NEW DELHI: In South 24 Parganas's Basanti in the state of West Bengal, Ayesha* -- a survivor of trafficking -- runs a small stationery shop. Six years after she was trafficked as a minor, she was rescued from a brothel in Pune.
Every day she strives towards making the state a safer space for women and children by raising awareness on the issue of trafficking.
"I felt numb when I returned. What followed was years of emotional turmoil, threat from the traffickers, and stigma from neighbours, and relatives. Fighting the stigma was the most exhausting part of the process," said Ayesha.
As West Bengal awaits its 5th phase of polling, survivors of trafficking released a manifesto seeking a strong response mechanism to combat trafficking in the state.
The 2019 National Crime Records Bureau data shows a total of 6,616 victims were trafficked across India. Among them, 2,914 were children and 3,702 adults.
According to Save the Children's analysis of 2018 NCRB data, West Bengal reported the second-highest number of children being trafficked at 8205. Kolkata and South 24 Parganas accounted for 60 per cent burden of the total cases, it said.
Bandhanmukti Survivors' Collective which aims to help in the rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration of survivors in its slew of demands reiterated there was a need to strengthen the anti-trafficking unit and interstate investigation. While there is a need for stringent punishment for offenders, the government should focus on providing community-based rehabilitation services to survivors.
Providing livelihood opportunities and support to survivors' self-help groups should be the priority of the new government, the survivors pointed out.
Reshma*, another survivor from South 24 Parganas, said, "There is an urgent need for governments to focus on community-based rehabilitation. Survivors are stigmatised for years when they go out to work after being rescued. The formation of self-help groups helps them. Restoration of self-confidence of trafficked survivors is the first step towards rehabilitation and integration of survivors."
Subhasree Raptan, mentor at the collective pointed out the judiciary and law enforcement agencies need to work in tandem to clamp down on trafficking. "The need of the hour is a comprehensive law which gives due weightage to all the components, including compensation and rehabilitation. There can be systemic change only when political parties give due importance to the issue of trafficking."
The manifesto has reiterated the need for education of all and ensuring safe migration of children to clamp down on trafficking. Children should also be sensitised on the issue of gender-based violence, it highlighted.
Recounting her ordeal during the years of rehabilitation, Sarada* pointed out the need to change the narrative around trafficking. "We appeal to the government to listen. The onus of rehabilitation is not on survivors. We appeal to all political parties to raise awareness on the issue of trafficking. They must ensure the children of survivors of trafficking do not drop out of school because of stigma or lack of resources. Our manifesto does not have any political colour."
"It has taken me years to find my identity again. Society and governments do not help us in any way," added Sarada who now works as a small-scale tailor.
* Names changed to protect identities.