Trafficking of women is an international commercial activity in which force, coercion, and fraud are used to transport women across international boundaries for economic gain. As a complex organised criminal activity, human trafficking is comparable to the trafficking of drugs and weapons, but it is more profitable and less risky because many forms of the trade appear legitimate. Within the global practice of human trafficking, 70 per cent of the victims are women and 50 per cent are children under the age of 18. Estimates of the number of women and children trafficked each year range from 700,000 to four million, and annual profits are estimated at $7 billion. Demand for human trafficking is driven by a need for cheap labour in factories, households, agricultural industries, and the sex industry. Globalisation has facilitated business between traders in and consumers of trafficked humans. Here’s a real life account. Nandita interviewed a woman, five years back, during a survey. All names and places have been changed to protect the identity of the victim, in the regular column, exclusively in Different Truths.
She was having a cup of tea in that favourite corner of the wintry sun-drenched veranda (an open porch), where she had spent her mornings since she was in high school. Tomorrow she will be in a new home, living with unknown people, probably the thought of this made her heart go lub dub, loud enough to mask the twitters she enjoyed every morn. “How different would it have been, if I married Soham? Easy to adjust perhaps, as I would have had my love Soham around”.
Out of affection and respect, she accepted her mother’s choice, without objection or rejection. Yes, it was her life and she could have put her feet down, but her mother’s sacrifices and struggle bringing her up single handily held her back. Mother’s words, “Pabitra is the only son of a very affluent family, handsome and has a secured job. I found him very decent too and I’m sure he will keep you happy. For a girl, the most important thing in life is her financial security. I have faced a lot of hardships after your father passed away because he had not planned and secured our future. Soham may be your love but has a private sector job, with marriage and responsibilities love fades and money matters” made her take this decision.
Sitting on the bed in her wedding dress Purba’s mind began to race. ‘‘Decide. You don’t have much time. This is your last chance, run to your love. There must be a way out of this, there’s always a way. You didn’t fight to save your love, you’re damned for not doing so! But, now isn’t it too late? One wrong decision could ruin the family reputation forever. Oh! God, why this evening the life sea looks so unusually ominous as if waiting to swallow me whole? Come then big swell, take away Soham’s existence in me, as you ebb! Let me embrace a new horizon.”
So moments of nuptial bliss was over in delirium. Purba wasn’t conscious of what was happening, rather didn’t want to be. She just wanted it to be over. Later, when she actually wanted to recollect the occasion she cursed herself for missing out the most important day of her life.
Life was good post marriage, happiness doubled when she conceived. She was treated like a queen. But fate took a turn when she gave birth to a baby girl. Life became a nightmare, she was tortured by her mother-in-law and cussed at every possible opportunity. Pabitra too never intervened and kept quiet. Purba somehow struggled to keep up her spirit for the sake of her daughter. This was not the worse to come to her. Soon, Pabitra was promoted and posted out to the company’s office in Florida. In his absence, Purba was not even given proper food and she failed to feed her baby. Her numerous plead to provide her hungry daughter some baby food as she was failing to breastfeed went unheard. Each day was becoming overbearing, she couldn’t let her child die of hunger. One night she sneaked out to sell off her bangles and buy food for her daughter. She was lucky enough not to be caught by her wicked mother-in-law. She was not lucky enough the next time and was caught with the baby food, physically abused and threatened to face dire consequences if she failed to ask her mother replace the jewelleries sold or equivalent cash.
Purba, a woman in her late twenties, stood in a huge, noisy railway station feeling and lost. With her baby daughter, unable to bear any more torture, she had left her husband’s home to come to Mumbai one of India’s biggest cities. She had heard and read, thousands of people come here to look for a job. Looking distraught and with a kid, she was approached by an elderly man who offered her dinner and a place to stay. Although sceptical, she was too tired and drained out of life by now to decline the offer.
“He seemed nice and I was beyond desperation. I accepted his offer. I could not tell my mother about my mother-in-law’s demand. That meant a life full of torment. I had been waiting for three years, hoping my husband would return or take us with him. But then when he even stopped calling once a week, I had to come to a decision. I sold my only possessions of value – anklets and a necklace, which thankfully I managed to save from my mother-in-law’s hawk eyes. With the money I travelled to Mumbai in search of work.” As a mother of a suffering daughter, I had to take the decision although it was not an easy decision to make. But, finally courageously absconded with the baby.
