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‘Media coverage of trafficking has improved a lot over the years’

Has it ever occurred to you that the shirt you wear could have been made by child labourers or that tea leaves you use could have been plucked by women who were forced into the workforce?

A panel discussion on reporting fairly and sensitively on human trafficking in India, organised by Thomson Reuters Foundation, at Salt Lake in Kolkata turned out to be an eye opener for many. ”Even some of the legitimate supply chains like coal mines, mica making and government manufacturing units have victims of forced child labour and human trafficking working in them,” said Anindit Chowdhury, global programme manager, gender justice and human rights, C& A Foundation who was part of the panel.

Moderated by Kieran Guilbert, slavery and trafficking editor at the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the panel comprised of five eminent speakers including Hasina Kharbhih, founder, Impulse NGO Network, Mathew Joji, director of advocacy, Partnership Development and Communications, International Justice Mission and Chandreyee Ghose Dutta, journalist at The Telegraph, Kolkata.

There seems to be gender discrimination in news, too. Trafficking is typically considered a women’s news and hence it hardly makes it to page 1, said Chowdhury. “However, media coverage of trafficking has improved a lot over the years. The language has become a lot more positive in that it goes beyond incident-based reporting and allows people to relate to the issue as a whole,” he said.

Trafficking stories do generate reader interest now, said Dutta. “Initially trafficking stories would be perceived as just another incident. It would be covered only when there were some arrests or incidents that had happened. It was covered by crime reporters,” she said. “While working on a story on adoption, I came across shelter homes that were offering babies for 10 lakhs or even less. Some of those children were trafficked,” she recalled.

“Illegal sale of trafficked babies still occur in the country,” said Dutta adding that there are many layers to human trafficking.

_____________________________________________________________________

This Shillong-Based NGO Has Saved Over 72,000 Victims of Human Trafficking!

“If women have the power to choose, they can nip unsafe migration in the bud and consequently human trafficking,” says Hasina Kharbhih, founder of Impulse NGO Network.

Meet 47-year-old Hasina Kharbhih from Shillong, whose organisation, the Impulse NGO Network (INGON) has been battling the scourge of human trafficking in the Northeast for more than two decades, and has saved approximately 72,442 people and empowered over 30,000 women artisans.

Initially founded in 1993 as a rural livelihood initiative for women artisans in the East Khasi Hills District of Meghalaya, the focus of her organisation began to shift after a historic 1996 Supreme Court order, which called for a complete ban on the felling of trees in the Northeast.

“There shall be a complete ban on the movement of cut trees and timber from any of the seven North-Eastern States to any other State of the country either by rail, road or water-ways,” the court said in the landmark TN Godavarman Thirumulkpad vs Union of India case.

Although conservationists celebrated this order, for many women artisans in the Northeast, who depended on access to bamboo and cane for their work, it came as a devastating blow.

“The forest resources ban forced the rural communities, who had lost their livelihood, to seek employment in urban areas, and that eventually led many to become victims of human trafficking,” says Hasina, speaking to The Better India. “Meanwhile, the conflict situation in the Northeast around that time also added to the frenzy of mass migration.”

As a result, there was a rampant increase in the cases of missing children all over the Northeast. “We were approached to investigate certain cases. When we looked into it, we found that all these children were being taken away by recruiters who promised them better-paying jobs and put them into forced labour as domestic maids, tea stall helpers, miners or sex slaves,” says Hasina.

It was only last November when the Centre decided to amend the Indian Forest Act and exclude bamboo from the ambit of the ban. Anyway, for these women, who were equipped with traditional skills of weaving, the Supreme Court’s order tore any potential commercial opportunities to shreds.

Restructuring and focus on human trafficking

“On February 11, 1999, we restructured the organisation and re-registered it into a professional organisation as Impulse NGO Network (INGON) under the Meghalaya Societies Registration Act (1983) and pursued the issue of addressing human trafficking more doggedly, researching and documenting the facts we discovered,” says Hasina.

