Girls For Sale: Child Trafficking in India

August 4, 2015 OPINION/NEWS

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By

Padmini Dutta Sharma

As a human rights activist I routinely visited the villages and slum areas of India and other adjoining countries. I was stunned to see the paradigm shift in lifestyle of some families when I visited them over the course of just one year. People who literally lived in dungeons, all clamouring in a single room suddenly boasted of colour TVs and double door refrigerators.

I was a known face there hence my visits were welcomed with much enthusiasm and gusto. Most families had an average of six members that consisted of a couple and their four children. Men worked in fields or ran daily errands; at the most they worked as contracted labour while their wives worked as maids slogging in as many as ten households each day. The average family income did not exceed INR 10,000 each month (USD 150). By Indian standards it wasn’t a bad earning I would say but taking into consideration the number of heads and the inflation hitting the roof, it wasn’t exactly adequate.

Children usually play in the fields and then help their parents as they grow up a little. The boys help their fathers in the fields or in his work and the girls accompany their mommies to help in the houses. In innumerable instances the men of the house irrespective of their age sexually exploit these girls even before they attain puberty. It is an accepted norm to molest the maids for sexual pleasure. Any resistance is severely dealt with. Maids must please the master of the house. As a mark of good will I was offered tea and snacks and as I cozied in the new divan we started our usual chitchat.

 

            “Juhin, I am happy to see you doing so well for yourself. Have you got a job in the city or has your husband Madan got a sumptuous contract?”

She smiled coyly and after pouring me some more tea continued, “Sarla and Kunti have gone to Mumbai with their uncle. They have got good jobs in a hotel. They have sent me 20,000 the first month itself and Raju bhai paid us 50,000 as advance before taking my daughters.”

I was shocked beyond comprehension. What was she saying? Did she go crazy or was she feigning innocence for money? How can a mother sell her own daughters?

            “Do you know what you are saying? You sold your own daughters?”

            “No mam, Raju is a very reliable person. He has given jobs to many young girls here and he lends us money whenever we are in distress. He arranged for their tickets, got them decent dresses and also bought them Samsung Galaxy phones. The day before my daughters were to leave the village, he took us all for a Salman Khan film and treated us in a posh restaurant. He groomed my daughters to meet the city standards.”

The tea no longer tasted sweet, I wanted to punch her face and give her a heavy blow but somehow resisted my anger. I was curious to get to the bottom of the drama. I continued, “have you left working as a maid?”

            “Oh yes madam, we have started a very lucrative business.”

            “And what’s that?”

           “Madan and I go round villages and we give job propositions to them. For every girl we connect to Raju gives us 10,000 cash. It’s a very profitable venture for us and the response is fantastic. We are doing our bit to eradicate poverty madam.”

            “Your job was more dignified I thought.”

        “What are you saying madam? You have no idea what we have to go through. Men treat us like shit and they all want to have sex when their wives are away. Molestation is rampant. The sahibs used to coax me for fast sex. I got pregnant so many times and they paid money for the abortion. My body was used like garbage debris.”

            “Really?”

         “Yes mam absolutely. Sometimes they would ask me to massage their body and also to sleep with them for a very paltry sum or some glass bangles or sari. They also promise marriage to have free sex. We remain as poor as we were and continue to be exploited. This way my daughters will be exposed to a high flying city life and will have a future of their own because it’s only money that matters, after all.”

        “So you know why they are in Mumbai? What if they are sold outside the country? What if they contract AIDS or any other disease? What if they are killed?”

          “As it is we are dead madam, do you call this living? We had to go without food for days. No clothes, no medicine. My mother in law died of pneumonia because we didn’t have means to hospitalise her. Had I married off my daughters even then they would have been tortured, sold or killed because we wouldn’t be able to provide enough dowry, so this is much better. If they do well, the sky is the limit.”

          “Did you obtain their consent before sending them off to such a trade?”

         “What consent? I know what’s best for them. I decide, but still I explained to them everything giving illustrations from my life and from hundreds of other glaring live examples. The poverty stricken, under nourished dogs that we are! There they will be able to choose and build a life of their own. Women will have to have sex anyway, and there each’ round ‘will be just a matter of a few minutes. They will be well off and that’s important.”

          “My goodness” is all I could utter.

She continued, “my younger daughter can dance and sing very well. If she can be trained a little she will do wonders. She can also become a film star or porn star someday. What is Sunny Leone? Look at her! Is she looked down upon? Anyone is eager to sleep with her at any cost. I can name many that are in the glamour world by virtue of one thing – sex. I also read about Pamela Bordes.”

