to combat trafficking, organized a mela, or fair at their very famous Lincoln Hall. The sole purpose of the event was to empower trafficked survivors by showcasing and selling handicraft made by them.
Confined to Sonagachhi
Sonagachhi, translated as ‘Golden Tree’, has several multi-storey brothels in the narrow, winding lanes of the area and is home to about 10,000 sex workers. The place found its name on the map when an American documentary, Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids, won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 2004.
Sonagachhi is one of the key trafficking hubs in South Asia.The area is ridden with crime and seems to operate almost entirely outside the law of the land. A girl’s virginity sells at a premium in India’s red-light districts and, given how vulnerable they are, sex workers’ children are the prime targets of the sex trafficking industry.
Jyoti Mandapaka, assistant director of Deepika Social Welfare Society (DSWS), says, “We have a three-fold approach towards combating trafficking in women. We try to help the women leave the trade by providing them with alternative vocational training and the products they make are sold at the American Centre exhibition.
Equally important is prevention of trafficking — in this case, mostly in girls — who grow up in brothels, or are at high risk of being trafficked, either by their families, or others. We assess the situation and move them to our homes through the Child Welfare Committee that’s under government regulation.
Third, for children who may not be immediately at a high risk, or the parents unwilling to release them in our care, we have an educational programme in Sonagachhi — our focus area.”
Under the umbrella of DSWS, 47 girls between ages 7 and 18 are getting holistic development. And, at the Deepika Life Centre, an educational project, 35-40 kids meet from 4.00 pm-7.30 pm every day, the peak working hour of their mothers. Here, the kids get basic help in studies and self-defence training, besides career counselling.
The real challenge
Jyoti Mandapaka says, “We hardly face challenges while rescuing girls from brothels, since their mothers are willing to let them go when they feel they’re at high risk. About 95% of them want a better life for their daughters. However, because of a lack of awareness or education, about 5% of them do resist, at times.”
But the real challenge lies elsewhere. “There are girls as young as 3-4 years from villages who are kept under lock and key all the while that they grow up. They’re made to reach puberty through hormonal injections at an early age,” says Jyoti.
In another case, when the rescued girls reach age 18, or after they finish schooling, their mothers want them back, either to help them in domestic work, or to supplement their income in some ways — even prostitution!
Finance a major hurdle
Finance is a huge challenge. This sounds crude, but there are women who have told Jyoti that, on lucky days, they get 8-10 customers, which, at the end of the month, fetches them Rs30,000-Rs40,000.
Poverty plays a crucial role as most of these women are indebted to moneylenders for life. So, it is not possible for any non-government organization to pay that kind of money back. Instead, they give humanitarian help by making them understand how not to get into a debt trap.
“Most women in Sonagachhi are illiterate. We give them functional training. They open bank accounts through us and their salaries are now paid in cheque,” adds Jyoti.
“Society will always label me a ‘prostitute’.” This is the common thread that runs through the minds of girls rescued from brothels. And this is the story of thousands of such women and girls. Dealing with the mental trauma after a rescue is another extremely challenging task.
Getting a full-body check-up is a legal requirement for any NGO. Along with that, there is a separate HIV test. Jyoti says, “On our home management committee, we have a female gynaecologist who does regular check-ups. And the files and papers are always made available to all government agencies.”
Proactive police officers
Jyoti says thankfully, “The police have been very helpful from the very first day. There are many proactive female officers who try their best to create awareness and prevent human trafficking. We have their full cooperation.”
She firmly ensures that, if anyone comes across any kind of trafficking, they immediately call the police at Dial 100, or Child Helpline 1098. And the police are very proactive in responding to the calls and taking immediate action.
Human trafficking is prohibited in India under Article 23(1) of the Constitution and the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956, is the premier piece of legislation for dealing with this. The government is now planning to reintroduce a comprehensive Bill to check human trafficking. The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2018, but lapsed after dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha. But, now, everyone is looking forward to the new rule for tackling trafficking.
The right to be protected against human trafficking is a constitutional right. This right needs to be protected to provide a dignified life to every child, man and woman in the country. Along with that, awareness should start at the grassroots, or from homes and schools. Moreover, society needs to be more sensitive towards victims of human trafficking and accept them back unequivocally.