Hasina Kharbhih, the winner of the 2012 CNN-IBN India Positive Award. It recognisesthose Indians who spread the spirit of goodness, and bring about positive change around them.
Hasina Kharbhih, the winner of the 2012 CNN-IBN India Positive Award. It recognises those Indians who spread the spirit of goodness, and bring about positive change around them.

At the turn of the 21st century, INGON took on its first case after a Mumbai-based NGO Prerna informed them that they had rescued three girls from the Northeast—two from Meghalaya and the other from Tripura—from Kamathipura, a famous red-light area in the city. This was INGON’s first real experience with a human trafficking case, and Prerna soon became a networking partner.

INGON’s work against human trafficking in the Northeast, however, began to pick up, after Hasina attended the 2001 National Consultation on Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children held in Kolkata, organised by Action Against Trafficking & Sexual Exploitation of Children (ATSEC).

Following the 2001 Kolkata conference, the organisation started an email campaign reaching out to various NGOs that had attended at the conference, and asking them to inform INGON if they came across any girls rescued from the Northeast.

Their immediate challenge was how to work with the government, as it could help the artisans get their children and livelihood back. For that, they needed a plan of action. While they worked towards making these artisans financially independent, INGON also became pioneers in conducting full-fledged research and developing an action module against human trafficking based on the cases they had encountered thus far. With the application of provisions under Indian law, INGON developed what’s today known as Meghalaya Model and presently the Impulse Model.

So, what is the Impulse Model?

“It is a case management system which follows the route of what is popularly known as the 6Rs (Reporting, Rescue, Rehabilitation, Repatriation, Re-integration and Re-compensation) and the 6Ps (Partnership, Prevention, Protection, Policing, Press and Prosecution). We wanted the Impulse Model to be a single-window platform. So, we formed the Impulse Case Info Centre (ICIC), which records, compiles, and keeps track of all relevant information on human trafficking cases, adhering to the 6 R’s of the Impulse Model formula of 6R + 6P,” Hasina says.

The ICIC has more than 1000 NGOs and government departments from not just in India, but also Southeast Asia, on its network. This is an extremely valuable database.

(Source: Impulse NGO Network)
(Source: Impulse NGO Network)

At its very essence, the Impulse Model is based on the notion of needs-based intervention (how to rehabilitate victims of human trafficking) and partnerships with other organisations fighting the same battle so that they can collectively respond to different cases and share resources.

It was their email campaign, for example, which enabled them to receive information about the girls rescued in Mumbai. To wage a lone battle against human trafficking is a futile exercise. For this system to work, different stakeholders involved with solving the problem must come together, coordinate and follow a common model of addressing the issue, argues INGON.

Given below is Hasina’s explanation of how this model works on the ground:

As for how it works, any concerned person can report a case at ICIC. They are then assisted by the ICIC case manager in filing a First Information Report (FIR). The case is then recorded in the database of ICIC and other stakeholders. The ICIC then refers it to the respective Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) in that particular State or Union Territory and partner organisations at the source and destination points. Complainants can also directly report the case at an AHTU or a police station, after which they take support from us to carry forward the ensuing operations.

Rescue operations are then carried out by the respective AHTUs, along with ICIC or an ICIC State Partner Organisation. After the person is rescued, ICIC collaborates with social welfare departments of respective provinces or a government-registered and approved NGO-run shelter home to provide short-term shelter for the rescued person(s) for rehabilitation. ICIC also ensures that the survivor is provided medical and other support services and actions are undertaken for the best long-term plans. Based on a Home Investigation Report (HIR) by the relevant stakeholders, to find if it is safe for the survivors to return to their homes, the process of repatriation is then initiated.

If that is not possible, ICIC collaborates with the social welfare department to arrange long-term rehabilitation for them while also offering vocational training, education or employment, depending on the person’s age and personal interests.

