Bundled up and whisked away

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Photo: Ujjal Deb
Photo: Ujjal Deb

Sakina is unable to move, she has become so weak. Her collarbones seem to strain against her skin. Her deep, sunken eyes are hardly visible on her pale face. She has been diagnosed with multiple infections.

Sakina was admitted to Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital (GTB) in New Delhi by Aslam, who had confined her in Delhi for 12 months after she was sent from West Bengal by a trafficker named Babu. During this period, Sakina was supplied to several people in different states and was allegedly raped by at least 10 men daily. Police has arrested Aslam, but the prime accused Babu is still at large.

Sitting in a corridor of the hospital, Fatima regrets that nobody helped them for so long. She is hopeful now of her daughter’s recovery and return home. But the 18-year-old girl is suffering from septic arthritis — inflammation of joints caused by a bacterial infection. Doctors have attributed this to repeated sexual assaults.

On 8 December 2014, Sakina was abducted from outside the government hospital in Kolkata’s Diamond Harbour area while she was waiting for her sister-in-law, who had gone to consult a doctor. Fatima’s family went to the police but no action was taken. “Police showed a callous attitude. We went from one police station to another but no one was ready to take our case.” says Fatima.

After five months, in April 2015, Sakina called home from Delhi and narrated her plight. “We immediately rushed to the police and informed them about Sakina. The police officer talked to her. She gave her exact location in Delhi,” says Fatima. “However, instead of taking any action, the police advised us to approach the State Women’s Commission.”

Sakina regularly called home in the hope that someone would come to rescue her. “We are villagers: we don’t know how to get around big cities. Most importantly, one needs money to travel — which we don’t have,” Fatima explains.

Exactly a year later, on 7 December 2015, Delhi-based NGO Shakti Vahini that works for women and children got a call from the investigating officer of the Diamond Harbour police station. “He informed me about Sakina, who was admitted in the hospital,” says Pallavi, a volunteer.

When volunteers visited the girl in GTB Hospital, they found that Aslam, the main accused in Sakina’s abduction, had disappeared after getting her admitted. “I saw her crying in pain,” says Pallavi. “Sakina told me she was taken to places like Rishikesh, Haridwar and Himachal Pradesh where she was repeatedly raped by different men. She is unable to move her limbs due to severe infection.”

Sadly, Sakina is just one of many girls regularly trafficked from farflung areas of West Bengal where people live in abject poverty and have almost no access to basic amenities. It is here that children and teenaged girls are most vulnerable. As per 2014 data revealed by the National Crime Records Bureau, 669 cases of human trafficking were reported from West Bengal only. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in reply to a question in Parliament, said on 8 December 2015 that some 73,242 women went missing across India until September 2015, of whom only 33,825 have been traced so far.

The US State Department has identified West Bengal as the source for trafficking victims saying, “West Bengal continues to be a source for trafficking victims, with children increasingly subjected to sex trafficking in small hotels, vehicles, huts, and private residences [rather] than traditional red light districts.”

In a move to reduce human trafficking, the Supreme Court on 8 December set a deadline of 1 December 2016 for the Centre to operationalise an Organised Crime Investigating Agency to exclusively probe cases of human trafficking in the country.

In the Northeast too, the crime of human trafficking goes on unchecked. Unemployed girls are trapped with false promises of employment and better lifestyle in big cities. In one such instance, Rita from rural Sikkim (250 km from Gangtok) was lured by an NGO that runs hostels for girls pursuing higher education in cities. “My aunt had connections with the NGO : she suggested I live there,” says Rita.