After finishing with her I visited a few more families and they all seemed perfectly happy with the arrangement. It seems their daughters were big assets and they were hopeful that within a short span of time they would be able to take their brothers there and provide them with jobs.

 

 

My next destination was to meet the girls in Mumbai. I was hell bent and determined to talk to them and find out about their life there. Meanwhile I met Raju and found him to be quiet a guy. He had two iPhones that kept him constantly busy. His brand new sedan was proof of the fact that he was doing well for himself. At first he wasn’t willing to talk but gradually he opened up. He did not openly agree that girls were being trafficked for prostitution; he said he was providing them with jobs through agents in hotels, massage parlors, private houses, nursing homes, call centers etc. I remembered a movie ‘laga chunri main daag’ where the leading lady Rani Mukherjee acts as an escort to save her family from debt and devastation. It’s soul destroying actually.

Raju said “girls are very ambitious madam and they want to earn fast bucks. They don’t want to rot working as a maid or a daily labourer. It’s all the same you know. The flesh trade is rampant in various forms in all classes of society throughout the world. Women cannot be liberated; they will have to succumb to provide sexual pleasure to men, so why do it free? Remember what Shaw Wallace said, ‘Marriage is nothing short of legal prostitution’.”

I was literally dumbfounded; I could barely mutter something inaudible. It was good to know that they were getting literate in their own way, in the field that mattered to them; surprisingly they also knew about Amnesty.

 

 

My next trip was to Kamathipura, the red light area in Mumbai. Kamathipura is similar to Sonagachi in Kolkata or Budhwar Peth in Pune or Meergunj in Allahabad. It was difficult to locate those girls exactly but I found many of their age laughing and joking with weird make up and revealing sequined dresses. They wore red lipstick and heavy kohl in their eyes. They had already mastered the tricks of the trade; winking, posing seductively, smiling and inviting customers. There were roughly a hundred girls in the vicinity doing their rounds. There was a middle-aged lady, ‘mausi’ she was addressed as. With her permission I spoke to a few girls. Here are the excerpts:

 

            “Hi, what’s your name?”

            “I am called Leela” she smiled typically like a debauch.

            “Is that your real name?”

            “Nah! We don’t use real names here, that’s personal.”

            “How old are you?”

            “Seventeen, but here they say I am twenty.”

            “Which place are you from? How did you come here?”

            “I am from a small village in Maharashtra, my Aunty introduced me here.”

            “Did you know before coming what would be expected of you here?”

            “Not really but yeah I could guess! My parents were very poor. We starved daily. When Yusuf’s uncle proposed bringing me here, my parents agreed. I knew women could earn easily. Here I am not starving, I can send money home. My dad cannot work due to a severe lung infection. My mother doesn’t have to sleep with the sahibs except when she is high on libido or needs extra money. My brothers are studying in English medium schools and I have opened a savings bank account where I am saving for my marriage.”

            “You still dream of marriage? Who do you think will marry you?”

         “Oh why not? What’s wrong with me? I am beautiful, honest and caring. What girl is a virgin these days? I know everything about sophisticated college going girls. They go to parties, clubs, discs and they booze and sex. If they can get married to respectable guys why not us? And tell me who isn’t sleeping around? I can assure you that we don’t sell our souls to anyone, it’s just ‘that’ which is up for sale. We allow no nonsense, customers come and go by the stipulated time and they are beaten by our security if they act aggressive.”

            “Are you enjoying your profession?”

Her nubile body went promiscuous as she eyed a potential customer. She smelt of cheap perfume and local alcohol as she spoke, “not exactly! But money compensates everything. It’s fun when I check my balance at the ATM.”

 

 

In contrast to this I met a sophisticated whore on my way to my room in the hotel. In the dim lit passage I could fathom a tall woman dressed in a red chiffon sari worn below her naval. Her sleeveless blouse was almost a nonentity as the vulture tattoo caked her back. We almost nudged each other with our keys until I called out, “Is that you Fatema?”

            “I am Gloria. Fatema died a few years back in Dubai. I am her lookalike.” She went on in one breath and then paused and spoke again, “how are you dear? Here for some assignment?”

            “Yup! And you?”

          “Let’s go to my room and talk if you aren’t that sleepy I mean” she said very enthusiastically.

        “Let’s” I said with some hesitation, apprehensive to see something awkward in the room. I didn’t feel like inviting her to mine.

She unlocked the door and tossing her bag on the bed rushed to the washroom. I scanned the room while being seated. No, there wasn’t anything uncanny about the place except plenty of underwear scattered on the floor. She returned with a skimpy knee length nighty and wanted to pour a drink, which I refused.

            “When did you leave your previous job? It was all so sudden.”