Now, in an unknown city, I knew I was an easy target for con artists and traffickers, the old man seemed kind and helpful. For the first three days, the man was really kind and generous, I felt safe and at home. I decided to go out and look for a work I said. The very next day my fate changed again. The man said he had found me a cooking job at a big function. I was thrilled, but it turned out to be a trap.
Two men were waiting for me when I arrived at the place and they tried to rape me. I fought and kicked and screamed. When I broke down in tears, one of them left, but the other man said he had paid for me and refused to leave unsatisfied. He beat and raped me. That was how my nightmare began.
From that day, the pimp used my baby daughter as leverage, forcing me to go out every night as a prostitute. If I refused to go with a man, he would hurt me. I had a tiny room and some food, but he kept all the money. I became a victim of human trafficking, bonded into sexual slavery with seemingly no hope of escape. This became my wretched existence for the next two and a half years.
Returning exhausted from work one morning, I met my pimp, who was waiting to convey me the news that my daughter was dead. During a drunken binge the previous night, the man and his friends had plied the child with so much of liquor that it killed her, only God knows what they had done to my child; the body was buried in a shallow unmarked grave across the road.
After one night off, he told me to get back to work. I refused saying, “No. All these times I went with many men, I did it out of love for my daughter. Now she is gone and I have no reason to go anymore. I am done. I was beaten blue and black, I plotted my escape, and the pimp took me, along with another girl, to Vidharba where we were sold to a brothel keeper for 20,000 rupees each. Further from home to an unknown location, exactly how far I had no idea, I still continued to plan my getaway. When I shared my escape ideas with the second girl, the terrified young girl told the brothel keeper and I was mercilessly beaten.
Undeterred, I scrounged a little money together, found some inconspicuous clothes and bought a train ticket to Mumbai. Without enough money to get all the way back to Kolkata, I begged an auto-rickshaw driver to give me a lift to the local train station, but instead of taking me to the station the fellow picked up a friend and took me into an under construction building. For two days forced me to satisfy their perverted desires that almost killed me, but when they were done, they bought me a ticket back to Mumbai. After suffering innumerable trials along the way, I eventually returned back to Mumbai station and then back to Kolkata.
Because of the stigma attached to prostitution, I was unable to tell my mother the truth about my ordeal and pretended everything was all right and that I had a good job to go back to, in Mumbai. I told her that my daughter is under the care of a very reliable friend. But the guilt of this lie was corroding me from inside and the death of my daughter haunted me every second. I did not want to stay at home and live with my mother unable to look into her eyes. I decided to look for a job and go to another city. Luckily one day, on my way home after an interview at the bus stop I met a lady working in Swayam. She told me that her NGO was a women’s right organisation, committed to ending violence against women. I narrated my ordeal and present situation and she gladly offered me the job at a book binding shop. Finding me competent, I was shifted to a printing press.
At first, the large printing presses and other complex machinery terrified me, but I was so desperate for this job that I forced myself to overcome my fear. With a trainee’s salary of 1,500 rupees a month, I wasn’t earning much money, but it was honest work that taught me valuable vocational skills, and also helped me live a normal life. I felt again like, was a human being and not flesh for others to feed on me”.
Purba has now been working in Swayam for more than five years. She has mastered every trade on offer and gained valuable vocational training in a variety of fields. Planning for the future, she has saved enough and also bought a flat in Kolkata. She has successfully turned her life around and built a bright future for herself “After two years at Swayam, my fear had receded and my confidence returned,” she says, with a twinkle of optimism in her eye. “This year, I invited my mother to come and visit me, to see that I was living a dignified life. Now, I could speak to her looking into her eyes, without any guilt or pain.”
Photos from the internet.
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A science graduate and an ex-Biology teacher; a trilingual poet (English /Hindi/Bengali), short story writer, painter and a dancer. Born in West Bengal, a resident of Salt Lake, Kolkata. Nandita spent her childhood in different states. It enriched her literary journey. Her writings are published in various international and national anthologies, magazines, webzines, newspapers, and journals. She writes on vivid themes, based on her observations on life, love, ambition, nature, culture, folklore, mythology, etc.