The arrest of a self-styled guru involved in trafficking in girls from tribal areas last week is just a tip of the iceberg. That it took quite some time to arrest him shows the kind of clout he wielded. His operations extended over a vast area and he headed a network of traffickers. His protestations of spirituality helped him to hoodwink the parents of poor, illiterate girls who thought he was offering them a better life and opportunities for growth. What he was doing was forcing them into menial jobs that did not fetch them even minimum wages or into prostitution with no chances of return to normal, family life.
Trafficking in girls and women accounts for the third largest revenue after narcotics and gun-running. According to a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, India has emerged as the top destination for human trafficking in South Asia. There is no clear data on the number of girls pushed into prostitution rackets in the urban areas. A large number of girls from Nepal and Bangladesh are also sucked into such rackets, which are not possible without the tacit support of the police. Occasionally, photographs of women caught by the police are published in the media, while the men behind go escape scot-free. This is a reflection of the police attitude.
There is need to change the orientation of the police, who should go after the sharks who have their network of collaborators, rather than pick up some women from brothels and expose them to public ridicule, which only hardens them. The state should evolve a zero-tolerance policy towards trafficking in girls, particularly children and teenagers who should be in schools. It should be possible for every panchayat to keep a register of all the girls who had left the village in search of jobs and at whose instance. If anything untoward happens to them, the police should be able to nab the one who took them away on false promises. They should also be dealt with severely if they are unable to fulfil their promises.