            “Yes. Remember that union secretary, that lanky moralistic guy that spoke of Marx and Lenin? He proposed and we were married against my family.”

            “Then?”

            “We went to Dubai after a month and I saw his true colours.”

            “True colors?”

            “Yeah my husband started bringing men to our apartment and ordered me to entertain them. When I refused I was punished so hard you wouldn’t be able to imagine.”

            “What kind of torture was meted out to you?”

         “I had to lick his mess and he shoved cigarette butts in my vagina and locked me in from the outside without food. I know it’s hard to believe. I tried escaping but was caught and punished more. His principles were flung to the wind and was a different man, a pimp of sorts.”

            “It’s so hard to decipher a person from the outside!”

          “Then by God’s grace I met a kind guy who took me out of the shambles but as luck would have it he died in an accident just before our marriage. I tried working at some places but all they wanted was my body. Fed up and exhausted I now run my escort company where I personally engage with highflying customers. My earnings are fabulous and I call the shots. Sometimes it’s very exhausting and demanding but then we can’t have both sides of the bread buttered. I have built a house for mom where she lives with five more residents of her own age. Life is cool and spicy.”

 

 

Between 2010 and 2014, more than 100,000 children from different villages were registered as missing from the various parts of India. The majority have been trafficked out of their state and even country in the name of domestic work or other forms of prohibited labour in other cities. This is probably happening where people are extremely poor and famished of hunger. They feel the flesh trade is the easiest bait. It gives them an assured security and guaranteed income.

In some cases young girls are kidnapped and sold to other countries but in most cases they are doing it consciously. In instances where parents lodge missing person complaints, the authorities fail to arrest, prosecute, or convict any person for trafficking offenses, allowing them to continue trafficking unabated in exchange of money. The immunity enjoyed by those running trafficking rings in many backward areas is increasing the power and influence of local criminal gangs.

The worst part is that even if these children are rescued and bought back home, their family does not accept them. They are considered outcasts and are completely cut off from the mainstream. The stigma and shame attached to their profession does not exclude even parent-child relationships; ironically parents happily accept the cash that comes with it.

When Mira returned after a six-month stint to her native village, her mother shut the door in her face. All her pleadings went in vain and she was cursed and brutally beaten by her parents. Instead of killing herself, she went back to the brothel and today owns a two-storied apartment, runs a unisex message parlor and supplies escorts. After her entry into the cosmetic world and by virtue of some unique beauty products she has shot to fame as a fashion icon and celebrity in her own right. After her brother’s marriage, when he threw his parents out of their home, they asked their daughter for shelter but she naturally denied their request just as she was some fifteen years ago.

 

 

It is amazing to find how big time society women are flourishing in this business, no holds barred. I remember a film ‘Astha’ where a housewife was tricked into the flesh trade out of sheer poverty. Many women are getting involved in this trade to have unadulterated fun and plenty of cash. I know many financially well off women running such businesses with impunity in their own flats; they call it the entertainment business, the authorities being either hoodwinked or bought. They are openly placing adverts in newspapers about their erotic services assuring guaranteed privacy. While they fling their diamonds contemptuously; the world discerns both the glitter and the filth!

Irrespective of sex, religion and age, people are either travelling willingly or are trafficked from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, Indonesia, Ethiopia, India, Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Russia, Armenia, Nigeria, Somalia, Uganda and many other countries to the U.A.E. and other first world countries for commercial sexual exploitation. They are often tricked into believing they will be employed as daily workers, domestic servants or factory workers and then gradually coerced into the sex trade. Some find themselves in situations of involuntary servitude with heavy restrictions on their movement; the withholding of passports, in addition to physical and sexual abuse.

 

 

Disclaimer: The names and incidents are absolutely coincidental and the author takes no responsibility if any similarity is found with any person, occurrence or incident. The facts and figures are taken from various reliable sources.

 

 

 

 

 

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Padmini Dutta Sharma

Padmini Dutta Sharma is a prolific writer, Human Rights activist and distinguished poet. Her distinctive style and taste is what sets her apart from the rest of her contemporaries. She has the courage of conviction to speak her mind clearly and boldly; often contrary to the accepted norms.

Padmini began her career as a journalist and gradually shifted to corporate communication alongside her writing. Her blogs, poems, articles and write-ups have been published in various portals, journals, newspapers and magazines around the world. She has recited her poems in various star studded poetical gatherings where she has earned rare reviews. Her writings are widely acclaimed and her fans range from India to the United States. She is also a common face on television discussing various social issues.

A natural philanthropist who works for the cause of the down trodden and disabled, Padmini has also published three books, including a collection of short stories and poetry, all of which are available here.

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