Jharkhand is one of India’s newer states, carved in 2000 from the southern section of Bihar, lying in a region rich in mineral deposits and, until recently, quite thickly forested. It is also, by some calculations, India’s second-poorest state. Two demographic points are key: the tribal population is significant, at 26%, and the state is among the most affected by Naxalite insurgencies. For these reasons and more, Jharkhand is a substantial source state for trafficking within India.
That domestic trafficking is the subject of a three-piece series in Mumbai-based newspaper dna, published this Republic Day weekend.
- trafficked: “The man who trafficked 5,000 tribal kids; dna explores a dark underbelly of modern day slavery”
- without deterrence: “Poor policing lets slave traders off the hook”
- without rehabilitation: “Battered and bruised, some return, some are never to be seen again..”
The story dna tells is as follows: A single trafficker–Mahto–confessed to trafficking more than 5,000 young tribals from a particularly downtrodden region of Jharkhand to Delhi, where they were exploited as domestic servants, exploited sexually, or both. For his role, Mahto made a killing, while the workers, often teenage women, were underpaid or never paid:
Documents recovered from Mahto’s residence show that his commission from supplying domestic helps ranged from Rs 10,000 to Rs 30,000 per head. The tribal kids meanwhile were being employed on wages of Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 a month. Copies of contracts recovered show that the wages were to be paid to Mahto’s agency.
Record showing the children and teenagers were adults were often forged. Prominent political connections–including to prominent but notorious politicians–may have provided impunity or connections or placement opportunities.
In 2012, Mahto was arrested. In 2013, Mahto appeared in court on a bail hearing. As the public prosecutor did not appear to contest bail, Mahto was released, absconded, and now cannot be traced. His situation is not unique. Other reputed traffickers receive bail, are not arrested, or never have cases (FIRs) filed against them.
Investigations and prosecutions lag, despite seemingly well-known aspects of the traffickers’ modus operandi. They bring recruits from Jharkhand to Delhi on a particular train with minimal daytime stops, to minimize the chance of interception by railroad police. The placement agencies operate out of a dense warren of a neighborhood on the outskirts of Delhi, where (Indian Express adds) neighbors later reported hearing the sounds of girls crying and seeing girls from Jharkhand attempting to escape a house.
Rehabilitation and rescue fares little better than the prosecution. After the children leave for Delhi for work, some parents have no contact with their children for years. Some children eventually escape and return, fleeing as refugees, while others are afraid to return home, due to the stigma of their experiences.
This is the very situation IJM and its partners, its supporters and confederates in NGOs and government, seek to change. Intercept trafficking, prosecute trafficking, and rehabilitate the victims. Unfortunately, despite other joyous successes, there is still much work to be done.