New Delhi: In the wake of a case of forced labour and rape of an Adivasi woman in Bengaluru, members of the Adivasi Women’s Network Jharkhand, Karnataka Janashakthi and Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) have demanded “a comprehensive investigation of human trafficking networks that is the source of exploitation and subversion of constitutional rights.”
In a joint statement, the members of the organisations said that the incident is one of the many stories of forced suffering and humiliation that unorganised workers had endured over the decades. “The lockdown has only exposed the frailties and the lives of all those who have been forced to occupy the cracks and crevices of our society for a long time,” the statement added.
The organisations claimed that two women arrived in Bengaluru in October 2019 to work in a factory named Bharat Chemical Products. “They were illegally confined in the factory, beaten up repeatedly by the main contractor, Sanjeev, made to work longer hours and were subject to life threats. One of the women was raped inside the factory premises twice,” said the statement.
Moreover, the organisations also claimed that the two women were promised monthly wages of Rs 9,000 and Rs 7,000 respectively at the factory but had not been paid any wages. The two women had only received Rs 200 per week till they escaped the factory in March 2020.
Speaking to The Wire, Mallige Sirimane, an activist of Karnataka Janashakthi who has been helping the women said that, “a case has been registered in this regard and two men have been arrested so far. However, no case against the factory owner has been registered.”
According to Sirimane, there are two FIRs and the first FIR is against molestation. The accused was arrested but let out on bail the same day. In the second FIR, a man named Azghar Ali Mustaf has been charged under Section 354a (2) of Indian Penal Code (Sexual Harassment) at Kengeri Police Station of Bengaluru.
Questioning police inaction, Sirimane said that the owner’s arrest was very important as “there were many more women working in the firm and no one knows where they have been sent. They must be in a very precarious situation”.
“We are going to call for a real protest in front of the police station as there is nothing else to be done. Because we have tried all other means … Registered a separate case before the magistrate but they have not taken any serious cognisance of it,” said Sirimane.
Speaking to The Wire, Elina Horo, president of Adivasi Women’s Network Jharkhand said that, “human trafficking of Adivasi women and girls from the state is not new but this kind of horrific incident should force the government and its agencies to take urgent action against the routine exploitation of Adivasi women for strengthening women’s safety at work place and labour laws.”
“Due to the nationwide lockdown, we are unable to find out how many more Adivasi women are themselves in a similar situation in different parts of the country,” she further added.
Regarding what the state government’s actions should be, Horo said that, “the state government of Jharkhand must ensure that they maintain a detailed record of all the migrant workers, proactively register them in welfare boards and ensure that adequate social security is extended to them.”
She also said that “the government must monitor and have strict regulatory oversight of private companies.” Moreover, the groups have demanded that a special provision be made for women migrant workers belonging to the historically marginalised communities such as Adivasis and Dalits.
As per a study on human trafficking, the state of Jharkhand has emerged as India’s trafficking hub with thousands of tribal women and girls being trafficked out of the state each year to Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and beyond. “An estimated 33,000 girls are trafficked each year from Jharkhand. Most of such victims of trafficking and exploitation are below 18 and illiterate or semi-literate and are forced to work in households, brothels, restraints and factories.”
Furthermore, the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report revealed that “every fourth day a child trafficked is from Jharkhand. However, this may just be the tip of the iceberg and the actual count of trafficked children could be much higher, fear activists working at the grass roots level.”
In May 2018, The Wire had reported that “experts are of the view that human traffickers are also involved in many cases of missing children. Between 2013 and May 2017, as many as 2,489 children went missing, of which 1,114 children remain untraced. This despite the fact that the police department has affixed specific responsibilities to be carried out by officers at various levels, and at the same time, it continues to seek the assistance of NGOs.”
Moreover, “between 2014 and March 2017, about 247 human traffickers were arrested – of those, 103 were women. In the same period, 394 cases were registered and 381 individuals were rescued.”
Rajendran Narayanan of the Stranded Workers Action Network (SWAN) told The Wire that during the lockdown, 9,691 people from Jharkhand had reached out to them, which is 29% of the total and 2,390 of them are in Karnataka alone.
The Wire has tried to contact the investigating officer of the case, Om Prakash, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Magadi Sub Division, but he could not be reached. This story will be updated when he responds.