Although illegal, but distressingly a reality, human trafficking in India still remains a major issue.
In lieu of this crisis, over 2,500 survivors, representing seven states formed the Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT) yesterday. The forum has been formed not only to spread awareness but also wants to play an active role in policy formulation by voicing their concerns. It was launched at Constitution Club of India.
According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), three out of five people trafficked in 2016 were children below 18 years. Of these, 4,911 were girls and 4,123 were boys. NCRB data shows that sexual exploitation for prostitution was the second major purpose for human trafficking in India, after forced labour.
Based in Andhra Pradesh, Haseena, a fellow member of ILFAT, was only 13 when she was trafficked and made a dancer for three years. The family wasn’t financially sound and her father had a heart problem. “Later, I was married off and within two years became a mother of two kids. All this while, my husband routinely harassed me and my family didn’t support me. I had nowhere to go and just to have a shelter on my kids head, I had to pay `1,000, while I resumed my profession still unsure of her children’s safety.” With the help of a local NGO, she found her way out. Today, almost 10 years later, she has been working with the NGO, and her salary is enough to sustain herself and the two children. “I don’t want the second generations of survivors to go through the same. And that is why I want to create awareness about human trafficking,” says Haseena, as her reason why she joined ILFAT.
Another heartbreaking story is of Janaki from Tamil Nadu, who struggled with an abusive, alcoholic father. He was totally against her studies, but her mother, who worked as a labourer, allowed her to complete high school. “At 17, I was enticed by an agent with a job in the textile industry and post the eight-hour shift I could concentrate on my studies. He even offered to cover my education fees if I worked for three years. I believed in him and started to work,” shared Janaki.
Initially, the work hours were limited to eight, but was soon asked to report at seven in the morning till eight at night. Even the promise of overtime allowance was hollow. Between the 12-hour-shift she was given an hour-long lunch break that gave her just enough time to go cover the half-an-hour distance to and fro and get her lunch. “The work atmosphere was such that you were abused and sexually harassed for any mistake. There were no leaves. In cases of an emergency, they demanded a replacement,” said Janaki. Unable to bear the humiliation and the harsh working conditions, she left after two years with none of the money promised to her. Later, married off to a labourer, she approached a local federation to help her and her family.
However, Janaki says she has travelled so far not to rake the past but make a difference in the future. “Rescued trafficked victims are supposed to be helped by the government. But in reality the district level officials pay and hush up the matter. So, we want the centre to handle it directly, help rehabilitate such victims and make amendments in-laws.” Haseena adds that many end up being trafficked again given the huge time lapse in victim compensation. “Government directs the money to the bank and not in hand. Those who don’t have an account are running around arranging papers demanded by the banks.”
Survivors like Janaki and Haseena, through the platform of ILFAT, want to bring all the cases of trafficking under one umbrella to fight the stereotypes faced by the survivors. “After being rescued, victims often end up in shelter homes which have absurd rules, like waking up at 6:00 am. The food is hardly edible. Ask for something and they say, ‘prostitutes like you don’t deserve better treatment’,” recounts Janaki. Not to mention further mental and physical harassment.
Their other demand is for counsellors for the victims and skill training. “Many times, the police are reluctant to file our complaint and if they do, it ends up in hands of insensitive judges. We want special courts with judges who are aware of the brutalities of human trafficking”, says Janaki, adding they want harsh punishments meted out to traffickers so no one follows in their footsteps.