Further, ICIC and its partner organisations discreetly follow up with the survivors for two years after repatriation, to check if they are safe and on the road to recovery so that they can be reintegrated into society. ICIC also facilitate compensation of survivors to State Legal Services Authorities (SLSA) to ensure that all rescued persons of human trafficking receive financial re-compensation.

Apart from ICIC, INGON also assists both private and public sector agencies (police, governments) for prevention of human trafficking and trains law enforcement officers on how to deal with victims of trafficking. Earlier this year, it also launched the Impulse Model Press Lab on January 26, offering fellowships to journalist and trains media personnel to publish articles and report on human trafficking ethically and treat survivors with respect and dignity when interacting with them.

While INGON has many successful interventions to their name, there are two that stand out for Hasina. Across coal mines of the Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, contractors would employ children as young as six years in the harmful practice of rat-hole mining. The passages in these mines were so narrow that only a little child could manoeuvre into it and extract coal. By some estimates, these mines had employed over 70,000 children ranging from the age of six to sixteen.

Rat-hole mining. (Source: Facebook/TNT Magazine)
Rat-hole mining. (Source: Facebook/TNT Magazine)

“Children from neighbouring countries and states were trafficked and indulged in forced labour. Many of them died while at work while many others lived to carry on, without any possibility of returning to their home or parents. We wrote plenty of letters to the state government to intervene and address the matter, but years went by without any affirmative action. So, we filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2013,” explains Hasina.

Finally, on April 17, 2014, the NGT passed an order banning rat-hole mining in the state. Backed by this order, INGON was able to rescue nearly 1200 children. Thanks to partner organisations in Nepal and India, India via the Impulse Model, INGON was able to reunite them with their families.

“We have also been able to put around 40 such children in schools. Some are in boarding schools. A couple of them have completed matriculation, and some others are going to,” adds Hasina.

Hasina with some of the children who were rescued from the coal mines. They are now back in school.
Hasina with some of the children who were rescued from the coal mines. They are now back in school.

Another major success story was the rescue of Ella Sangma early in 2009.

Thanks to the Impulse Model, Ella was rescued from a red-light area in the national capital after her plight was notified by another INGON-partner organisation called Stop Trafficking and Oppression of Children and Women (STOP) based out of Delhi.

“Ella gave us her first-hand insight into the importance of training people like her in a well-paid marketable skill, to prevent them from resorting to prostitution again for lack of income.

She suggested that along with a post-rescue measure, we could use employment to prevent human trafficking in vulnerable villages. Her input was instrumental in helping me enhance the Impulse Model, helping us create a for-profit branch of INGON called Impulse Social Enterprises (ISE), which now supports 30,000 artisans inducted through INGON from different states in the Northeast who develop products ranging from accessories to home furnishing products.

Ella Sangma with Hasina Kharbhih.
Ella Sangma with Hasina Kharbhih.

7000 of them have been moved to the brand Empower under ISE which is connected to a global online customer base, and the rest are connected to a direct market base,” says Hasina.

Today, she assists both INGON and ISE in repatriating victims and guiding them to acquire economic freedom. Given a chance, every survivor can turn their life around.

Ella embodies that spirit.

Challenges remain

Despite all the work that has gone into battling human trafficking, the challenges before organisations like INGON remain steep. Northeast India shares international borders with China, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, Bhutan. Transit points in the region provide an easy passage in and out of India for organised human trafficking syndicates to operate undetected.

Since 2015, there has been a spike in the number of girls trafficked from the Northeast and northern part of North Bengal to the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

“Nearly 50-60% of them had passports issued by Nepal and even Myanmar because it is easier to obtain visas for these women to traffic them into the Middle East and Southeast Asia. We have also been working towards repatriating many girls from Rohingya back home, after being trafficked into India to be sold here, either for sexual slavery or marriage. They have been living in government-run shelters because it has been difficult to trace their families,” says Hasina.

Nonetheless, INGON has found some success in replicating its ICIC model in countries like Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh to hasten the repatriation process of those rescued.

