Interview With Shafiq. R. Khan Of EMPOWER PEOPLE, On Bride Trafficking

Posted on April 7, 2012 in Interviews, Society

Human trafficking is modern slavery. The United Nations definition of trafficking covers “the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” In India, trafficking is a huge issue. According to the Honorable Dr Justice Arijit Pasayat of India’s Supreme Court, there is no bigger problem in India today than human trafficking. Former Indian Home Secretary, Madhukar Gupta, believed that as many as 100 million people in India are involved in trafficking, and world expert Professor Kevin Bales acknowledges that India “may have more slaves than all the other countries of the world put together”.

On Republic Day, various media channels brought to light the story of Baby Falak. The baby who succumbed to her injuries some time back brought to focus many critical issues related to women. In her mother, we discovered the sordid tale of bride trafficking. After she gave birth to Falak and two of her siblings, her husband left her with the three of them. She had to survive and she wanted her three kids to live. She was then sold to a man in Rajasthan as an unmarried woman. The children were then sold further. It made the government and other agencies sit up and acknowledge the presence of bride trafficking as a serious issue, as slavery in its new avatar

Shafiq. R. Khan Of EMPOWER PEOPLE, one of the few organizations working for victims of bride trafficking in India

In order to understand the phenomena of Bride trafficking, YKA’s Alam Bains interviewed Shafiq. R. Khan, the Founder of EMPOWER PEOPLE, an NGO working to protect female victims of violence and mitigate post-violence trauma. EMPOWER PEOPLE is one of the pioneer organizations focusing on the issue of human trafficking for the purpose of forced marriage and female foeticide in North India. Shafiq sheds light on the social evil of Bride Trafficking.

What is Bride trafficking?

When girls are deceived in the name of marriage and then sold to others, such girls come under the definition of bride trafficking. The whole thing gives an impression of a normal marriage; but such girls re-trafficked and sold in the name of marriage again and again. This type of trafficking is called Bride Trafficking. It is a new word to define an inhuman custom which is being practiced for centuries. Bride buying is an old custom of world, especially India where a man has the privilege of buying a girl in the name of marriage. China and Korea are well aware of this phenomenon.

In which parts of the country is it more prevalent and why?

We are (India) source, transit and destination for bride trafficking. Some girls are being trafficked to other countries as well like Arab countries, Canada, Australia, USA and UK from Andhra Pradesh, Haryana-Punjab and Rajasthan. Ironically Haryana-Punjab and Rajasthan are major destinations for Girls who are being trafficked from eastern and southern states. 90 percent cases of bride trafficking are domestic while 10% are international.

According to our analysis extending over a period of six years, it is found that highest percentage (23%) of bride trafficking take place from West Bengal. Assam is the next state from where 17% of girls have been lured into the trap. Undivided Bihar is next to Assam from where 13% of girls are trafficked.

This type of marriages are not considered socially respectable in source area and more often regarded as “thug vivah’ (fake marriage) or Gurjara maduve (gujjar marriage).

Trafficking is now an organized crime and traffickers are professional criminals who are working for money. Poverty and other justification behind trafficking is nothing but a ‘myth’ created by those who want to keep their eyes closed from such an inhuman social crime.

What are the myths about bride traficking?

The issue of Bride Trafficking is full of misconceptions. Mainstream media and academia see this as a result of declining sex ratio in north India. It is true that declining sex-ratio is a pushing factor for this but not a lone factor. We have eighty years old known history of this practice.

We should see the background of this menace before jumping into any conclusion. Before Partition there used to be a Jind House at some distance from the Ambala railway station, adjacent to it was an “Adda” where women were offered for sale. People from various parts of this region, especially from the Malwa belt of the undivided Punjab, used to flock to the place to buy women or “brides”. Dehra Dun was another centre where poor women were put on sale. The traffickers who were known as ‘burdafrosh’ (a Persian term for slave traders) used book orders for girls by visiting villages of the undivided Punjab.

Trafficked Girls are referred to as “Paro’ (outsider) or “Molki’ (lit. purchased) and “Jugaad” (lit. arrangement). You can easily analyze the situation and myth about bride trafficking.

What is the position of Indian legal system on the phenomena? Can an affected woman seek justice and if so, under which laws ?

