Twenty-three survivors of human trafficking from West Bengal, a state from where the maximum number of women are trafficked for sexual exploitation, have written to Minister for Woman and Child Development Maneka Gandhi with suggestions on the draft anti-trafficking Bill.
In the letter, the women have introduced themselves as survivors who were either rescued or fled from “various brothels in red light districts, hotels, lodges and flats, where we had been confined.” “The existing system has helped us, but in most ways, it has not attended to our needs. Our traffickers are still at large, and we are looking at (government of) India to give us justice,” the letter reads.
Twenty-one-year old Fatima (name changed) is relieved that the Bill puts stress on rehabilitation after rescue and has a provision for selling the trafficker’s property and giving its proceeds to survivors. “I also want the bill to (incorporate) punishment for hostile policemen who discourage us from lodging complaint against our oppressors,” she said.
Abducted by an acquaintance and sold to a brothel in Pune at 14, she was rescued after she managed to call home using the cell phone of a client who spoke Bangla, the only language she knew.
But her ordeal did not end with her return. “Back in my village, I was sneered at. The Panchayat accused me of bringing shame to the village and I was brutally beaten when I tried to reason with them. This is why I want the Bill to set time-bound rehabilitation targets so that we can be economically independent without being bogged down by the stigma,” said Fatima, who is pursuing her graduation and wants to be a social worker.
Like Fatima, many among the other 22 girls are from economically-backward Muslim families in North and South 24 Parganas.
“Due to the proximity of these villages to Kolkata, which acts as a transit point, a large number of girls are trafficked from these area,” said psychologist Uma Chatterjee, who helped the women understand the draft Bill and translated their letter from Bangla to English.
Twenty-one-year-old Lubana (name changed) wants the Bill to define trafficking better. She was abducted by an acquaintance when she was in Class IX and sold to a brothel in Mumbai. There she was paid Rs 20 a day. “We made this attempt because we see hope for many like us in this legislation,” she said.
Of the hundreds of letters on the proposed bill 2016 received by the minister’s office, this one has grabbed all the attention.
“Most letters have been written by NGOs or activists. This pone is special as it has been written by survivors themselves,” said an official, adding that many of the suggestions have been incorporated in the final draft of the Bill which will be released soon.