Despite suffering phsyical attacks and having her office ransacked in 2009 for her work her against human trafficking, Hasina Kharbhih remains undeterred in her battle against human trafficking. Along this journey, Hasina has won numerous accolades.
Despite suffering physical attacks and having her office ransacked in 2009, Hasina Kharbhih remains undeterred in her battle against human trafficking. Along this journey, Hasina has won numerous accolades.

It is also working with the Centre to spread this model across India, which will not only establish a single window platform for better coordination between governments and stakeholders but also set up a centralised repository of data on human trafficking.

“To address human trafficking in a major way, we have to give importance to home-based production and economic independence of women. If women have the power to choose, they can nip unsafe migration in the bud and consequently human trafficking,” says Hasina.

r-old Hasina Kharbhih from Shillong, whose organisation, the Impulse NGO Network (INGON) has been battling the scourge of human trafficking in the Northeast for more than two decades, and has saved approximately 72,442 people and empowered over 30,000 women artisans.

Initially founded in 1993 as a rural livelihood initiative for women artisans in the East Khasi Hills District of Meghalaya, the focus of her organisation began to shift after a historic 1996 Supreme Court order, which called for a complete ban on the felling of trees in the Northeast.

“There shall be a complete ban on the movement of cut trees and timber from any of the seven North-Eastern States to any other State of the country either by rail, road or water-ways,” the court said in the landmark TN Godavarman Thirumulkpad vs Union of India case.

Although conservationists celebrated this order, for many women artisans in the Northeast, who depended on access to bamboo and cane for their work, it came as a devastating blow.

“The forest resources ban forced the rural communities, who had lost their livelihood, to seek employment in urban areas, and that eventually led many to become victims of human trafficking,” says Hasina, speaking to The Better India. “Meanwhile, the conflict situation in the Northeast around that time also added to the frenzy of mass migration.”

As a result, there was a rampant increase in the cases of missing children all over the Northeast. “We were approached to investigate certain cases. When we looked into it, we found that all these children were being taken away by recruiters who promised them better-paying jobs and put them into forced labour as domestic maids, tea stall helpers, miners or sex slaves,” says Hasina.

It was only last November when the Centre decided to amend the Indian Forest Act and exclude bamboo from the ambit of the ban. Anyway, for these women, who were equipped with traditional skills of weaving, the Supreme Court’s order tore any potential commercial opportunities to shreds.

Restructuring and focus on human trafficking

“On February 11, 1999, we restructured the organisation and re-registered it into a professional organisation as Impulse NGO Network (INGON) under the Meghalaya Societies Registration Act (1983) and pursued the issue of addressing human trafficking more doggedly, researching and documenting the facts we discovered,” says Hasina.

Hasina Kharbhih, the winner of the 2012 CNN-IBN India Positive Award. It recognisesthose Indians who spread the spirit of goodness, and bring about positive change around them.
Hasina Kharbhih, the winner of the 2012 CNN-IBN India Positive Award. It recognises those Indians who spread the spirit of goodness, and bring about positive change around them.

At the turn of the 21st century, INGON took on its first case after a Mumbai-based NGO Prerna informed them that they had rescued three girls from the Northeast—two from Meghalaya and the other from Tripura—from Kamathipura, a famous red-light area in the city. This was INGON’s first real experience with a human trafficking case, and Prerna soon became a networking partner.

INGON’s work against human trafficking in the Northeast, however, began to pick up, after Hasina attended the 2001 National Consultation on Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children held in Kolkata, organised by Action Against Trafficking & Sexual Exploitation of Children (ATSEC).

Following the 2001 Kolkata conference, the organisation started an email campaign reaching out to various NGOs that had attended at the conference, and asking them to inform INGON if they came across any girls rescued from the Northeast.

Their immediate challenge was how to work with the government, as it could help the artisans get their children and livelihood back. For that, they needed a plan of action. While they worked towards making these artisans financially independent, INGON also became pioneers in conducting full-fledged research and developing an action module against human trafficking based on the cases they had encountered thus far. With the application of provisions under Indian law, INGON developed what’s today known as Meghalaya Model and presently the Impulse Model.

