Being rescued is no less an ordeal than being trafficked.
Ayesha (name changed), a 17-year-old from Bangladesh who was trafficked into North Dinajpur a little more than two years ago, is losing her hope of going back home as she is being shifted from one “home” to another all these months.
She is into her third “home” — after trying to run away from the second one where she was treated in an inhuman way — as officials tell her that repatriation will take another two to three years.
Ayesha was smuggled across the border in November 2011 by some youths Bhabanandapur village in Thakurgaon district in Bangladesh. She had been abandoned by her parents when she was very young and was being brought up by her grandfather. The traffickers included the young man whom she had fallen in love with.
After a childhood of great deprivation and insecurity, Ayesha had pinned her hopes on a new life with the young man. She had been lured by his promises of love and projections of India, which he said was the place where she would find a lucrative job, which would help to set them up.
All illusions were shattered almost as soon as she entered India. The men got her through a non-fenced stretch on the North Dinajpur border assaulted her sexually and were planning to sell her at a high price. She had no idea where she was. But she knew she had to escape.
One day she ran away. She was found by some youths in Bindol village near Raiganj, who handed her over to the police.
“Here her story took a turn. After she was handed over to the police in November 2011, she was taken to a government-run home in Raiganj. After nine months there she was sent to another home in Cooch Behar in December 2012,” says Suraj Das, district co-ordinator of Childline, an NGO with a nation-wide network.
At the second home, the staff members were brutal. They misbehaved with her constantly, telling her that it was her fault that she was trafficked, insulting and humiliating her at the slightest pretext.
“We know that home authorities, including members of staff, often do not behave well with victims of trafficking. We often hear from the inmates of these homes how the staff misbehave with them. Such problems were there at the Cooch Behar home. The teenager told us that it was like a jail for her and not a ‘home’,” he adds.
But being a spirited teenager, she never gave in to the staff at the government-run shelters. And again, she tried to escape.
On February 5 this year, with another inmate, she broke open a window of the home and escaped. The other inmate, however, went back to the home, but Ayesha boarded a train to Malda, hardly knowing where she was going. At Malda she befriended a woman who told her that she could cross the open border unseen at Hili.
Ayesha reached the border, but was spotted by the police, who informed Childline. On February 10, she was placed in the custody of the Child Welfare Committee in Balurghat. Ayesha is now back into the third “home” in Malda, waiting endlessly for respite.
She has told officials that the staff at the home always scolded her. It was as if they could not bear to have her around. And all the while scenes from her childhood flitted through her mind. She was restless. She longed to be back home. So she fled.
Victims of trafficking from across the border are not arrested, but often the waiting time is spent in a jail.
“At present there are more than 300 women waiting for repatriation in government-run homes and jails. About 95 per cent are from Bangladesh. In Balurghat jail the number will be around 25. They are taken to government run shelters where they have to wait for repatriation,” says Das.
When a woman is rescued she is first sent to a government-run home. Then the repatriation process is initiated on behalf of the administration. Her papers are sent to the home department of the state government, which informs the Bangladesh High Commission about the victim. After an enquiry about the identity of the trafficked person, the high commission sends a report to the home ministry through the Indian High Commission. After that a date is decided on which the victims is taken to a no man’s land where she is handed over to her legal guardians.
“The legal process is governed by the international law of repatriation. It should ideally take two to three months to complete. But it takes a much longer time. It takes at least two to three years or even more. Ayesha, fed up with her captivity, decided to escape,” says Das.
A Balurghat police officer said he cried when he met Ayesha. “Everybody wants to go home. She is my daughter’s age. Her face haunts me. I wish I could do something so that she might reach her home,” he said.