Goats, Tigers and Trafficking
Goats, Tigers and Trafficking
Somewhere in a village bordering a tea estate in Assam
Some crowd had gathered and were seen cheering as they witnessed a mock play in progress. The play, rather a game of goats and tigers was being played. Some young girls in their puberty were in the middle. These girls wearing the goat mask represented the lamb for the slaughter metaphorically. There was a ring around them formed by people who had joined their hands. Outside the ring some men wearing the mask of tigers were prowling. Their target the lambs inside the ring. Whenever tigers tried to break the ring, people would cheer and the ring would tighten giving no room for tiger to enter. There would be a sigh of relief and shouting. At one time a tiger managed to sneak into the ring and grab a lamb but could not break out of the ring. It left the lamb but managed to wriggle out.
After about fifteen minutes the play stopped. A young couple took hold of the mike and asked the participants to be seated as they began the de-briefing of the game. They said the young girls represented the weak lambs, ideal target for traffickers. The tigers represent the men from the cities especially from one in the south called Hyderabad. The man said “bad” for these girls literally as they are sold to Arab Sheiks who fly in from the Gulf. There is a huge racket at work hand in glove with the authorities. The women added that we need to be vigilant as the ring represented the community in which these girls are found. If the community is vigilant trafficking cannot sustain, she added.
Then the man introduced the NGO they were both working and we are here to assist in your effort to prevent trafficking of young girls. Let us do a survey and identify such young girls, whom we can train and provide them skills that can fetch jobs in the cities. There are hostels where they can live and work. Down the line they can even get married. We have been in the field for some five years and have enrolled, trained and placed thousands of vulnerable girls such as the ones whom you saw inside the ring.
Anybody familiar with trafficking would know that the region such as where the tea estate was located was highly prone to trafficking as a result of combination of factors such as poverty, poor education combined with lack of information, illegal migrants and a general lack of governance. People especially the poor were left to fend for themselves. Police they believed existed to work against them. While the communities in these parts knew of trafficking as often young girls would go missing what was mysterious was that they were never found as no one came back. It led to many a serious doubt about credibility of police and in some instances missing of girls were not even reported.
In this milieu what the young couple from the NGO said struck a chord among the community and they willingly agreed to help in the survey and identify vulnerable families and girls in their community. Seema was one of the young girls who dressed up in a goat mask. Behind that mask was a smart brain absorbing every thing being said. Seema got shocked when she had heard the mention of Hyderabad. That was where the young madam, wife of assistant manager hailed from. Seema would accompany her mom whenever possible when she went to work at the assistant manager’s residence. His wife was an educated girl named Kalaivani who would sometime be happy to teach Seema some lessons in English. This had been going on for sometime and as Kalaivani had remarked young Seema could survive in Hyderabad with her English proficiency. Seema would watch some English program too to help in her understanding and this would include movies. Seema especially liked watching crime movies and she wanted to become a cop when she grew up.
One movie especially that of a girl being kidnapped left a deep impression. The girl was very smart and remembered every sound, smell and signages which later when she narrated to the police upon her escape helped trace the kidnapper. She had watched that film a few times and even analysed the scene there of with madam. Seema would not have known that film would help her in real life too.
Many girls identified in risk category enrolled with the NGO and were started with some skill training. Seema took up English typing on a computer and soon became quite proficient. NGO proposed further training in a metropolitan city and promised care, protection and monthly stipend. Legal papers were signed for transferring custody of these girls in the name of the NGO. Parents signed on the basis of trust. Their photos taken. Passports got readied. They didn’t know what was in store for them.
For the NGO couple the first round was easily won. Now they had a dozen girls whose sale would ensure a good life for the rest of their life time. They had plans to leave the country once the money was in bank account abroad. Their clients were Sheiks, military despots and old billionaires and they were willing to pay any price for young virgin girls.
For the dozen girls, destinations were different. Some were to be transported to Hyderabad and some to Kolkatta and a few as far as Kochi in the south. Seema was destined to be transported to Kolkatta. She was given a couple of what appeared to be new set of clothes, but actually hand me downs. She had tucked away a small note book and an equally small pencil inside her bra as a safety measure which came in handy to jot down names. Before the journey she was given a pill to swallow with the ostensible reason to preventing vomiting. She immediately knew that the NGO had conned them. Her movie sense came alive. Seema had seen in movies how the actors kept the pill under their tongue and pretended to swallow. She had perfected the technique and she adopted it. Other two girls swallowed and went to sleep immediately. Seema followed suit and played the role to perfection. She had heard Kolkatta being mentioned and one of the men had said it would take more than eighteen hours. They were put in a van and the door locked. There was a small window to the cabin in the front and Seema could hear the men talk and was following their conversation with keenness. Seema had by-hearted the road signages that she could see and the dhaba name when the driver had stopped for some meal and tea. She too slept over come by tiredness and woke up suddenly when she realised it had dawned. Considering it was Kolkatta she thought the time might be around 5 am.
