New approach

The plight of women and girls in India is often curiously invisible to the nation's leaders. As such, the fact that a judge of the Calcutta High Court highlighted the alarming numbers of trafficking cases from West Bengal is indicative of the magnitude of the problem and the kind of scrutiny it merits.

  • Published 10.09.18
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The plight of women and girls in India is often curiously invisible to the nation's leaders. As such, the fact that a judge of the Calcutta High Court highlighted the alarming numbers of trafficking cases from West Bengal is indicative of the magnitude of the problem and the kind of scrutiny it merits. Official records show that Bengal accounts for about 44 per cent of the number of cases of human trafficking in India. So when the judge, Nadira Patherya - who was hearing petitions alleging police apathy in three separate instances of young girls disappearing - said that she feels scared as a woman that thousands of women and minor girls are smuggled to other states and countries, she was not only drawing attention to the gravity of the situation, but also to the criminal negligence on the part of the government and the police force in preventing such crimes. Particularly worrying is the fact that the sheer volume of trafficking cases shows no signs of abating, even though laws and institutional mechanisms are in place to combat them.

In the light of this, it becomes evident that the inertia of law enforcement agencies, while contributing significantly to the crisis, is only one part of a layered and poorly understood problem. There is credible data to suggest that disturbing nexuses between law-keepers and traffickers exist, in which the latter might receive the help of the former in the smuggling process. Such insidious collusions are also believed to exist between traffickers and people directly involved in monitoring anti-trafficking operations, such as panchayat officials. There is an urgent need for such invisible links to be brought within the ambit of public and legal scrutiny. Moreover, while the extreme poverty in which the families of many girls live enables traffickers to prey on them, it must be remembered that the traffickers themselves are often people that the targeted girls trust: family members, close relatives or friends. As such, even though traditional methods of intervention are important, newer ways must be devised to resist trafficking. One way to do this would be to aim awareness initiatives at the girls themselves, rather than just empowering their families to take legal action against traffickers. Another would be to teach survivors skills that they can monetize, as a recently-opened centre for women from a cluster of villages in South 24 Parganas is doing. This would enable them to make their own decisions about their lives and means of livelihood, and go some way in breaking the vicious cycle of crime and the silence and inaction surrounding it.

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