What success looks like

In general, when it comes to human trafficking, it is easy to despair. The numbers are enormous. The cases locally seem to never end. One has to take a step back to see what success can look like on the ground. Ultimately, as my friend Sam McCahon notes, success isn’t people rescued, it is people never being trafficked in the first place. Eventually it will be harder and harder to find cases, but that’s not where we are today.

So how do you know what success looks like in the short to medium term? It looks like the system working. One of my colleagues wrote a piece for Pragati Magazine, associated with the Takshashila Institution. It provides a glimpse of what medium term success looks like in a destination of trafficked labour. The legal system works. Cases are found and the legal system responds appropriately.  It is really exciting to step back and realize that we are part of a system like that is working

In the last one year, Karnataka has established itself as a leader in addressing human trafficking, especially labour trafficking. It has done this by effectively implementing a statewide policing structure, the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU), under the newly amended section of Indian Penal Code (IPC), s. 370 – Trafficking of Persons. The Karnataka government has demonstrated in a series of recent cases that it is making significant progress in fighting human trafficking.

Not only that, but the conclusion is quite powerful. Not only can what is happening here be a model for the whole country, but it can provide hope that violent crime, especially against the poor and marginalized, can indeed be stopped, or at least reduced sharply

Together these demonstrate that a well-trained police force that is empowered by strong laws that are enforced by the judiciary, can begin to bring protection to society, especially to sections of the society that are often the victims of trafficking. There are several significant consequences of this. Karnataka’s work can be used as a model in other states in cases of trafficking. By ensuring that the AHTU and the police are well trained on the new IPC s.370, the police in other states can start to demonstrate the same effectiveness that they have here, if there is the political will. Additionally, Karnataka case law will provide guidance to the judiciaries in those states. These successes should serve as a message that with proper training and political will, we can have successful policing that protects all sections of society against other crimes. Trafficking offences are not much different than many other crimes that face our society. These successes should tell the police force that they can succeed and also tell the public that it is correct to invest trust in a well-trained police force.


Things Not Seen

Tasveer is an online photography magazine, a set of galleries with exhibitions, in Bangalore as well as Delhi, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, and Mumbai, and a publisher of exhibition catalogues.  It is also a look into many things I will never see, all shrunken on an iPad screen for browsing on a lazy afternoon, as I smell the neighbors’ lunches cooking and listen to the birds outside.

Tasveer introduced me to the work of Vivek Muthuramalingam, a Bangalorean photographer, whose Vanishing Sea series shows the silted-up port of a coastal city, quite reminiscent of the Aral Sea.  He also did a series on migrants from Tamil Nadu, working in the Quarries of Rampura (oh, I have so many work-related questions).  As he writes about the series:

In the rocky outskirts of Bangalore, close to a village called Rampura, I stood witness to an occupation that looks both primitive and merciless. A group of labourers from Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu toil hard for long hours under the fierce afternoon sun, breaking rocks with a chisel and hammer and with bare naked hands to eke out a living…. Manoharan, a worker at the quarry, shows me with a tinge of authority the dynamite sticks that they use for the late evening blasts to break the bigger rocks. He also shows me around what was once his home- ‘Although people are evacuated before the blasts begin unexpected shrapnel sometimes crash into our huts rendering them irreparable. We just have to build another’.

Vivek Muthuramalingam, Women toil hard at the quarry

(More photographs below the fold; patience, please, if it’s slow to load.)

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Nobel Peace Prize for the Fight against Child Trafficking

Kailash Satyarthi

Yesterday, in the middle of a hectic afternoon, came the news that Kailash Satyarthi, the founder of Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. As millions said “Who?”, the resulting traffic apparently crashed BBA’s website.

Not everyone needed to Google India’s eighth Nobel laureate.

In 1980, Laxman Singh was seven-year-old and working at a stone quarry in Faridabad with his parents.

Thirty-four years later, Singh is a treasurer at Bachpan Bachao Andolan headquarters at Kalkaji in Delhi. “I would have languished as a stone quarry labourer in Faridabad had Kailash Satyarthi not made efforts to rescue us,” he said.

