By Michael Yangad:
Nagappan and Kasturi were happy when an agent offered them ₹30,000 as an advance amount to work in a sugarcane farm in a neighbouring district. They were looking out for employment and the advance amount was alluring. The money helped them renovate their old dilapidated hut. They soon joined work and toiled hard for long hours to repay the advance amount. They hoped to go back soon to their village, live in their home and find employment locally. But this was not to happen.
Within a year they were told that their advance amount had increased to 1.3 lakhs, owing to an exorbitant interest rate. That January, when they wanted to go home to celebrate the harvest festival of Pongal, they were told that they couldn’t go as a family. They were told that they could go only if they left their 6-year-old daughter behind as a surety for the advance amount.
Leaving their daughter behind, the parents went to their native town. They thought they’d arrange for the advance amount and leave the farm once and for all. But when they returned, their daughter was nowhere to be seen. The owner of the factory had abducted her and a false bond of ₹2,00,000 advance was forced on them. The owner threatened to kill them if they did not work to pay the debt.
They knew that if they did not comply with the demands of the owner, they could be killed and buried in the sugarcane farm. They had no choice but to work day and night to pay the false debt and get their daughter back, who was now collateral.
Bhuvana, the 6-year-old child, was made to fetch water and to wash jute bags in the river. She was tortured, beaten, and the master’s kin misbehaved with her. Separated from her parents and with no kind-hearted person around her, the little girl could not voice her pain. Things worsened with no hope of being rescued from those inhumane conditions.
Human trafficking is a heinous crime against humanity. Bonded labour, commercial sexual exploitation, illegal removal of organs, and beggary are some forms of human trafficking in India.
There are many stories of exploitation, which bring to light the crude realities of oppression, using physical, psychological, and sexual violence on the poor and vulnerable, merely for profit.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) in their 2014 annual report estimates that there are 3 million women and children trafficked in India each year. The 2016 NCRB data reveals that 45% of children end up as forced labourers—as domestic workers or in small industries such as textile and firecracker workshops. And, according to the information published on Press Information Bureau, “A total of 34,707 women and children were trafficked during 2015-2016 in India. In 2016, 19,000 women and children were trafficked. This is an average of 52 women and children being trafficked every day”.
The story of Nagappan, Kasturi, and Bhuvana exposes the forms and elements of human trafficking. The poor labourers were offered an advance which made them bonded labourers in the sugarcane factory. Bhuvana became collateral for the debt of her parents and was abducted and forced to work as a child labourer. She was under domestic servitude and suffered violence at the hands of her master.
Victims of human trafficking are detained physically or psychologically for profits made by their masters through violent means. The pain and the suffering of the victims of trafficking are hidden behind the facilities of exploitation. They live a life of fear and hopelessness. In many cases of trafficking, the victims give up being set free and accept the bondage as their destiny.
Nagappan and Kasturi gathered courage and went to the police to file a complaint against the owner of the factory. It was not an easy path that they had chosen, but they did not have any other option. Initially, they struggled to explain their exploitation and the abduction of their daughter to the police. The police looked at the matter with suspicion. But with the help of an NGO, Nagappan and Kasturi successfully filed a police complaint against their exploiter. Soon the police rescued Bhuvana. When the child was reunited with her parents, they could not believe their eyes. The agony she experienced at the age of six had changed her appearance and emotional state. Bhuvana did not look like the daughter they had left behind.
Nagappan, Kasturi and Bhuvana were rescued and rehabilitated. Bhuvana now goes to a private school and is studying well. This story is just one among the thousands of bonded labourers and victims of human trafficking.
The crime of human trafficking is real and prevalent around us. The sugar we mix in the tea could have come from the sugar factory where bonded labourers like Nagappan and Kasturi are exploited day and night. It could be that the jute bags carrying our grains are washed by the tiny hands of child bonded labourers like Bhuvana. It could also be that the clothes we wear are woven in the textile mills where young girls are exploited. Nagappan, Kasturi and Bhuvana lived to tell their story of their freedom, while many others like them get buried in the places of their exploitation.
Government and NGOs are working to identify, rescue and rehabilitate the victims of human trafficking, but there is a lot more to be done. Unless civil society is aware of these crimes and joins hands for a revolution against human trafficking the menace will not stop. Traffickers perpetrating this crime are everywhere. They spot lonely children and vulnerable people. They kidnap and exploit them and make profits. The recent trend in the modus operandi of traffickers is that they operate as networks and are covert in their activities. To combat human trafficking it is important that the government, NGOs and the general public come together to act as one force. There are many Nagappans, Kasturis and Bhuvanas waiting to be rescued.
Michael Yangad works for an international NGO which rescues and rehabilitates victims of modern day slavery (Human Trafficking).
*Feature image is for representational purposes only.