By Prathiba Joseph
Meena* and her family, like most of the Gondi tribals, struggled to make ends meet. Most people from her village migrated to nearby towns and cities to find a suitable livelihood. Tribals have been alienated from their land and forest, due to rapid deforestation, hydroelectric power generation projects, industrial growth, mining and other ‘developmental’ activities. Massive investment in the construction of dams, power plants, industrialisation and mining create wealth for the nation and employment opportunities. But this is hardly beneficial to the tribals. Rather it leads to their social and cultural deprivation, land alienation, destruction of environment and displacements, which is often done without any rehabilitation.
The job scarcity is ideal for traffickers who circle like vultures to fix their talons on the vulnerable and hungry. They lure victims with the promise of a better future in cities. Meena could ward one of these, by the name Rita*, for a very brief period successfully. Rita was very persistent and spoke alluring words. She told Meena that her family could stay in Pune with their current work as construction labourers, but she could have a better prospect in the nearby city.
The vulture was relentless – she finally managed to sell off Meena to a man. Two goons helped Rita in trafficking Meena. She was trapped and helpless, facing a bleak future. According to the Indian Social Institute (ISI), 60 per cent of girls placed in Delhi as domestic helps—or ‘maidservants’, to remove the veneer of politeness – are from Jharkhand alone. The rest of the girls are from other states like Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, West Bengal, etc. There are roughly around 14 lakh girls now who have been lured out or trafficked from different states across India and engaged as domestic helps in Delhi.
Meena’s parents wasted no time in getting help to locate her. They contacted the Madhya Pradesh’s Bonded Labour Freedom Movement which heard of their plight and referred Meena’s case to an NGO, Jan Sahas. Jan Sahas rescued Meena with the help of local government officials and successfully rehabilitated her. She is now an independent tailor, doing business in her community.
Not every tribal woman facing hunger and poverty has a rescue story as Meena’s.
* Names changed to protect the identity.