Written by Sanjay Macwan
India woke up to the shocking video clip of Shambhu Lal hacking labourer Mohammad Afrazul to death in Rajasthan some weeks ago. The cries of Afrazul pleading for mercy and his wife & daughters wailing for justice in television interviews will continue to haunt us. At the time of writing this article the intent for the pre-meditated murder is yet unknown. However, the very act of physical violence – slashing with axe, beating and burning a human being alive stems out of impunity.
Every day I see this impunity being perpetrated on the poor in my efforts to combat human trafficking in India. I have seen and heard of thousands of victims enduring similar kinds of violence to that faced by Afrazul. I have felt the same chill running down my spine as I watched the act of violence by Shambu Lal. It is not much different from the human traffickers who unleash violence against the trafficked.
I’ve looked into the forlorn eyes of children who were forced to have sex with men thrice their age. One in two survivors of sex-trafficking victims have endured beatings with physical and sharp objects. In a bid to instil fear, several children have been forced to witness the murder of others, to ensure that few try to escape.
Along with police we have found children being hidden behind walls and ceilings. In most rescues, children who are hidden in chambers do not even squeal for help – they are gripped by the fear of violence.
I have met two men whose hands were chopped with an axe similar to that used by Shambu Lal. Both these men had refused to be bonded labourers in brick kilns. Thousands continue to be bonded in brick kilns across India where they are forced to make bricks. Pregnant women and children are not spared. Any form of resistance unleashes a tirade of violent tactics by their owners. Surviving on single meals, these enslaved labourers work round the clock in extremely unhygienic conditions.
Shambu Lal typifies the every-day trafficker, the beneficiary of violence. The key intent to perpetrate violence for traffickers is money. Last year, sex-traffickers gained upto a 1000% profit while their capital investment was minimal. Traffickers are serious about investing in the tactics of violence. The violent methods transcend beyond physical brutality; traffickers use psychological and socio-economic norms to maintain oppression. There is a growth for slave masters not for the slaves.
Toward the end of his video, Shambu Lal walks towards an unassuming Afrazul and attacks him mercilessly. This predatory instinct of violence captures the way the world of human trafficking works. The poor are preyed upon. By virtue of their poverty, they are not only vulnerable to hunger and disease, but also to violence. Recent statistics suggest that 400 million people are employed in India and 45 million remain unemployed. Thousands of these people are vulnerable to be trapped into the never-ending cycle of bonded labour and the hellish worlds of sex-trafficking.
These probabilities are scary; the impact of trafficking is denting the Indian GDP and HDI.
In 2016, India had the fourth highest proportion of modern day slavery estimated at 18.3 million. This includes victims of bonded labour and Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CBI). An estimated 3 million women and girls are sold for sex annually in our country. In addition there are nearly 4 million child labourers. It is shocking to note that such enslavement generates an estimate of 360 billion USD or Rs 21 lakh crores annually which is equivalent to one fifth of the country’s GDP of the year 2015.
Victims of human trafficking contribute to the economic engine of the nation. We may see them, but we fail to recognise them. Wrapped in their enslavement, they seem to be all around us. They include those who build our roads, bridges and airports to those who suffer in their bodies to provides entertainment in brothels, bars and lodges. We have helped rescue those who pack food; put aromas in the agarbatties, polish rice that we eat, lay internet cables, put cement and mortar on the metro constructions and much more.
Some states & districts have, indeed, enforced laws. Further, effective deterrence has led to decreased levels of violence among perpetrators. The probability of a male customer seeking a minor for sex in Kamathipura (Mumbai) or Sonagachi (Kolkata) has decreased. Previously, traffickers openly flouted young children for sex. Proactive police investigations and subsequent convictions have changed the dynamics of sex-trade in these cities. Traffickers now fear the law. Yet, there is more to be done.
We have forgotten the poor who continue to stay outside of growth periphery. They remain outsiders of the development model. Their opportunities to participate are scuttled. How do we achieve sustained growth if the poor are held back by violence? Let us root out the ‘no-entry’ and ‘reserved entry’ board at the door of development.