Unfortunately, there are no meaningful laws to tackle this; ITPA (Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act) is a special law for prostitution, not for all forms of trafficking. It is confused and self-contradictory too. Bonded labor act 1976 and Juvenile Justice Act can’t tackle this type of case. Indian Penal Code section 366 is an only way to tackle this, but it has no provision for rehabilitation or reintegration of victim girls.

Only two NGOs are working on the issue one is EMPOWER PEOPLE and the other is Shakti-vahini. But Shakti-vahini is working on some other issues as well, since bride trafficking is not an issue which could raise funds and, of course, no one can sustain without funds.

Why is there such less awareness about bride trafficking in India?

Since victims are girls and they are from pitiable social backgrounds. Not only bride trafficking, but other issues related to these girls like ‘genital-singe’ and ‘witch killings’ are also ignored by media and elite civil society.

I would like to add one more thing that our NGOs are fund oriented and they are not working for any specific issue that is why most of NGOs are working on those issue which can easily funded by any foreign agencies or any social groups. If you remember, the issue of honor killing was talk of the town a year ago but now it has vanished from the memory of the ‘civil societies’. We have no research, not a single data on honor killings. We are trying to make this (bride trafficking) a social issue.

Please tell us a little bit about your organisation EMPOWER PEOPLE and why did you decide to take up the cause of bride trafficking?

EMPOWER PEOPLE was born in 2006 with an aim to work for victims of bride trafficking. When I was in March against Female Feticide in Haryana, I met a trafficked woman and decided to work on this issue. Now, Empower People is working as an umbrella organization for 20 CBOs across the country.

How does your organisation deal with the problem of bride trafficking and what are the techniques and methods you follow during rescue and rehabilitation?

We are working in destination and source area for prevention, rescue and then rehabilitation. We believe that, if society is responsible for any problem then society, itself, can resolve the problem. Our belief-system reflects in our character, extended society is our funder, worker and volunteer. Most of rescue done by our organization was conducted by public participation and which can be termed mass rescue operation. Even we believe in, and successfully doing community based rehabilitation for those victims.

Please tell us about your current projects, especially the “WALK AGAINST BRIDE TRAFFICKING”.

Now we are working on sustainable rehabilitation and skill development of trafficked girls. Rescue and other crisis intervention centers are smoothly functioning in Haryana and Punjab where we are working on trafficking and honor based crimes.

Walk against bride trafficking is a programme to create a people’s network against bride trafficking and violence against women from source area to destination area of trafficking. It is not simply an awareness programme but it is an innovative fund raising idea and an opportunity to sensitize and engage male members of the society. Recently, we have completed first phase of the “March against bride trafficking” where we covered 4500 Km from Assam to West Bengal. During this march, we have seen some unforgettable moments. It was really unbelievable, when I was speaking on prostitution, sex work, rape and trafficking in mosques and other religious places, the religious leaders also came forward. They actively participated in the march. Some vaidik pathshala and Arya Samaj also took keen interest in the issue. We will start a campaign with religious leaders as soon as possible.

What is the documentary “DRAUPADI’S DESECENDANTS” about and what is the message being sent out throught it?

Draupadi’s Desendents was funded by PSBT and directed by Oindrilla hazra. It was an attempt to cover all aspects of bride trafficking. It is first film where we can find such ethnic-track of bride buying and trafficking. It also covered Honor based crimes. The Haryana police are using this documentary as IEC material in police training and police gender sensitization workshops.

What changes would you like to see in India in the context of atrocities against women?

Our society (Indian) is hell for women, not only female feticide, trafficking or honor crime but rape, pornography, bride burning, witch-killing; every crime is being justified in a way or the other. Hunger, poverty and other universal problems are also associated with women. So we have to work on everything but, at least, crimes should not be justified by any absurd logic.

What are the future plans for EMPOWER PEOPLE?

We are planning to launch an embroidery house in August 2012, where survivors of Bride trafficking will be helped in their sustainable rehabilitation. Now, we are focusing on this project. Approximately 25 survivors of BT are being trained who will take the charge of Empower people.

How can the youth join the cause or your organisation, if they are passionate about eradicating this social evil?

Easily, anyone can join us by visiting our website where they can fill a form, under a string “Join our network” and we will guide you further. Please use our web address