Ranchi: She was promised a job for Rs 5,000 a month in Delhi by a man from her village — a decent sum, she thought, and enough to help her family of daily-wage labourers in Jharkhand. The woman agreed and left with him.
That was around four months ago.
On 27 December last year, the 19-year-old returned home beaten and bruised — allegedly subjected to unspeakable sexual abuse by men to whom she was sold.
When this reporter met her in Jharkhand on 7 January, the 19-year-old had a macabre tale of rape, torture and an ardous 800-km journey on foot to tell.
Her ordeal, she said, had begun soon after she landed in Delhi with Srijan Murmu, the man who had promised her a job at a missionary society in Delhi. But she was taken to Old Delhi right away and sold to a man.
“I was kept in an office and did cleaning work during the daytime. At nights, my buyer would rape me. If I protested, he would threaten me with a knife,” she claimed.
“Then one night, four other men came to the room where I stayed. They were big and well-built. One of them caught hold of my hand but I let myself loose somehow and jumped out of the second-floor window.”
Unhurt, she ran for safety and did not stop until she thought her perpetrators could no longer see her. Roaming aimlessly in the unknown city, the survivor told this reporter that she rummaged for food in leftovers thrown by hotels.
“People thought I was mentally challenged. So, nobody said anything,” she said.
‘Climbed trees at night to protect myself’
Her journey, however, had only begun. Running for her life, the survivor claimed she walked all the way from Delhi to Madhya Pradesh, a distance of more than 800-km, before she finally collapsed and was rescued by a few locals.
The woman said she walked all day and climbed trees at night to “protect herself”. This went on for nearly two months before she reached Sidhi district in Madhya Pradesh.
“I didn’t have any sense of direction. I just walked. I could not take a bath…and my entire body reeked. Out of fear, I could not sleep even on the trees. A nap during the day was all I could afford,” she said.
Weak and exhausted, she was found lying unconscious by some residents who then took her to a police station and later to a One Stop Centre for treatment.
But language proved another barrier for her to be reunited with her family because she spoke and understood only Santhali. The Madhya Pradesh Police got in touch with a local youth who was from Dhanbad, Ankit Rajgadhiya. Rajgadhiya then brought along a friend who spoke Santhali.
The MP Police then got in touch with the Sahibganj police station in Jharkhand and the woman was finally brought home.
A case was subsequently lodged against Murmu at the Barhet police station of Jharkhand under section 370 (trafficking) and section 371 (habitual dealing in slaves) of the IPC.
Other missing girls from the village
The 19-year-old isn’t the only woman from her village to have been trafficked. The families of two other girls, who went missing in the past three years, also blamed men from the village behind their disappearance.
The younger sister of one of the missing girls said, “When we asked Murmu to bring my sister back, he asked for Rs 2,500. He took the money but has since not come back to the village.”
The second girl’s mother similarly said her daughter was “taken away” by one Chhoto Murmu three years ago and has since not returned home.
Sahibganj Superintendent of Police Aman Kumar said disappearances of women have become a common phenomena in the area.
Ajit Jha, a local journalist, also said, “Girls belonging to the Pahadia, Santhali communities are frequently reported missing. Reports are published about them but nothing happens.”
Aiding the trafficking industry are illegally-run placement agencies that have cropped up in the state.
“A large number of fake placement agencies have come up in Ranchi and Khunti areas. Earlier, these agents used to ferry victims via trains. Now, women are taken in trucks and buses,” said Afkar Ahmed, an assistant professor at the National University of Study and Research in Law, Ranchi.
The Jharkhand government had in 2016 passed the Private Placement Agencies and Domestic Workers (Regulation) Act, which demands mandatory registration for placement agencies. The Act states that full information about the person who is to be employed outside the state for work should be given to the office of the district collector.
Those found flouting these norms will face two years in prison and/or fine of Rs 2 lakh. Any error in information pertaining to an individual will also lead to a jail term of one year or a fine of Rs 20,000.
But Ahmed said that senior police officers in the state are “unaware” of it and the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act. In one of his research papers, Ahmed also states that girls belonging to Oraon, Munda, Santhal, Pahadia and Gond tribes of Jharkhand are some of the biggest victims of this menace.
Jharkhand records highest human trafficking cases
According to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau, Jharkhand recorded 373 cases of human trafficking in 2018 — the highest in the country.
Among these, 314 cases involved trafficking of minor girls. On the basis of these recorded cases, 158 people (mostly girls) were rescued. The data also revealed that 58 cases were related to forced labor, 18 to flesh trade, 34 trafficked for domestic chores, 32 for forced marriages and seven smuggled for begging.
Maharashtra was in second place with 311 cases and Assam in the third place with 262 cases. A total of 2,367 cases were registered across the country in 2018.
A Barhet local, identified only as Rajkumar, said most of the “dealings” take place during the weekly market on Tuesdays. “The tribals come to the markets only on those days to sell things. It is here that agents scout for women.”
Data procured from the Jharkhand Police states that a total of 608 cases of human trafficking were registered from 2013 to 2019. Out of this, 736 women and 182 men were rescued. During the same period, 555 smugglers were arrested, which included 355 men and 200 women.
A study conducted on trafficking victims in the Khunti and Ranchi districts of Jharkhand has cited how impoverishment appears to be one of the main causes behind this menace.
Girls available for Rs 30,000 in Jharkhand
The representative of a panchayat in Sahibganj, who did not want to be named, said that girls are sold for around Rs 30,000 in Jharkhand. The buyer, he added, also has to deposit Rs 1,000 every month.
Baidyanath Kumar, an activist fighting human trafficking, said, “In Jharkhand, a healthy goat costs around Rs 80,000 but a girl might cost as little as Rs 30,000 only.”
This reporter also got in touch with one of the alleged traffickers who claimed he could “provide a girl within days” for Rs 50,000. Another alleged trafficker said he got anywhere between Rs 25,000 and Rs 30,000 for one girl.
The Jharkhand Police had last year arrested Panna Lal, who was known to be a kingpin of trafficking rackets in the state and had assets worth Rs 80 crore.
According to a report, trafficking for sex has an annual turnover of about Rs 2 lakh crore in India.