Singh was among 2,500 workers and their children who were rescued from the stone quarry by a team of activists, led by Satyarthi

I didn’t go to the website when the news broke; I’d last been there within the week reviewing some of the precedent-setting legal cases BBA has been involved in. BBA (the Save the Childhood Foundation) is a leader in the fights against child trafficking and child labour, and in requiring police to take cases of missing children seriously, and in vindicating the rights of children to a free and compulsory education. BBA actively rescues and rehabilitates children from these situations, and also files lawsuits—public interest litigation (PILs)—to compel the government to adopt policies to prevent the exploitation of children.

Here’s some of the work BBA has done, with two quick explanations.

  • A PIL is a lawsuit, which can be filed directly at the highest court in the land, asking the judiciary to take affirmative steps to protect the right of citizens, particularly the poor and vulnerable.
  • In employment law, a child is below 14 years of age. Child labour, outside of defined dangerous jobs and within confined hours, is legal.

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The Course of Justice Never Did Run Smooth

The great property theorist Harold Demsetz once said, “The court is not a market institution. If you don’t believe me, ask [Judge] Richard Posner, who’s here, how difficult it is to collect payment for a correct decision.”

Had Professor Demsetz been speaking where I’m sitting, he might have also mentioned the difficulties of collecting for a timely decision.

Imagine that your dispute is being heard before Judge Wapner, who has resolved the pre-trial disputes and heard testimony from half the witnesses. Judge Wapner retires. No judge is appointed to take his place on the bench of the People’s Court for months on end. The case languishes, unmoving, until Judge Judy is finally appointed. She sits on the bench and conducts a hearing to come up to speed on the case. She then disappears, and trial again languishes, while the Judge attends two to four months of mandatory training. It’s time again for witnesses to resume testifying.

What else could slow you down? Perhaps no stenographer has been appointed, and therefore no orders are being written. (Are you tempted to volunteer that a law school education left you with excellent dictation and typing skills, and that you’ll bring your own laptop and portable printer?) Perhaps defense counsel is busy (or ‘busy’) in another court, and has sent a junior for the sole purpose of taking an adjournment. Perhaps no prosecutor has been appointed to the court hall. Unless you, as a private pleader, can get appointed as the prosecutor, the case will not move forward until an appropriate warm body, with the authority to appear before that judge, is found and moved into place. Or, more simply, perhaps the accused did not show up that day—a warrant for his appearance is unlikely to be issued until the second or third time he no-shows on flimsy excuse. And witnesses themselves may have been transferred, moved in search of other jobs, or changed phone numbers. It’s a big country in which to find someone.

These problems mount. India’s backlog of pending court cases at all levels of the judiciary currently stands at approximately 31 million cases (over 65,000 of these are pending at the Supreme Court).  Resolution comes slowly: in 2011, it was estimated that 24% of cases had been pending for five years or longer, and 9% of cases had been pending for ten years or longer.[1]  I mainly think of these issues from the side of the prosecution, but as Amnesty notes, two-thirds of prisoners in India are awaiting trial or undergoing trial, and have not yet been convicted of any crime.  It’s also important to recognize that about 37% of pending cases are traffic cases.  Still, the number of pending criminal cases, under the penal code, has increased at an alarming rate.

Backlog of criminal cases under the Indian Penal Code (and not any other criminal laws), per the National Crime Record Bureau

Backlog of criminal cases under the Indian Penal Code (“IPC”), per the National Crime Record Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs. Criminal cases under the IPC represent approximately 40% of all cognizable crimes annually.

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Talking Freedom on Independence Day

So last week was Independence Day here, when the countries of the subcontinent got their freedom from the UK. The work of our office and a partner organization was covered by News 9, a local English-language news station. The segment includes people who were rescued from bonded labour and some of our coworkers:

The segment ran for 50 minutes (21 for content from the segment and 29 for advertising, a ratio that shows the value of that time slot) starting at 6:30pm on Independence Day. Hopefully it is changing the understanding of what is happening here.

One of the people who IJM helped rescue points out that he didn’t understand what Independence was all about until he was free.