So, what is the Impulse Model?

“It is a case management system which follows the route of what is popularly known as the 6Rs (Reporting, Rescue, Rehabilitation, Repatriation, Re-integration and Re-compensation) and the 6Ps (Partnership, Prevention, Protection, Policing, Press and Prosecution). We wanted the Impulse Model to be a single-window platform. So, we formed the Impulse Case Info Centre (ICIC), which records, compiles, and keeps track of all relevant information on human trafficking cases, adhering to the 6 R’s of the Impulse Model formula of 6R + 6P,” Hasina says.

The ICIC has more than 1000 NGOs and government departments from not just in India, but also Southeast Asia, on its network. This is an extremely valuable database.

(Source: Impulse NGO Network)
(Source: Impulse NGO Network)

At its very essence, the Impulse Model is based on the notion of needs-based intervention (how to rehabilitate victims of human trafficking) and partnerships with other organisations fighting the same battle so that they can collectively respond to different cases and share resources.

It was their email campaign, for example, which enabled them to receive information about the girls rescued in Mumbai. To wage a lone battle against human trafficking is a futile exercise. For this system to work, different stakeholders involved with solving the problem must come together, coordinate and follow a common model of addressing the issue, argues INGON.

Given below is Hasina’s explanation of how this model works on the ground:

As for how it works, any concerned person can report a case at ICIC. They are then assisted by the ICIC case manager in filing a First Information Report (FIR). The case is then recorded in the database of ICIC and other stakeholders. The ICIC then refers it to the respective Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) in that particular State or Union Territory and partner organisations at the source and destination points. Complainants can also directly report the case at an AHTU or a police station, after which they take support from us to carry forward the ensuing operations.

Rescue operations are then carried out by the respective AHTUs, along with ICIC or an ICIC State Partner Organisation. After the person is rescued, ICIC collaborates with social welfare departments of respective provinces or a government-registered and approved NGO-run shelter home to provide short-term shelter for the rescued person(s) for rehabilitation. ICIC also ensures that the survivor is provided medical and other support services and actions are undertaken for the best long-term plans. Based on a Home Investigation Report (HIR) by the relevant stakeholders, to find if it is safe for the survivors to return to their homes, the process of repatriation is then initiated.

If that is not possible, ICIC collaborates with the social welfare department to arrange long-term rehabilitation for them while also offering vocational training, education or employment, depending on the person’s age and personal interests.

Further, ICIC and its partner organisations discreetly follow up with the survivors for two years after repatriation, to check if they are safe and on the road to recovery so that they can be reintegrated into society. ICIC also facilitate compensation of survivors to State Legal Services Authorities (SLSA) to ensure that all rescued persons of human trafficking receive financial re-compensation.

Apart from ICIC, INGON also assists both private and public sector agencies (police, governments) for prevention of human trafficking and trains law enforcement officers on how to deal with victims of trafficking. Earlier this year, it also launched the Impulse Model Press Lab on January 26, offering fellowships to journalist and trains media personnel to publish articles and report on human trafficking ethically and treat survivors with respect and dignity when interacting with them.

Working with various police departments both in the Northeast and around India. (Source: Impulse NGO Network)
Working with various police departments both in the Northeast and around India. (Source: Impulse NGO Network)

Major successes

While INGON has many successful interventions to their name, there are two that stand out for Hasina. Across coal mines of the Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, contractors would employ children as young as six years in the harmful practice of rat-hole mining. The passages in these mines were so narrow that only a little child could manoeuvre into it and extract coal. By some estimates, these mines had employed over 70,000 children ranging from the age of six to sixteen.

