"I have lost count of the number of rescue operations I’ve been part of,” says 39-year-old Ravi Kant, who has been working against human traffickers for the last 14 years. Since 2001, Kant has been running his NGO Shakti Vahini in Uttar Pradesh. Here, he narrates some of his field experiences — a grim reminder of the crime that’s taking place somewhere around our comfort zones.
December 2006, Faridabad (UP): This was a very disturbing case of child sexual abuse. A young couple had brought three minor girls to Faridabad for domestic work. The children, who were not even in their teens, were kept captive in the toilet. They were served food on the toilet floor, beaten and sexually abused. I saw injury marks on their bodies. When we reached the house, the lady refused to open the door, but later gave in. The police arrested the couple, but there was a lot of pressure to release them. As for the girls, they were very traumatised and could barely speak. To add insult to injury, the victims are sometimes made to sit on the floors to narrate their stories.
December 2006, Jind (Haryana): One Ajmer Singh lured a 13-year-old girl, Tripala, from Jharkhand on the pretext of marrying her. She was taken to a farmhouse where she was asked to have sex with his brother. When she refused, Singh slit her throat. I traced her parents to Ranchi. When I broke the news of her murder to them, they were shattered. In many such forced marriages, parents back home are unaware of their daughter’s fate.
December 2006, Delhi: One night, I got a call from the local informants about Manju. She had been trafficked from Latur, Maharashtra, to a brothel in Kamala market. When I reached the spot with my team some 25 minutes later, their musclemen were hanging around, as always. The senior women in the brothel, who are usually aware of the law, tried to stop us by raising a hue and cry. Usually, in such times, they hide the victim in a water tank or the attic. But Manju was in a room. She had managed to persuade another victim to come to us. The girls had been beaten, raped, and had faced a lot of violence. As we took them out, all sorts of threat followed. ‘Dekh lenge, aapne accha nahi kiya,’ they said. The threats and menacing glares followed us in court as well. In places like Delhi, rescue operations are easier. But in smaller cities like Agra and Meerut, the local police are at times hand-in-glove with brothel-owners, making the operation difficult.
October 2005, Haryana: Three girls from Assam and West Bengal were trafficked to Mewat and were about to be sold for marriage. The whole village was up in arms against the rescue operation. Even the police were sceptical. Some violence also took place. It took us two to three hours to counsel them. ‘What would you do if these were your daughters? These are human beings, they can’t be sold like property,’ we appealed to them. They finally gave in.