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Seminar-armed saviour

- Girl traps poverty vultures

Darjeeling, March 21: Never dismiss school seminars as yawn-inducing affairs meant for frontbenchers out to impress teachers.

They can bring out the best in our children and save the future of others as an 18-year-old girl has shown in Darjeeling.

The Class X girl, whose name is being withheld because of concerns for her safety, offered herself as a prospective victim to a human trafficking ring, saved a woman and helped police bust a gang feeding off Bengal’s poverty.

The extraordinary act of courage was spurred by a seminar she had attended in school on the modus operandi of such rackets, the police said. The girl got alert because of the tips she had collected from the event. (See chart)

So far, the police have rounded up four persons and are looking for a Delhi-based woman who is suspected to be pulling the strings.

Darjeeling SP Anand Kumar said the Class X girl had played a pivotal role in exposing the traffickers and the police have announced a reward of Rs 5,000 for the student.

The traffickers had laid the trap as usual, approaching vulnerable targets. A police officer said a 26-year-old divorcee from a tea garden in Jorebungalow had been sounded out by “two carriers”, promising her a job in either a garment shop or a hotel in Delhi. “The woman comes from a poor family and the carriers promised to bear all expenses for her travel to Delhi,” the officer said.

Two days before she was to leave for Delhi with the two agents, the woman decided to stay in her relative’s house in Darjeeling. “During her stay in Darjeeling, the woman met the girl from the neighbourhood and spoke of the job offer. The girl, who had attended a seminar on human trafficking in her school, smelt a rat and contacted the carriers,” said the police officer.

The student offered to work for the traffickers who introduced her to the woman in Delhi. “The girl told the woman in Delhi over the phone that she was willing to do any kind of work. The trafficker immediately assured the girl she would be earning a lot of money if she went to Delhi with the 26-year-old woman and the two carriers,” said the officer.

The student by then had contacted the Darjeeling-based NGO that had conducted the seminar as well as the Darjeeling Sadar police station.

“The student and the woman from the tea garden were to leave for Delhi on Monday and were to meet the carriers. We immediately picked up the two carriers and seized their cellphones. The woman in Delhi called up the student who said she was not able to meet the conduits and their phones were switched off,” said the official.

So lucrative the racket has grown that the Delhi-based woman told the student that she was willing to come to Darjeeling and take the girl and the woman to the capital in a few days. “However, in the evening, the trafficker called up the student and asked her to come to Siliguri from where she and the woman would be taken to Delhi by a couple. Later, a man from Siliguri contacted the student and asked her to come to a specific place in Siliguri,” said the police officer.

Instead of the girl and the garden woman, the police went to Siliguri yesterday and picked up the husband-wife duo. “We want to get to the woman in Delhi,” said Kumar.

Officers at the Darjeeling Sadar police station said they had gone through the bank records of all the four arrested carriers and found that money used to be sent to their accounts from the woman in Delhi. “We believe that this gang is probably involved in prostitution,” said Kumar.

Trafficking is a curse of poverty-ridden villages in Bengal, where lack of employment opportunities drives young girls into the hands of touts who promise jobs in cities like Delhi. In north Bengal alone, official figures put the number of trafficked victims at 1,089 in 2010.

“Tea estate dwellers often fall prey to the traffickers because of poverty, lack of employment opportunities, the lure of quick money and the desire to go to the metros,” said an anti-trafficking activist. “Gardens in the plains shut down at the drop of a hat and the workers want to go out to earn. Most women workers are promised jobs as domestic help, which they are willing to take up.”

The Darjeeling NGO said it had held awareness campaigns on trafficking at 11 institutions since last year. “Some girls from Darjeeling were rescued from Bangalore last year and it was then we realised that the only way to stop the menace is to create awareness. We are glad that our efforts are yielding results and we will carry on with our awareness programme,” said an official of the NGO.