Rat-hole mining. (Source: Facebook/TNT Magazine)
Rat-hole mining. (Source: Facebook/TNT Magazine)

“Children from neighbouring countries and states were trafficked and indulged in forced labour. Many of them died while at work while many others lived to carry on, without any possibility of returning to their home or parents. We wrote plenty of letters to the state government to intervene and address the matter, but years went by without any affirmative action. So, we filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2013,” explains Hasina.

Finally, on April 17, 2014, the NGT passed an order banning rat-hole mining in the state. Backed by this order, INGON was able to rescue nearly 1200 children. Thanks to partner organisations in Nepal and India, India via the Impulse Model, INGON was able to reunite them with their families.

“We have also been able to put around 40 such children in schools. Some are in boarding schools. A couple of them have completed matriculation, and some others are going to,” adds Hasina.

Hasina with some of the children who were rescued from the coal mines. They are now back in school.
Hasina with some of the children who were rescued from the coal mines. They are now back in school.

Another major success story was the rescue of Ella Sangma early in 2009.

Thanks to the Impulse Model, Ella was rescued from a red-light area in the national capital after her plight was notified by another INGON-partner organisation called Stop Trafficking and Oppression of Children and Women (STOP) based out of Delhi.

Also Read: Handlooms, Colours: How Designers From NE Are Making a Mark

“Ella gave us her first-hand insight into the importance of training people like her in a well-paid marketable skill, to prevent them from resorting to prostitution again for lack of income.

She suggested that along with a post-rescue measure, we could use employment to prevent human trafficking in vulnerable villages. Her input was instrumental in helping me enhance the Impulse Model, helping us create a for-profit branch of INGON called Impulse Social Enterprises (ISE), which now supports 30,000 artisans inducted through INGON from different states in the Northeast who develop products ranging from accessories to home furnishing products.

Ella Sangma with Hasina Kharbhih.
Ella Sangma with Hasina Kharbhih.

7000 of them have been moved to the brand Empower under ISE which is connected to a global online customer base, and the rest are connected to a direct market base,” says Hasina.

Today, she assists both INGON and ISE in repatriating victims and guiding them to acquire economic freedom. Given a chance, every survivor can turn their life around.

Ella embodies that spirit.

Challenges remain

Despite all the work that has gone into battling human trafficking, the challenges before organisations like INGON remain steep. Northeast India shares international borders with China, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, Bhutan. Transit points in the region provide an easy passage in and out of India for organised human trafficking syndicates to operate undetected.

Since 2015, there has been a spike in the number of girls trafficked from the Northeast and northern part of North Bengal to the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

(Source: Impulse Social Enterprises)
(Source: Impulse Social Enterprises)

“Nearly 50-60% of them had passports issued by Nepal and even Myanmar because it is easier to obtain visas for these women to traffic them into the Middle East and Southeast Asia. We have also been working towards repatriating many girls from Rohingya back home, after being trafficked into India to be sold here, either for sexual slavery or marriage. They have been living in government-run shelters because it has been difficult to trace their families,” says Hasina.

Nonetheless, INGON has found some success in replicating its ICIC model in countries like Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh to hasten the repatriation process of those rescued.

Despite suffering phsyical attacks and having her office ransacked in 2009 for her work her against human trafficking, Hasina Kharbhih remains undeterred in her battle against human trafficking. Along this journey, Hasina has won numerous accolades.
Despite suffering physical attacks and having her office ransacked in 2009, Hasina Kharbhih remains undeterred in her battle against human trafficking. Along this journey, Hasina has won numerous accolades.

It is also working with the Centre to spread this model across India, which will not only establish a single window platform for better coordination between governments and stakeholders but also set up a centralised repository of data on human trafficking.

“To address human trafficking in a major way, we have to give importance to home-based production and economic independence of women. If women have the power to choose, they can nip unsafe migration in the bud and consequently human trafficking,” says Hasina.

Meet 47-year-old Hasina Kharbhih from Shillong, whose organisation, the Impulse NGO Network (INGON) has been battling the scourge of human trafficking in the Northeast for more than two decades, and has saved approximately 72,442 people and empowered over 30,000 women artisans.