Interestingly, an opinion piece in Daily News and Analysis (DNA) placed the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act as one of the top pieces of legislation that guarantees freedom:

However, the Constitution was careful to include restrictions so that unhindered rights would not be detrimental to the rights enjoyed by others. Various legislations have been passed by the Indian Parliament over the 67 years of its history. Below, we list out six landmark legislations that have guaranteed and ensured freedom for the people in the country.

1. Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976: The Act abolished the practice of bonded labour in the country, freeing a person from any bonded services and liquidated the debts as well. The property of the bonded labourer was freed from bondage and the practice of bondage was made punishable by law.


Hampi: Capital of the Vijayanagar Empire

Near Chakratirtha, a sacred space for bathing

Near Chakratirtha, a sacred space for bathing

The speed with which we process and post our photos is embarrassingly slow, so I will simply say that at some point in the past, we took a weekend trip to Hampi, in the Deccan Plateau of northwest Karnataka, and then skip quickly to the question of what is Hampi.  From the 14th to 16th centuries, Hampi was the capital city of the Vijayanagar Empire, the last great Hindu empire of South India.  In its heyday in 1500, Hampi was home to an estimated 300,000 – 500,000 people; if at the higher end, it would have been the second-largest city in the world, after Beijing.  In 1565, the city of Hampi fell to the Deccan Muslim confederacy in the Battle of Talikota, and never regained its former predominance.

Today, the Group of Monuments at Hampi are a UNESCO world heritage site, with over 1600 remaining buildings and ruins sprawling over 10,000 acres.  Hampi is now home to a small community that serves the tourist and pilgrimage trade.  The former are particularly prone to dreadlocks, and I believe solely responsible for the following language in the Karnataka State Police Manual.

8. OVER STAYERS Immigration officers at places of exit have discretion to condone at the time of departure of foreigner, minor irregularities like overstay up to 3 or 4 days. In all other cases, where the foreigner has exceeded the condition of Visa or 30 days landing permit, notice should be taken of the overstayal in order to discourage such instances. Hippies tend to overstay in India and prosecution is called for in such cases. . . .

Hanuman relief

Hanuman relief

Part of Hampi’s charm is gawking at hippies and roaming around on rented mopeds, feeling like you’re in the midst of a low-speed chase scene (not too fast, or you’ll run out of petrol before nightfall).  The majority of the charm, though, lies in the remarkable buildings bearing witness to the height of this empire.  There is very little signage as you wander from site to site in Hampi, and so the entire site feels more mysterious, and the disparate clusters of buildings less connected.  And so you wander around these monuments, in varying states of repair and rebuilding, in a landscape dotted with massive granite boulders.  It feels like giants were a game and, interrupted, stood and departed, leaving behind their dollhouses and balls.[1]

(Photos, below the fold, with apologies for the odd spacing).

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Another 12 people rescued

IJM collage

Pictures from the release and rescue posted to Twitter by IJM’s CEO.

Our office was involved in a release of twelve workers, including six children, and the arrest of a brick kiln owner. Here’s what The Hindu said:

Twelve people, including six children, were rescued from a brick kiln near Ramanagaram here on Wednesday. The owner of the brick kiln was arrested on charges of employing children and keeping the workers confined as bonded labourers.

According to a release issued by the International Justice Mission, which was part of the raid along with Anti-Human Trafficking Unit, the district authorities and the police, the workers were paid an advance and moved to the kiln premises where their movements were curtailed. They were paid less than the stipulated minimum wages.

The picture here contains several elements of the rescue.

I am not yet an ascetic

Maximum City, Suketa Mehta’s non-fiction, seemingly-impossible book on corruption, dreams, and possibilities in Mumbai’s underworld, ends with a farewell.  A wealthy diamond merchant and his family renounce their material possessions to take up lives as wandering Jain ascetics.  This is a more-than-modern decision, made in the late 1990s, by a diamond dealer who, in the life he has renounced, had a reputation for some fraud.  He sets that all behind him.  The merchant and his sons head off in one direction, his wife and daughter in another, the family never to rejoin.  In this new life of asceticism,

They will be walking constantly, observing the five vows: no violence, no untruth, no stealing, no sex, no attachments. They will be wearing two white unstitched pieces of cloth, nothing else; every six months, their hair will be pulled; and they will have no shoes, no vehicles, no telephone, no electricity. On the day they take diksha, they will bathe; it will be the last bath they take in their lives. They will not put their foot into a puddle; they will stay in the same place during the months of the rainy season; they will not bathe in ponds or rivers or seas; and they will stay indoors while it’s raining.

