Updated: March 07, 2017 05:09 AM GMT
Police in New Delhi presenting women rescued from traffickers in New Delhi on Feb. 28. The social service agency of Delhi Archdiocese worked with police to save the women. (Photo by Ritu Sharma)
Muskan* dreamed of a happy married life with a man of her choice. At the age of 19, when married, she saw her dreams come true, only to realize within days that she was caught in a web of human traffickers.
The man she trusted to be her husband turned out to be an agent who supplied girls from tribal villages from Jharkhand state to the national capital New Delhi.
"He raped me several times when we reached Delhi and sold me to a family for domestic work," said Muskan, from the Oraon tribe.
Muskan said that even though the family she worked for "were nice," she still wanted to escape because of the trauma she had suffered. She wanted to get back to her parents in Garja village in Jharkhand but did not know who to turn to.
Luck was on her side and Muskan was rescued by police and the Domestic Workers' Forum of Chetnalaya, the social service wing of the Delhi Archdiocese, on Feb. 7.
Jharkhand, one of the most poverty-stricken states in India, is riven with human trafficking networks because most of its people live in poor villages and lack job opportunities.
Some 9 million of the state's 33 million people are tribal and some 1.5 million of them Christians. At least half of the Christians are Catholics. Government statistics show that only 60 percent of tribal people can read and write their names.
"With trafficking comes sexual exploitation. Even if the girls are being brought for domestic work, they are vulnerable and become easy victims of rape. Some 90 percent of trafficked girls are sexually exploited," Gaurav Kumar Tomar, legal officer of Chetnalaya's Domestic Workers' Forum, told ucanews.com.
Tomar said that trafficking agents spend some 5,000 rupees (US$74) to get the girls to New Dehli.
"They sell them at around 50,000 rupees (US$746). So the traffickers are earning ten times their investment. That is why the poor states of India like Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand are becoming hotbeds of human trafficking," he said.
According to a five-year study (2009-2013) released by the National Crime Records Bureau, 2,848 cases of human trafficking surfaced in 2009, while in 2013, the total registered cases were 3,940.
However, the numbers should be much higher as government records only show cases registered with police, Tomar said. Since 2015, The Domestic Workers' Forum alone has rescued 89 girls from New Delhi and neighboring states.
The Domestic Workers' Forum, which began to work some 13 years ago for the rights and welfare of domestic workers in the national capital New Delhi, has registered some 5,000 domestic workers.
Initially, they worked to empower women working as housemaids by making them aware of their rights and encouraging them to raise concerns. "But as we progressed, we felt the need to rescue people as we came to know of several cases of trafficking victims," said Father Savari Raj, director of Chetnalaya.
"We have a dedicated team to conduct rescue operations with support from police," he added. The forum also has a strong network in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Assam where most of the victims come from.
Their rescue team, carrying out operations in February, in and around Delhi, rescued three girls, including Muskan and a boy, all in the age group of 17-21 on the basis of police complaints filed by their families in Jharkhand.
Neeraj Karketta, a program officer, said that police act on the complaints of victims' families. Their volunteers also help because the Juvenile Justice Act of India stipulates the presence of such people during police operations to counsel children who are rescued, Karketta said.
"We, in collaboration with local partners, go to remote villages and spread awareness about human trafficking and ask young children not get persuaded by agents," Karketta said.
Karketta said that poor tribal families encourage young people to migrate because they have no way to continue their traditional dependence on the forests because of an increasing population and shrinking resources. "If they want to migrate, they should tell us first and we will guide them," he said.
Women are trafficked from other areas too. One example is Anjali, 21, who was rescued on Feb. 25. She comes from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh.
Anjali, who dropped out of school, said that she wants to go back to her family and continue her studies. "This past year had been a nightmare and I hope that the future holds something good for me," she told ucanews.com.
Another rescued woman, 20-year-old Neha, said her employer sexually exploited her several times. "I was not allowed to talk to my family and had to work till midnight," Neha, who belongs to the Lohar tribe, told ucanews.com.
Police also arrested Teresa Lakra, a tribal woman who was part of the trafficking network, on Feb. 27. "The accused had been absconding" for the past two years said M. Haque, investigation officer at Simdega police station.
*Given the sensitivity of the issue, real names are not being used. The pseudonyms are given by the sources.
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