Twenty-nine trafficking survivors have written to chief minister Mamata Banerjee urging her intervention in disbursal of compensation awarded to them by the state but pending for alleged lack of funds.
The survivors, from the trafficking hotbeds of North and South 24 Parganas, have written the letter under the banner of three survivors’ collectives. The details of the 29 cases — name of the survivors, date and amount of the orders — have been enclosed with the letter, mailed to the chief minister on Tuesday.
The oldest compensation order came on September 5, 2019. The most recent came on July 8 this year.
“It was very difficult for us to convince the police to take FIRs, then to apply for compensation, attend the hearings… and repeat the ordeal we were put through by the criminals, battling stigma at home and in the villages all the while. We went through all of it to be able to claim our right to compensation as per the law. We decided to put our trust in the law, knowing that it will be difficult and long drawn. Now, at this point when we are told by our state government that they don’t have the funds, it leaves us feeling anxious, angry, and in despair,” the letter says.
The apparent reason cited for the non-disbursal of payment is lack of funds with the state legal services authority (SLSA), the custodians of the corpus created by the government for disbursal of funds.
An official of the SLSA acknowledged the crunch. He also held out a ray of hope. “There was no money in our coffers for a long time. We have just received a tranche of Rs 1 crore from the state government. We had sought Rs 10 crore. There are many survivors who have their compensation pending, like survivors of acid attacks, alongside trafficking victims,” the official said.
He refused to comment on individual cases but said the disbursement will be “according to the schedule”.
“Each of the survivors was trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation at different times. It took a lot of effort on their part to try and stand up on their feet again. The money is important because it will help in livelihood, health and education and other needs of the survivors. Many of them want to start a small business,” said Subhasree Raptan, programme manager of Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendra, an NGO which mentors several survivors’ collectives.
The letter, sent under the banner of three collectives called Utthan, Bijoyini and Bandhanmukti, stresses the point.
“We are sure you know what kinds of financial difficulties we are faced with during this difficult time. The amount of compensation is very important for us – some of us want to start micro-businesses to earn, for some of us the money will help in continuing education, for health treatments, for building a house of our own, for securing our future by putting part of the money in some term deposits etc. All of us have gone through very difficult hurdles over the years since being rescued to get to this point…,” it says.
A 22-year-old woman in South 24 Parganas, who was rescued from a brothel in Delhi in 2015 when she was a minor, is among the 29 survivors. The woman lives with her parents and two younger brothers. She is entitled to a compensation of Rs 4 lakh, awarded on December 12, 2020.
The woman helps her father in running a grocery. “We live in a mud house. I want to build a small house and invest some money in the shop,” said the woman.
This newspaper has earlier reported how the pandemic has choked the income of trafficking survivors who had started small businesses to lead a life of financial independence.
The West Bengal Victim Compensation Scheme that had come into force in 2012 had its ambit expanded in 2017. But till August 2019, only three trafficking survivors in Bengal had received compensation under it, according to information obtained through an RTI application filed by lawyers and activists. The number started going up from there, the spurt coming as a shot in the arm for rights activists.