Just then she saw a signage that said 40 kms to Kolkatta. Then an idea formed in her mind. The van sped through the city in the sparse traffic. She saw a sign AV School, then an arrow pointing towards Medical School. Then the van approached the famous Howrah Bridge which she always wanted to visit but not in the present way. She saw traffic jam ahead. She started banging the cabin partition. The driver got rattled. So far until now the journey had passed on smoothly but all of a sudden, in the middle of Howrah bridge where the traffic was crawling now. He decided to stop by the side and asked the assistant to check what was happening. As soon as the door opened Seema sprang on the man, bit him hard on his neck and sprinted on the road.
The man started screaming. The driver in his rear view saw the girl sprinting across the road to his surprise. Whatever happened to the medication he wondered! He knew things were lost now and got down from the vehicle and shouted at his assistant to get on to the van. By this time traffic had eased a bit and he pushed hard at the accelerator.
Some passers-by noticed this but nonchalantly went ahead as they had things to catch-up. Seema ran till she was gasping for breath. She asked a didi about the nearest police station.
Mithila newly joined recruit fresh from her training was at her seat when she saw a petrified Seema, dishevelled in her appearance enter the police station. Mithila’s training covered two sessions on trafficking and abuse and Seema looked the type. Her heart skipped a beat. Mithila had decided that trafficking would be one area she would be happy to work as it was also for a social cause. She herself grew up in an orphanage and understood the pain of not knowing parental care. She ordered for some tea and opened a packet of biscuit from inside her desk and offered to Seema along with a glass of water. She knew from the training to let Seema relax. She herself would open up when she was ready. She gave a friendly smile to put Seema at ease.
Seema wasn’t convinced by the smile. Even didi at the NGO gave that smile and conned them. But Seema thought to herself that she was sitting at a police station in front of a police woman who had offered her biscuits and ordered tea. what other options she had? She decided to open up gradually. When some hot tea and biscuits went in, she felt better. Without realising she had finished a packet of biscuits which Mithila duly noted. She told the boy to bring some breakfast too and more tea.
She took down notes as Seema opened up. Unfortunately, Seema didn’t note the van’s license plate, a crucial piece of evidence. But Seema did give the name of the NGO and the name of the didi and dada and the work place address where she was trained. Mithila knew that this could be fake names. Her fear got confirmed in a few days’ time. The NGO and the couple were untraceable. But Seema had known the name of the dhaba. She alerted the highway patrol. Dhaba was located in the border. When the highway patrol went there some one said such a van was there a few nights back. The cleaner boy had taken the picture of the license plate in his mobile fortunately, fascinated by the design above the number plate. Mithila got the information and it was a West Bengal number plate which made her job easier.
In twenty-four hours’, time she got hold of the driver. She said to the driver she would let him go with an easy jail term if he confessed to his crime. Anyways he had botched up with Seema’s escape. No money had come forth. The two other girls were still kept in captivity. The Ngo couple were un-contactable. He had nothing to lose. He confessed to his crime and gave whatever information he had with him including the couple’s photos which she promptly relayed to all airports’ security with the help of a child line NGO.
Mythila had guessed correctly that the NGO couple were on the run. They would have got some advance money for this operation from the clients. She wondered about the possible destinations and the route they would take. She closed in on escape routes by the road. She found a possible one to Thailand via Myanmar. She alerted the border police yet again through the NGO. The couple were caught at the border and as it was always said in India that the law would take its due course. The couple knew they were sentenced for life. Rest of the girls were rescued and sent to their homes with the information provided by the couple.
In the meantime, Seema was given to the custody of another NGO. The lady Aparna of the NGO had found Seema very intelligent and sharp and was impressed by her skills. Mythila had told her too about how Seema’s information about the dhaba gave the break through. Seema had told Aparna of the kidnapping film she had watched many times. Aparna found a place in the hostel with food and job where she was given monthly stipend. She was also learning other computer related skills. when Seema spoke to her mother and told her she was happy and safe with Aparna didi. Her mother knew she can’t give Seema a better life and gave her consent for Seema to remain there.
Seema continues her life at Kolkatta now. She has too good people in Mythila and Aparna to take care of her.