Jharkhand's Khunti village rife with tales of human trafficking, but threats keeps villagers from approaching police

Kelly Kislaya | Mar 4, 2019 | 7 min read



Kelly Kislaya

Ranchi: 23-year-old Meena (name changed) of Karanjtoli village of Kodakel panchayat in Khunti district is today happily married and about to have a baby. She is one of the lucky ones who was able to return to her village after being lured to Delhi eight years back with promises of a good job and salary. “The girl from my village was working in Delhi and had come home on vacation and convinced me to go to Delhi with her,” Meena recalled. “My family situation was not good and going to Delhi, where I was promised Rs 2000 a month, seemed a good opportunity.”

But the dream turned quickly sour. Meena ran away when she did not get a single penny during the eight years (this would be five years, she returned three years ago) she worked. “The employers used to say that the money was being sent to my parents but I later figured out that they were duping me. They did not even allow me to go home on vacation. I ran away from there and contacted my brother in the village who took me home,” she said.

Meena is the exception. There are many others from the villages in Khunti district who have not been able to return home. Jeeran Devi, a resident of the same village, said another girl was taken to Delhi a long time ago, “but when her father recently went to Delhi to meet the person who had taken her to Delhi, he was not allowed to meet his daughter and had to return empty handed.”

Limra Panchayat of Karra block in Khunti has around 13 villages with over 200 families. Around 25 girls from different families here have gone missing, some for over five years. Like Samru Munda’s (name changed) daughter who has been missing for over three years now. “When she was 15, she went to the market with her friend and both did not return,” he said. After asking around in nearby villages and market for a few days, Samru gave up all hope of getting her back. When asked why he did not go to the police, Samru said that he did not want the legal hassles.

A common response from villagers who are reluctant to even talk about the issue. One villager, whose daughter is missing for over a year, said on condition of anonymity: “I approached the person who took my daughter away and requested him to send her back, but he refused. When I insisted, he threatened me that if I create a scene or go to the police, lives of my other children will be at stake.”

Such threats from the traffickers is a major deterrent to villagers lodging police complaints. “During my work at the panchayat, I myself received several threats from traffickers and the so called powerful people of the villages who asked me to mind my own business,” said Ravi Kumar Yadav, a social activist who has been working closely with the villagers.

“At one time, a girl went missing from every second house in Khunti and every village had least one trafficker,” said Baidnath Kumar, child rights activist and member of the district’s Child Welfare Committee. “The district was probably the most affected in terms of human trafficking.” In the last two-three years over 1000 girls were rescued from various metropolitan cities and 127 traffickers were arrested, added Baidnath Kumar. “But trafficking has once again increased. Being a CWC member, I deal with at least 10-15 such cases every month where trafficked girls are rescued and brought back home. They share the physical, sexual and economical exploitation they underwent during their stay in the big cities”.

Strangely, despite the problem being persistent in the district for long, only a very small number of cases get registered with the Anti Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) in Khunti police station. Just nine cases in 2017, ten cases in 2018 and one till date in 2019.  Data from the CID department, Jharkhand shows that during 2013-2018, only 82 cases related to human trafficking were registered in Khunti district, with the entire state registering 855 cases.

Extreme poverty is what makes families send their daughters to the cities. "With just one crop grown during the monsoon, there are no other employment opportunities in the villages,” said Arti Kujur, Chairperson of Jharkhand State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (JSCPCR). Poverty makes villagers vulnerable to traffickers. “In such a situation, the traffickers lure the girls and their families with a meagre amount of Rs 2000-3000 and take the girls to Delhi, Mumbai and other cities, where these girls are exploited”.

The parents are told that the daughter will be doing household chores and would send back money every month. “The traffickers are invariably known to the parents, and no money every reaches them,” said Aradhana Singh, a retired police officer and former in charge of AHTU in Khunti. “Traffickers often target victims at local haats (markets), organized twice a week in the semi-urban areas of the district where they lure young girls with the dreams of a modern lifestyle, good clothes and money”.

Fear of left-wing extremists (LWE) is another reason for people in this area sending their children away. “The LWE members take away young children from villages to make them a part of their team,” said activist Baidnath Kumar. “This fear and the need for money forces parents to send their children with traffickers”.

"Human trafficking is definitely a big problem and we are trying hard to combat it,” said Alok, Superintendent of Police (SP), Khunti. “We have rescued many children, arrested a number of traffickers and all police stations in the area have been directed to take immediate action whenever they find that a child from a village has gone missing.”

Alok admits that speedy arrests and conviction will deter traffickers. But he is also puzzled by the villagers’ reluctance to approach the police. “I do not understand why, as the police is now sensitized and very supportive in such cases”. Villagers of Khunti also have a big emotional issue, Alok pointed out. “Maybe the hardships they face have made villagers like this, but they do not display any emotion when their child goes missing,” he said.

The case of the missing girls continues despite the state government launching many schemes to empower the village girls and their families, economically and emotionally. Like the recently launched Mukhyamantri Sukanya Yojna which offers money to parents of a girl child from birth till age 18 and till they get married, and the Tejaswini Yojna which teaches the girls life and vocation skills.

Besides rescue and rehabilitation of the children, “our focus now is to empower girls at an early age so they are not trafficked at the first place,” said D K Saxena, Director, Integrated child Protection Scheme (ICPS). “The Tejaswini Yojna, presently functional in 17 districts, is a major step towards achieving this aim. The programme is exclusively for girls aged 14 to 24, which is when they are most vulnerable”. The programme objective is to provide such skills to at least 10 lakh girls. “The life skill training includes information on the rights and protection of children, health and nutrition and also financial literacy,” Saxena said.

All laudable aims. But Saxena’s claim that 20,000 village level child protection committees had been formed to prepare a database of missing children was an exaggeration. A visit to several villages by this correspondent showed that while these committees were created, they were non-functional.



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