17-year-old Julita is unbelievably enthusiastic and full of energy for a girl who has witnessed the horror of bonded labour, sexual exploitation, rape, abortion and emotional trauma for two-and-a-half years. Tricked into this web of human trafficking and brought to Delhi from Lakhimpur, Julita reiterates, “I still don’t believe that I’m free to go home, I will not be beaten day and night again. I will have food to eat, and I will not be raped. I don’t believe that I have come out of it. I had lost hope a long time ago.”
Julita is just one of hundreds of girls who were lured out of Lakhimpur for employment by a network of human traffickers and sold off in big cities as bonded labour. In July, an investigation by TEHELKA blew the lid off a multi-layered network of illegal placement agencies based in New Delhi and Mumbai. It is the first time since TEHELKA’s report was published that the police carried out raids in Delhi rescuing two Lakhimpur girls, Julita and Gunnu Sanwra, from different locations in October 2013.
Julita’s story is evidence of the sad plight of numerous minor girls who have been forced to work as bonded labours. In broken Hindi, Julita tries to sift through her memory and recounts, “I am a resident of Jorhat district of Assam. My aunt lives at Dulhat in Lakhimpur. In 2010, I had gone to visit her on Christmas. The same day Stephen came to visit her. He told us he was taking three girls to Delhi and asked me too but I refused to go without my parents’ permission. But he said we would visit Delhi for a day and come back. I did not know then that it took three days only to reach Delhi. So I accompanied him.”
She was only 14. She adds, “The moment we boarded the train he started scolding us. We reached Delhi on 3 January 2011. We were taken to Pravin in Shakurpur. It was a two room apartment. In one room there were around 20 boys and in the other 20 girls. All of them had been brought from far and wanted to go back. But everyday someone would come to take them away. And then new girls would arrive. They were all sent away to work.” She adds, “After 10 days I was also sent to a bungalow but I didn’t like it there so I left it. Then they sent me to Sonepat to work at Inderjit Wadhwa’s house. I couldn’t escape from there because I was new in the city. There, Madam used to beat me every day. It was a big house of five rooms. I did all the work along with cooking. For two-and-a-half years I stayed inside the house. I was not allowed to call home. Their sabziwala (vegetable vendor) made sexual advances at me. I complained but they didn’t listen to me.” She tells us that because of it she even had to undergo the trauma of abortion.
Another girl rescued from Rohini in Delhi, Gunnu Sanwri has a similar horrifying story. She narrates, “I was brought to Delhi by Dulan from Dulhat village. I was 15. My employers had given me a cage-like structure in the outer lobby of the house where I used to sleep. It used to be very cold. I was not allowed to go out and was beaten constantly.”
Tracking the address on the visiting cards of the placement agencies, both Julita’s aunt and Gunnu’s mother were able to reach Shakurpur and lodged a complaint of kidnap and trafficking in the Subhash Palace Police Station. Rakesh Sengar is the national convener of the NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan, which played an active role from lodging the complaints to the rescue of the girls. He says, “Umesh Rai and Pravin got wind of the complaint. So, it was difficult to nab them. Julita’s case was particularly tough to handle. Stephen tried to misguide the police by acting like Julita’s maternal uncle. But the girl told the counsellor in Sonepat that he was an agent and expressed her wish to go home with her aunt. After her statement was recorded before the magistrate, Julita was sent to Delhi for medical examination. Acting upon the complaint of Gunnu’s mother, the police were able to nab the other Lakhimpur agent Dulan after raiding the placement agency. During interrogation, he divulged the whereabouts of Gunnu after which the police were able to rescue her.”
Julita and Gunnu are safe now while Stephen and Dulan are behind bars. But a huge network of about 2000 placement agencies in Delhi is still very much active, trafficking girls on a daily basis from Assam, Jharkhand and Odisha and pushing them into a world of slavery and sexual exploitation. In December 2010, the Delhi High Court issued guidelines to put placement agencies under scanner. After a petition had been filed last year, the Delhi government informed the High Court that in order to regulate the placement agencies a bill was being drafted and will be presented in the assembly in 2013. The bill will not only include points to regulate female and child trafficking but also prescribe punishment for the perpetrators. But the Delhi Private Placement Agency (Regulation) Bill 2012 is yet to be placed before the cabinet.
Translated by Naushin Rehman