May 7: Two Jalpaiguri girls have alleged that a woman who had promised to find them jobs in Delhi had sold them to one middleman, and another had raped them in the Dooars where the closing of several tea estates and relatively low garden wages have shrunk jobs options.
According to sources in the police, the girls — one is 15 years old, the other 27 — were told by Gita Lohar, who stayed in the same tea garden as the duo, that she would get them jobs in Delhi as domestic helps.
The 15-year-old told Metro: “We had contacted Gitadidi for work to help our families. She promised to arrange for jobs in Delhi. We left home with her (on May 5). But she sold us to a man and we fled. Later, the man who gave us shelter also promised us jobs, but raped us.”
Both the girls are from homes of tea garden workers, who earn a daily wage of Rs 95. On the other hand, when young women are promised jobs in faraway big cities, the middlemen say they would be paid salaries of Rs 5,000 upwards, with free meals in the homes of their employers.
The police source said that on May 5, Gita went to the girls’ homes and took them to a tea estate 10km away. There, the girls were introduced to Mithun Barua.
While Gita and Mithun were conversing, the girls realised the lady had sold them to Mithun, and fled, said Nima Norbu Bhutia, the subdivisional police officer of Malbazar in Jalpaiguri district.
They entered another estate nearby and sought shelter in the home of Saran Tosha.
According to what the girls told the police, neither knew Tosha from before. When they narrated their plight to him, Tosha, too, promised them jobs in Delhi. The girls did not realise that he, too, was part of the same traffickers’ network as Gita and Mithun.
On the night of May 5, the 15-year-old said, Tosha told the girls he would take them to the nearest railway station and they would travel to Delhi from there.
Tosha also called a friend Dukhiram Natto before leaving home, a police officer said. The girls were taken to a nearby forest, not the railway station, and raped, the officer said.
They were yesterday sent for medical examination whose report is awaited. A case of rape has been lodged against Tosha, who has been arrested along with Gita, her husband and Mithun. Natto is absconding.
The girls walked 6km from the forest to the nearest town and pleaded for help from a businessman, who alerted Nagrakata police.
The police today declined to name the businessman, saying he could become a target of the human traffickers’ network.
The girls’ families, who were informed yesterday, have lodged a complaint of rape.
The three tea gardens the girls had named before the police were raided on Tuesday morning and the four were arrested, Bhutia said.
All four were sent to 14 days’ jail custody by the chief judicial magistrate in Jalpaiguri today. The charges against them are of abduction and buying a person as a slave. All three men have been charged with rape.
Indrani Sinha of the NGO Sanlaap, which runs a home for trafficked women in Narendrapur on the outskirts of Calcutta, said Jalpaiguri and its adjoining areas bordering Nepal and Bhutan had been “trafficking-prone for a long time, but the situation worsened when the tea gardens began to close down”.
She said: “Girls are trafficked in huge numbers from here. Many girls come from Nepal and reach Siliguri through Jalpaiguri. Girls are also trafficked from Jaigaon on the Bhutan-Bengal border. Some of them are forced into prostitution in hotels in the area.”
The tea industry in the Dooars emerged a hunting ground for sex-trafficking middlemen as many women seek jobs outside the region because several gardens closed down after 1998 during a slump in the industry.
The tea business started to recover gradually after 2006 but the pay the girls are promised by the middlemen are at least twice of what they would get if they worked in a tea garden.
Partha Pratim Sarkar of the Cooch Behar NGO Godhulibazar North East Society for Empowerment of People, which works with trafficked women, said that on average 250 to 300 girls leave the tea estates annually hunting for work in places such as Delhi and Mumbai, several hundred kilometres away. “About 70 per cent of them are sold into the flesh trade.”
Sinha, however, said that there “does not seem to be a rising trend. We have more information (on trafficking) these days.”