Initially founded in 1993 as a rural livelihood initiative for women artisans in the East Khasi Hills District of Meghalaya, the focus of her organisation began to shift after a historic 1996 Supreme Court order, which called for a complete ban on the felling of trees in the Northeast.

“There shall be a complete ban on the movement of cut trees and timber from any of the seven North-Eastern States to any other State of the country either by rail, road or water-ways,” the court said in the landmark TN Godavarman Thirumulkpad vs Union of India case.

Although conservationists celebrated this order, for many women artisans in the Northeast, who depended on access to bamboo and cane for their work, it came as a devastating blow.

“The forest resources ban forced the rural communities, who had lost their livelihood, to seek employment in urban areas, and that eventually led many to become victims of human trafficking,” says Hasina, speaking to The Better India. “Meanwhile, the conflict situation in the Northeast around that time also added to the frenzy of mass migration.”

As a result, there was a rampant increase in the cases of missing children all over the Northeast. “We were approached to investigate certain cases. When we looked into it, we found that all these children were being taken away by recruiters who promised them better-paying jobs and put them into forced labour as domestic maids, tea stall helpers, miners or sex slaves,” says Hasina.

It was only last November when the Centre decided to amend the Indian Forest Act and exclude bamboo from the ambit of the ban. Anyway, for these women, who were equipped with traditional skills of weaving, the Supreme Court’s order tore any potential commercial opportunities to shreds.

Restructuring and focus on human trafficking

“On February 11, 1999, we restructured the organisation and re-registered it into a professional organisation as Impulse NGO Network (INGON) under the Meghalaya Societies Registration Act (1983) and pursued the issue of addressing human trafficking more doggedly, researching and documenting the facts we discovered,” says Hasina.

Hasina Kharbhih, the winner of the 2012 CNN-IBN India Positive Award. It recognisesthose Indians who spread the spirit of goodness, and bring about positive change around them.
Hasina Kharbhih, the winner of the 2012 CNN-IBN India Positive Award. It recognises those Indians who spread the spirit of goodness, and bring about positive change around them.

At the turn of the 21st century, INGON took on its first case after a Mumbai-based NGO Prerna informed them that they had rescued three girls from the Northeast—two from Meghalaya and the other from Tripura—from Kamathipura, a famous red-light area in the city. This was INGON’s first real experience with a human trafficking case, and Prerna soon became a networking partner.

INGON’s work against human trafficking in the Northeast, however, began to pick up, after Hasina attended the 2001 National Consultation on Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children held in Kolkata, organised by Action Against Trafficking & Sexual Exploitation of Children (ATSEC).

Following the 2001 Kolkata conference, the organisation started an email campaign reaching out to various NGOs that had attended at the conference, and asking them to inform INGON if they came across any girls rescued from the Northeast.

Their immediate challenge was how to work with the government, as it could help the artisans get their children and livelihood back. For that, they needed a plan of action. While they worked towards making these artisans financially independent, INGON also became pioneers in conducting full-fledged research and developing an action module against human trafficking based on the cases they had encountered thus far. With the application of provisions under Indian law, INGON developed what’s today known as Meghalaya Model and presently the Impulse Model.

So, what is the Impulse Model?

“It is a case management system which follows the route of what is popularly known as the 6Rs (Reporting, Rescue, Rehabilitation, Repatriation, Re-integration and Re-compensation) and the 6Ps (Partnership, Prevention, Protection, Policing, Press and Prosecution). We wanted the Impulse Model to be a single-window platform. So, we formed the Impulse Case Info Centre (ICIC), which records, compiles, and keeps track of all relevant information on human trafficking cases, adhering to the 6 R’s of the Impulse Model formula of 6R + 6P,” Hasina says.

The ICIC has more than 1000 NGOs and government departments from not just in India, but also Southeast Asia, on its network. This is an extremely valuable database.

