Nati was one of the 130 children who go missing and often fall victim to trafficking every day in India. Sold for 70,000 rupees, she was forcibly married and abused for a year before she managed to come back home.
Nati Pahadin was married off at the age of 14. Less than two years later, her husband trafficked her to Delhi and then to Sonipat in Haryana. She was kept trapped in the homes of different men involved in the trafficking and then forcefully married to a man named Anil. She had been sold and bought for 70,000 rupees.
“Sold like cows and goats”, AlJazeera reported on India’s “slave” brides in 2016. According to the report, in a survey of 10,000 households in Haryana, 9000 women had come from outside the state; some of them had been sold up to three times.
Haryana is the state with the lowest sex ratio in India, and trafficking of minor girls and women for marriage from states like Jharkhand and Bihar is common. Jharkhand is known to be a hotbed of human trafficking, and Sahibganj, the district Nati belongs to, more so. Most children, men and women trafficked belong to poor and marginalised communities, often tribal communities like Nati’s.
Lack of economic opportunities, regional imbalances in development and situations of debt and of conflict lead to cross-border trafficking across states and countries. Although often conflated with sex work and forceful sexual labour, trafficking of persons can be done for a variety of reasons- bonded physical labour, domestic work, sexual labour, marriage.
Nati had no inkling that she was being trafficked. “He put me on a train to Delhi and I trusted him”, she says about her husband, Maheshwar, who told her that he had to send her away for some time because his family did not like her.
In Delhi, Nati was kept in the house of one man and then another and subsequently forcefully married to Anil whom Maheshwar had sold her to. She was verbally, physically and sexually abused by Anil and his family each time she tried seeking help to go back to Jharkhand.
Community Correspondent Shikha Pahadin was on a field visit in Sahibganj where she reports from when a local resident alerted her about Nati’s case. Shikha then got in touch with Nati’s family and tried to track her down.
“She was kept hostage in Anil’s house and had managed to make a call home from someone else’s cell phone. Nati’s brother and I called on the number, it belonged to man whose wife Nati had secretly met and talked about her situation to”, says Shikha, who had also been following up on the FIR (First Information Report) filed by Nati’s family at a police station in Sahibganj.
Shikha then contacted Nirmal Chhaya in Delhi. Nirmal Chhaya is an institution set up by the Delhi government to help implement the provisions of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956. Nati was subjected to further violence when the representatives from Nirmal Chhaya approached Anil’s home to take her away. She was then taken to the Panipat Central Home and was found to be pregnant.
“Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) helped us get legal aid for her, and the police in Panipat and Sahibganj finally arrested Maheshwar and Anil,” says Shikha.
However, it was not all that smooth till Nirmal Chhaya and HRLN got involved. Each time Shikha approached the police station in Sahibganj where the FIR was filed, she was told that they were waiting for Anil to be arrested before they could arrest Maheshwar, who was absconding.
Police apathy and inaction is known to be one of the main reasons trafficked persons do not return. In a similar case in Alipurduar in West Bengal, a minor, who had been exploited as a domestic worker in Delhi and raped, returned home but with no arrests. In Bihar’s Arwal, the families of many teenage boys wait for their children’s return, exasperated with police inaction.
130 children go missing in India every day, and a majority of them remain untraced. They are exploited by the traffickers, by those of us who benefit from their labour, and by the state itself, especially when it sees most trafficked girls and women as sex workers, and thereby, people who pose a moral threat to society.
In Nati’s case, the case was handled with sensitivity and immediacy once different institutions proactively stepped in, a fate that most children who go missing in India are not fortunate enough to meet.
Video by Community Correspondent Shikha Pahadin
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV editorial team