India’s human trafficking industry
A seven-member family, including five children, is rescued from alleged bonded labour at a brick kiln in Hoskote, about 28 km from Bangalore. The state police was tipped off by its Odisha counterparts, reportedly by email. Acting on tip-off, officials from four government departments and members of an NGO raided the brick factory.
In April last year, 31 children travelling in a KSRTC bus (KA-06 F 846) and Tata Sumo (TN-37 BU 6835) from Pavagada, Tumkur, to a textile mill in Tamil Nadu are rescued after an NGO intercepts them.
These are only recent stories. Data from the Union ministry of labour and employment show that till 2013 March-end, close to 65,000 bonded labourers were rescued in Karnataka. With abysmal levels of literacy, education and poverty, most victims are not aware they are being forced to work illegally. It makes the job of identifying them doubly difficult. Those rescued in Karnataka are among 2, 97,372 others freed across the country.
Karnataka home minister admits that there has been an increase in the number of human trafficking cases in the state, the highest number of them being reported from Bangalore. During 2012, there were 102 cases registered, higher than 91 cases in 2011. In terms of action conducted state-wide on known cases of human trafficking rings, the statement said as many as 32 raids were conducted in 2013. In 2012, the Anti-Human Trafficking (AHT) raided 10 locations as opposed to seven in 2011 and two in 2010, revealing an upward trend.
For human traffickers, south India’s metros provide the perfect breeding ground for vultures waiting to lure victims with stories of big salaries and better lifestyles. A sizable chunk of trafficking victims, migrant labourers in particular, are often forced into sex work. On an average, each of the four south Indian states reports over 300 cases of human trafficking every year. Only West Bengal and Bihar, among others, have 100 such cases every year. Some states report less than 10 cases annually.
If the government’s own reports and assessments are anything to go by, there exists a gigantic, flourishing netherworld, away from the prying eyes of law makers and enforcers. Based on an analysis of human trafficking cases that have been identified, examples of potential traffickers include pimps, intimate partners/family members, gangs and criminal networks, brothel and fake massage business owners and managers, growers and crew leaders in agriculture, labour brokers, employers of domestic servants, small business owners and managers, large factory owners and corporations. It could virtually be anywhere.
Especially to Karnataka, along with these modern ailments, there continues to remain a thriving tradition of selling people, mired in medievalism, ignorance and poverty. In the Pavagada taluk of Tumkur district, widows are sold by their in-laws. This is among one of the abhorrent rituals and customs followed by the Kunchalakoracha community. Not surprisingly, elders of the community do not consider this a crime. According to them, widows are “unwanted” and a “burden” on their families. Women from this community belonging to Aapbande in Pavagada town confirmed that for several years now many friends, who were widows, were sold to rich people of the same community. They work as bonded labour in the houses and fields of their owners. There are around 300 families living in different parts of Pavagada taluk who follow this custom as if their life depended on it. In one of the biggest rescue operations in Karnataka’s history, the police saved 42 girls, including 31 minors and 16 boys, who were being taken to the flourishing textile mills in the Coimbatore district of neighbouring Tamil Nadu in April, 2013. The police have arrested four people allegedly involved in the trafficking. The movement is beginning to acquire an all India hue. Two Manipuri women were rescued in Bangalore on July 15 last year after they were forced to work as domestic helps in the city. They had been, like several others, lured by agents and were promised jobs in a beauty parlour along with free food and accommodation, an offer that for many living in poverty is difficult to refuse. Once they land up, they were captive. Although they wanted to go back to Manipur, their employers did not allow them to either go out or talk to anyone. One of the two managed to call her mother in Manipur who in turn contacted a NGO which helped in their rescue.
Likewise, the Bangalore police on July 20, 2013, rescued 10 girls, believed to be minors, employed by the Prabhat Circus at Kengeri near Bangalore. The girls, aged between 12 and 18, had been brought from Assam. While some have been working at the circus for over eight years, others joined the troupe two months ago. One of them, a 15-year-old, said she was brought to the city two months ago by an agent who promised her a job as a dancer. “I came here and realised that we had to work in the circus. I do not like this job as I sometimes get hurt during rehearsals when I have to jump from a height,” she wails.
It is not just the interstate network operating out of Bangalore; women and children trafficked from overseas were also rescued last year. For example, Central Crime Branch (CCB) sleuths rescued 11 Ugandan women on August 3 last year after arresting two men who had allegedly pushed them into a prostitution racket in the city. According to CCB police, 10 of those rescued did not possess valid passports and had been lured into the flesh trade by the accused, who had brought them here promising them the moon.
In most cases, people from border towns and villages become victim of such trafficking — it does not matter whether the border is international or domestic. “It is difficult to traffic from interior parts of the towns or city because of police and NGO presence. That is why traffickers target borders as an easy way to catch the victims. Pavagada is situated on the Andhra Pradesh-Karnataka border which makes the traffickers’ job easy. There are several Bangladeshi girls in Bangalore who operate in the flesh trade without valid passports. They enter illegally through an organised trafficking network,” says Meena K. Jain, chairperson, child welfare committee, Karnataka. According to home minister K.J. George, the government has taken steps to counter this menace. On November 26, 2010, five Anti Human Trafficking (AHT) units were opened in Bangalore, Hubli-Dharwad, Belgaum, Mysore and Dakshina Kannada. In January 2013, four more AHT units in Gulbarga, Raichur, Davangere and Bijapur came up.
But despite strict vigilance, the police and NGOs have been unable to go deep into roots of the problem. And there is a good reason why — there is little inter-state cooperation. “We have tried but failed to catch kingpins. Once we got a tip off and tried to reach the source but failed because another state police did not help us. When we got intimation from Pavagada about such illegal activity, we got on the same train as the victims. There were 12 girls about to trafficked to Tamil Nadu and we followed them. We reached Tirupur at 5 am and held them there but unfortunately the Tamil Nadu police did not support us, which they should have, and the girls escaped with their pimps. We have not been able to find them till today,” says Meena Jain. Little wonder the human trade is flourishing.
By Jayant Muralidharan