Women's Feature Service


India - New Delhi


India: Register for a Better Life

By Kalpana Pradhan

Kolkata (Women's Feature Service) - "I went to Delhi with a close relative. I trusted him and so did my family. But when we reached the city he told me that I had to entertain people. I was shocked. He also tried to force himself on me. When I refused, he got furious and locked me up in a room. A few days later I came to know that he was planning to sell me. With great difficulty I managed to escape from captivity and asked a neighbour to inform the nearby police station and also call 'didi' (elder sister, a member of Jabala, a local NGO). I was lucky because I had a migration card and I knew whom to contact if I got into trouble. I fear to think what would have happened had 'didi' not distributed migration cards and talked to us about what to watch out for when we went to work outside our village." This was what Moushumi (name changed), 18, from Ghojadanga village in North 24 Parganas district, West Bengal, had to narrate when she came back home after being rescued by the Delhi Police and the NGO, Jabala, in 2007.

Moushumi's case is not an isolated one. Each year, thousands of girls from the Indo-Bangla border villages in the districts of North 24 Parganas, Mushirabad and South Dinajpur in West Bengal move to the cities in search of employment. Most of them are ready to migrate as they are promised good jobs or the prospects of marriage. But not all these girls are lucky. A number of them tragically go missing, only to end up in brothels or live controlled and harassed lives as domestic workers - tortured and sexually abused by their employers. They are easy prey, as most of them have neither proper personal documentation nor the right address of their destination. In fact, they blindly rely on those who take them to the cities on the promise of better life prospects.

But now, as a result of an initiative of social interventions made by those like the Kolkata-based Jabala, young girls have become more aware of the dangers of migrating without proper information or details about the job they are moving for. Many are registering themselves at the NGO's office in their district or at the local panchyat, and getting migration cards.

Jabala launched the Safe Migration Project in 2006 and the organisation runs it with the support of the gram panchayats (village councils) to prevent the exploitation of the young girls and women who migrate. In fact, now the programme is in the process of being institutionalised by the Panchayati Raj in West Bengal. "People in the villages have realised that their children would be safe if they registered their names at the local panchayat office. This is evident from the fact that when the process of registering the names of the migrants had started, about 10 names were added every day. Today, that number has doubled - there are at least 20 people coming into our offices daily to register themselves," says Sirajul Islam, who works in the Ghojadanga office of Jabala.

Talking about the advantages of registration before migration, Dinobandhu Guha, the village head of Govindapur, in North 24 Parganas, puts it this way, "The registration ensures that migrants are going to a safe environment for their work, escape exploitation as slave labour or as sex workers. These days the number of cases of missing persons has gone down."

Every person who registers with Jabala is provided with a Safe Migration Card that lists Jabala's helpline numbers along with the police helpline numbers of the place of their origin as also their destination so that they can call for help in case the need arises. Once a girl gets in touch with the local police and lodges a formal complaint, if she is a minor she is handed over to the child welfare department. After that the migration card helps the authorities to get in touch with the NGO and local panchayat and send the child back home safely. In case of adults, the police work with their counterparts in the home state to ensure a safe return home. Through its offices and partners in Delhi and Kolkata and Mumbai, the NGO also addresses the problems of the migrant women and conducts tracking operations and emergency rescues. "After six months of working as a domestic helper in Delhi my employer refused to give me my wages. Eventually, I went back home without any money. When I contacted Jabala, their workers along with the police intervened and managed to get my full wages back to me," says Chanpa Mondol, 24, of Gopinapur village in North 24 Parganas.

In 1998, Jabala had conducted a study in the red light area of Bowbazar in Kolkata, which showed that 35 per cent of the commercial sex workers came from Murshidabad. This was the starting point of the NGO's foray into the Anti-Trafficking Initiative. They have also been trying to rehabilitate the girls and women who were being pushed into sex trade. But, according to Baitali Ganguly, Secretary, Jabala, they realised that it was not possible to address the issue effectively until they tackled the problem at its source. So, they formally launched the Safe Migration programme. Beginning with sensitising the police and the panchayats, the NGO organised awareness campaigns in schools and at local youth clubs to familiarise young women with the issue of trafficking and the modus operandi of traffickers. This resulted in the setting up of several village vigilance committees. Even the panchyats decided to join in and ensure that those who were migrating from their villages were properly registered.

According to Jabala and information from the panchayats of the three districts, over 5,000 Safe Migration Cards have already been issued. So far, 47 girls have been successfully rescued and restored to their families. Of these, 15 were rescued from Delhi, two from Mumbai and 30 from in and around Kolkata and West Bengal.

"We are now working towards getting this project to work through the government's own mechanisms. This will help us cover all the districts in West Bengal and effectively prevent women from being lured or coerced into sex trade when seeking legitimate employment as a way out of poverty," says Ganguly.

Incidentally, West Bengal is the transit and destination point in the human trafficking trade in the South East Asian region. Kolkata is an important address in cross-border sex trafficking for Pakistan and Mumbai, as it shares a border with Nepal and Bangladesh. According to National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), in 2006 the highest number of the girls were sold for prostitution from the state - 114 out of 123 registered cases in India. To combat the problem the state government set up the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit in 2007.

India has been identified as a source, transit and destination point in the human trafficking trade. From here, women are sent to the Gulf, South East Asia and some European countries as well.

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