In an era of fast forgotten news, the headline flew past in a flicker indeed, but it did leave behind a rare trail of courage and inspiration for thousands of girls, if not more, in West Bengal!
Meena, a teenager from a non-descript village in the district of South 24 Parganas, was tricked and abducted by a woman she knew through one of her classmates and neighbour. Only days before, Meena, a Class 10 student, was lucky to have attended a session of Swayangsiddha – the awareness drive underway against human trafficking organized by the district police chief at her school. Memories came rushing back and she understood that she would be sold to ‘customers’ waiting in cities like New Delhi or Mumbai, if not any other faraway land. But Meena decided not to give in and realized that keeping her cool was the topmost priority at the moment.
As her abductor and her associates tried to figure out her reaction and response at the shelter where she was kept at in Baruipur, a bustling town in her district, Meena played game and ‘agreed’ to their ‘offer’.
She would be taken to Mumbai, they said, where she could get to ‘work’ at a ‘decent’ place for a ‘handsome pay’ that would suffice to maintain her family back home. Meena, of course, knew that these were just the kind of ploys and methods adopted by human traffickers, as had been discussed at length at the Swayangsiddha session. In a subtle move, Meena told her ‘benefactors’ that she would definitely go to Mumbai but it would be better if she could leave with some cash in hand. And that would not be a problem, she said, because her family had enough to help her make the move… The allure of money did the trick. Meena’s kidnappers let her call up her family and she asked her uncle to bring the cash to a predetermined place at Baruipur the day after. All through the telephonic conversation, she was careful not to talk much as it could alert her abductors.
By then, Meena’s family had figured out that she was kidnapped and sought police help. The cops tracked her call and, on D-Day, nabbed Meena’s kidnappers and rescued her unharmed!
Meena was lucky because human trafficking or trafficking in persons (TIP) is one of the biggest organized crimes in the world today. Over 500 trafficking flows were detected globally between 2012 and 2014 alone, and 71% of the victims were women and children. India is no exception and, unlike many other countries, it is a source, transit and destination – all at once – for human trafficking, with 90% of it happening within its borders. West Bengal, Jharkhand and Bihar are three worst affected states in this regard, largely because crippling poverty has kept huge chunks of the rural population vulnerable to trafficking under false promises of jobs and marriages.
Contact Base is working with UNICEF, the South 24 Parganas district administration and West Bengal Police as the implementing partner of Swayangsiddha since May 2017. We have designed printed and audio-visual communication tools for the campaign and undertaken capacity building workshops with folk media groups to prevent trafficking and child marriage. We have also conducted communication skill building workshops with police personnel and paralegal volunteers.
Swayangsiddha aims to empower young girls and boys with the knowledge and skills required to be aware, alert, and able to make informed choices, and reduce cases of violation and abuse of their rights. Representatives of the police are conducting awareness building sessions on human trafficking and child marriage in different schools in the districts of South 24 Parganas, North 24 Parganas, Nadia and Murshidabad.
In July and August 2017, we reached out to 118 schools, conducting awareness building sessions on human trafficking and child marriage. Such sessions will be conducted in more schools after the Puja vacation.
Today, Swayangsiddha groups formed by students are active at the grassroots level. People are being sensitized about human trafficking, the legal age of marriage and ramifications of underage marriage for girls, as well as the existing government schemes and plans to enable girls to be self-sufficient and free thinking minds.
Swayangsiddha groups formed by students are taking preventive action within their communities against human trafficking. They have initiated activities like organizing awareness rallies, recording the number of school dropouts in their villages and performing theme-based street plays. Most of the students want a similar sensitization session for parents and guardians, apart from proper guidance from the teachers.
In most schools, students are saying that societal pressure to get married at an early age and low rate of literacy are the main reasons behind the high school dropout rate, child marriages and the existing vulnerability to human trafficking. Many students are aware about the legal age of marriage but not sure about the ways to prevent them.
The initiative has a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/SwayangsiddhaWBP) and a Twitter account (twitter.com/@SwayangsiddhaWB). These two arms engage students, youth groups and stakeholders, including police officers, and provide regular updates on the programmes and activities of Swayangsiddha groups, like rallies and street plays. Stakeholders can also interact with one another and share their experiences and post their queries and suggestions on these two platforms. I FIGHT TIP, another FB group (www.facebook.com/groups/404180129941366/), shares views and information from Swayangsiddha and similar initiatives from across the world.