London, Jan. 24: A BBC investigative report on sex trafficking in India, with Calcutta as the centre of operations, has now been shown to a worldwide television audience, days after it was broadcast to UK listeners on Radio 4.
In the deeply disturbing programme, a Calcutta trafficker — a sort of “Mr Big” in his line of business — alleges he is plying his trade with the blessings of police.
To be fair to the police, the charges are denied emphatically by Shankar Chakraborty who has the sign, “SPL IGP CID”, outside his office in Calcutta. “This is one of the allegations easily brought against the police... because police are doing very well in the field of human trafficking,” he assures the BBC. “The allegation of corruption against police is very negligible. The fight is really on.”
(Contacted by The Telegraph today, Chakraborty denied the trafficker’s allegations. But he added: “This (what has been reported by BBC) is a very serious allegation. If we receive a specific allegation, we can conduct a probe. If a policeman is found hand in glove with the traffickers, he will be dismissed from service immediately and punished according to law.”)
The BBC’s investigative reporter, Natalia Antelava, appears less than convinced and often appalled by what she uncovers.
The face of the trafficker, who is interviewed by Antelava, is dimly lit but it should not be too difficult for the sleuths of Calcutta police — or the man’s neighbours — to figure out who he is. Although shown in profile, the man, interviewed in “a dark house in one of Calcutta’s slums”, has a full head of hair, fleshy lips, generous eyebrows — and an utterly reasonable manner.
In the radio programme, the listener hears an English voiceover — an approximate translation of his words. But in the television version, viewers hear his words mostly in Bengali and rely on English subtitles.
He is introduced by Antelava: “It took us weeks to set up a meeting with a man who sells women for a living.... He tells me he trafficks on average 200 girls a year and makes around $1,000 (Rs 54,000) on each. Most of them are around 12 to 13 years old.”
Although the police deny involvement, the trafficker insists “he pays local politicians and individual policemen for their protection”.
The trafficker says he has to have various forms signed by the police before he is cleared to take charge of the girls. “Pulish ke alada alada forme shoi korte hoi.... thana ke control korte hoi, Delhi hok, Calcutta hok, Haryana hok, Punjab hok — somosto jaiga (the police have to sign various forms... I have to control police thanas in Delhi, Calcutta, Haryana, Punjab, all over the place.)”
(Police officers in Calcutta said today they were not aware of any forms that they need to sign.)
The trafficker begins by confiding, “Ami teente bari korechi Delhi-te (I have three houses in Delhi),” and how he sources the girls, “Meyeder ami pai gramer theke (I get the girls from the villages).”
Antelava found scarcely a village in the Sunderbans area where girls were not missing.
The trafficker goes on: “I explain nicely to the parents I will give the girls work. Often the parents themselves send us the girls so that they can get good jobs.”
The report features the distressing case of a girl, now 18, who was abducted two years ago by neighbourhood men who tricked her into attending a fair where her soft drink was spiked. She ended up in a Delhi brothel where she was beaten and repeatedly raped. Thanks to the determination of her feisty mother, she was rescued but the family is now shunned by neighbours and their home has been stoned.
The man who was allegedly involved in kidnapping the girl is out on bail and threatening to throw acid on her face unless all charges are dropped, her mother tells the BBC.
It is apparent that trafficking is driven by the laws of supply and demand — girls are abducted from Bengal to meet the critical shortage of women in Haryana and Punjab. The kidnapped girls are brought first to Calcutta, the BBC says, before they are sold to the highest bidder.
Antelava follows the case of another girl, aged 14, who ends up in Haryana from where she is rescued in a raid. But the woman who has “bought” her shows no sign of contrition and deftly removes the earrings she had given to the girl.
She does, inadvertently, put her finger on the underlying problem when she insists the girl was given to her son. “There aren’t enough girls here — many buy girls from outside.”