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Tuesday, 5 March 20130 comments

Delhi-North Bengal trafficking racket: From tea gardens to an ugly world

Every year, hundreds of tribal girls go missing from the poverty-stricken tea estate areas of the Dooars. But with only two out of 10 cases reported to the police, the Delhi-North Bengal trafficking racket is operating with impunity.

Nirmala Oraon looks out of her balcony every now and then, hoping to see her 15-year-old daughter emerge from the dusty road that leads to her modest hut in Sathgaiya Tea Estate in North Bengal. The tea-garden labourer gives up after sunset, only to wake up the next morning with renewed hope. For over a year now, Nirmala has been oscillating between despair and faint hope after Jyotika, her eldest daughter, went missing in December 2011.

Visit any of these troubled tea gardens in North Bengal and you'll know something is wrong. The streets here never really bustle with activity but one sees a steady trickle, mostly of young men and some elderly men and women, from sunrise to sunset. But girls are hard to spot.
Hundreds of tribal girls, mostly teenagers, from these dying tea gardens have gone missing over the past few years. Driven out of home by poverty and the dream of a better life, these girls have fallen prey to human trafficking. They have been trapped by local 'agents' promising lucrative jobs in cities like Delhi. After leaving home, however, these girls have become untraceable.
Jyotika was lured by one Reshma Oraon, a young woman who was her neighbour. Reshma, who like Jyotika is also the daughter of a tea-garden labourer, shuttles between Delhi and home and is believed to have 'smuggled' a number of girls out of the tea gardens in the past five years.
"Reshma came home at least twice after she took away my daughter. She said Jyotika went missing after being handed over to a placement agency in Delhi. Each time I confront her, she promises to bring my daughter back home," says Nirmala. Reshma has convinced the illiterate Nirmala not to approach the police with promises to find Jyotika. During each visit to Sathgaiya, she hands down visiting cards of numerous Delhi-based placement agencies to convince the distraught Nirmala that her daughter is indeed employed by the agencies and will come home soon.
"I took the help of some relatives and dialled some placement agencies only to find the numbers invalid. I fear my daughter has been forced into flesh trade. I do not know if I will even see her again," Nirmala laments.
About 5km away at Chulsa, the disappearance of a 13-year-old girl has dealt a harsh blow to the mother. School dropout Monica Oraon, who worked in a saw mill till she left home on July 28, 2008, is missing. Mother Dashari Oraon kept crying for Monica for almost a year. The tears gradually dried up but the trauma affected her faculties. Now in her own world, Dashari probably does not even feel the pain any more.
Months after she went missing, Monica had called her maternal uncle Manickchand on December 16 from a mobile phone which she said belonged to a 'bhaiya' who visited her. "My niece sounded scared, traumatized and troubled. She said she was in a trap from which there was no escape," Manickchand recalls.
After complaints to Mateli police station yielded no result, the desperate uncle went all the way to Delhi, running from pillar to post to trace his niece with a photograph that he showed to anyone that cared. But he returned home empty-handed.
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