West Bengal accounts for the highest number of trafficked persons in the country, yet victims and their families often suffer further due to police inaction.
16-year-old Priya (name changed) wanted to grow up to be a police officer or a nurse, says her mother, who had sent her to live with her uncle in the city to complete her education. Priya was abducted in May 2018 and has not been traced since.
“They pick them up and take them away, these girls never return home,” says Shyamali Roy (name changed), her mother. She does not specify whom she refers to as “they” but the context is obvious to her and to Soriya. She is referring to the human trafficking agents who, along with other complicit stakeholders, are responsible for West Bengal accounting for 44% of all such reported cases of trafficking.
Malda, Priya’s hometown, is a major hub for trafficking. Its proximity to Bangladesh only increases its vulnerability to cross-border trafficking as well.
The family filed a First Information Report (FIR) at the English Bazar Police Station, but the police took no action. “They are not listening to us, they are not saying anything either,’ says Roy.
Police apathy is often the reason cases of human trafficking are not reported in the first place. Once reported, inaction and lackadasial attitudes towards the problem distress and discourage families from pursuing the case.
The Malda Sahayogita Samiti, an NGO, read about Priya’s case in the newspaper, which mentioned that the police is not taking any action. “The group is now trying to build pressure on the police,” says Biswajit Bose, a member of the team. They have also approached the Child Welfare Committee, the District Child Protection Society and the District Social Welfare Officer.
Soriya also went to the police station and spoke to Biswajit Mandal, the official handling the case, but he said he did not know anything about the whereabouts of the missing girl, neither did he have any lead on who had abducted her.
Women and girls are usually trafficked from states like West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand to metropolises like Delhi to be pushed into domestic work and often work in conditions amounting to bonded labour. Some are also trafficked to cities and forced into sex work. Minor boys are also trafficked to farms and factories in North India for manual labour. Moreover, women from states with a higher sex ratio are also trafficked and sold as brides in states with a worse off sex ratios like Punjab and Haryana.
The extent of human trafficking is well-known to the police, just as it is part of the reality that communities living in hotbeds like Malda live. It is also well-known that trafficking is an organised crime. It involves agents who identify, and subsequently abduct or lure victims to take them to the destination, it involves other stakeholders like the placement agencies in urban centres which provide domestic labour, especially to households. Those involved in transporting the trafficked persons, providing the space to hold them hostage, or employing them, may also be knowingly or unknowingly complicit in the crime.
In tackling such a massive problem, timely and sensitive action by the police becomes extremely important, and the first step is for the police to register a case. The West Bengal police has taken action in cases of human trafficking and also tagged teams with police teams from other states to locate and bring trafficked persons back. Although the police did register a complaint in Priya’s case, it must do more to trace her and help her come back.
To urge the police to take action immediately, please call Biswajit Mandal, the officer in-charge at the English Bazar Police Station in Malda at +91- 3512252004.
Video by Community Correspondent Soriya Banu
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team