And their clothes will be of silk, because they “believe that silk is less sinful than mill cloth, since the production of silk destroys only two-sensed beings, whereas the occupational hazards of making fabric in a mill destroy five-sensed beings, in addition to incurring the sin of using electricity.”

I have been thinking of this passage since coming here to work on bonded labor.  I have not become a renunciate.  I do not live an ascetic life.  But those are the drastic steps I would need to take to avoid contaminating myself with the fruits of unfree labour.  And I would not avoid contamination; I’d merely reduce the rate.  I do believe that there is no option to avoid tainted purchases, other than clearing out the supply chains entirely.

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Watching the “World’s Biggest Election”

We have had the pleasure of being able to watch what has been dubbed “the world’s biggest election” that tells you so much about this country. CNN has a good prospective write up from a Western perspective and Foreign Policy Magazine’s South Asia Channel has had good ongoing coverage, as has the Financial Times’ Beyond BRICS blog. Google has a great video that urges people to vote and gives you a little sense of the pride that the country has in its election by profiling the first voter post-Independence.

BuzzFeed also has some fantastic images of the election that might give you a little sense of the scale and scope of this exercise.

A number of people have asked me what I thought of the election. So I put together some basic observations. Read More →

The importance of convictions in fighting modern slavery

Several weeks ago a District Magistrate gave a sentence of seven years in a case that our office was involved in, according to The Hindu:

The owner of a quarry from Malakacheruvapalli in Chickballapur district was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for confining 42 people in his quarry as bonded labour.

International Justice Mission (IJM) which brought the case to light, in a release, has said the owner was sentenced by the Civil Judge and JMFC, Bagepalli, under Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976, Section 344 of the Indian Penal Code Section (wrongful confinement) and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act.

The charges against the owner included confinement, payment below minimum wages, children not being allowed to go to school and a pregnant woman in labour not being allowed to go to a hospital.

IJM believes this is the longest sentence ever recorded for holding slaves in India. 

IJM pursues prosecution as a deterrent against future crime. As IJM’s Vice President of Government Relations Holly Burkhalter noted in a review of Siddharth Kara’s book  Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery, IJM firmly believes that convictions form an important part of a total strategy for ending human trafficking by not just punishing but my fundamentally changing the risk profile of engaging in illegal behavior.

Prison sentences, on the other hand, can jolt traffickers, pimps, and brothel owners into reconsidering their assessment of profit and risk, and deter them from using children or coerced adults in the labor pool. Indeed, in the course of investigating child sex trafficking in South and Southeast Asia, securing relief for victims, and working with local prosecutors to bring perpetrators to justice, we at the International Justice Mission have found that even a relatively small number of convictions can contribute to perpetrators’ finding a different way to make a living.

She goes to to explain that Kara, whose background is in finance, “believes that ‘the most effective way to reduce aggregate demand is to attack the industry’s immense profitability by inverting its risk-reward economics, that is, by making the risk of operating a sex slave operation far more costly.'”

In Kara’s own words in his TED fellows interview argues that convictions are key because they are a key way to attack a key vulnerability of the slavery business model:

There are vulnerabilities here that can be exploited, in that it’s occurring in relative daylight. It happens millions of times a day. The locations in which it happens are relatively fixed, and you can’t go too far underground because consumers aren’t going to follow you there. And other reasons why this is the vulnerable point, where if you intervene intelligently and carefully, you can not only liberate the slave, which means you also cut off all future cash flows, but you can gather the requisite evidence and information required to successfully prosecute and convict, which elevates the real risk.

So there you are attacking profits and elevating risk, which is inverting that compelling formula we talked about. So this is the argument I make, based on understanding how it works, of what should be done, to more effectively respond.

So that’s why convictions are so important to us.