(Source: Impulse NGO Network)
(Source: Impulse NGO Network)

At its very essence, the Impulse Model is based on the notion of needs-based intervention (how to rehabilitate victims of human trafficking) and partnerships with other organisations fighting the same battle so that they can collectively respond to different cases and share resources.

It was their email campaign, for example, which enabled them to receive information about the girls rescued in Mumbai. To wage a lone battle against human trafficking is a futile exercise. For this system to work, different stakeholders involved with solving the problem must come together, coordinate and follow a common model of addressing the issue, argues INGON.

Given below is Hasina’s explanation of how this model works on the ground:

As for how it works, any concerned person can report a case at ICIC. They are then assisted by the ICIC case manager in filing a First Information Report (FIR). The case is then recorded in the database of ICIC and other stakeholders. The ICIC then refers it to the respective Anti Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) in that particular State or Union Territory and partner organisations at the source and destination points. Complainants can also directly report the case at an AHTU or a police station, after which they take support from us to carry forward the ensuing operations.

Rescue operations are then carried out by the respective AHTUs, along with ICIC or an ICIC State Partner Organisation. After the person is rescued, ICIC collaborates with social welfare departments of respective provinces or a government-registered and approved NGO-run shelter home to provide short-term shelter for the rescued person(s) for rehabilitation. ICIC also ensures that the survivor is provided medical and other support services and actions are undertaken for the best long-term plans. Based on a Home Investigation Report (HIR) by the relevant stakeholders, to find if it is safe for the survivors to return to their homes, the process of repatriation is then initiated.

If that is not possible, ICIC collaborates with the social welfare department to arrange long-term rehabilitation for them while also offering vocational training, education or employment, depending on the person’s age and personal interests.

Further, ICIC and its partner organisations discreetly follow up with the survivors for two years after repatriation, to check if they are safe and on the road to recovery so that they can be reintegrated into society. ICIC also facilitate compensation of survivors to State Legal Services Authorities (SLSA) to ensure that all rescued persons of human trafficking receive financial re-compensation.

Apart from ICIC, INGON also assists both private and public sector agencies (police, governments) for prevention of human trafficking and trains law enforcement officers on how to deal with victims of trafficking. Earlier this year, it also launched the Impulse Model Press Lab on January 26, offering fellowships to journalist and trains media personnel to publish articles and report on human trafficking ethically and treat survivors with respect and dignity when interacting with them.

Working with various police departments both in the Northeast and around India. (Source: Impulse NGO Network)
Working with various police departments both in the Northeast and around India. (Source: Impulse NGO Network)

Major successes

While INGON has many successful interventions to their name, there are two that stand out for Hasina. Across coal mines of the Jaintia Hills in Meghalaya, contractors would employ children as young as six years in the harmful practice of rat-hole mining. The passages in these mines were so narrow that only a little child could manoeuvre into it and extract coal. By some estimates, these mines had employed over 70,000 children ranging from the age of six to sixteen.

Rat-hole mining. (Source: Facebook/TNT Magazine)
Rat-hole mining. (Source: Facebook/TNT Magazine)

“Children from neighbouring countries and states were trafficked and indulged in forced labour. Many of them died while at work while many others lived to carry on, without any possibility of returning to their home or parents. We wrote plenty of letters to the state government to intervene and address the matter, but years went by without any affirmative action. So, we filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in 2013,” explains Hasina.

Finally, on April 17, 2014, the NGT passed an order banning rat-hole mining in the state. Backed by this order, INGON was able to rescue nearly 1200 children. Thanks to partner organisations in Nepal and India, India via the Impulse Model, INGON was able to reunite them with their families.

“We have also been able to put around 40 such children in schools. Some are in boarding schools. A couple of them have completed matriculation, and some others are going to,” adds Hasina.

Hasina with some of the children who were rescued from the coal mines. They are now back in school.
Hasina with some of the children who were rescued from the coal mines. They are now back in school.

Another major success story was the rescue of Ella Sangma early in 2009.

Thanks to the Impulse Model, Ella was rescued from a red-light area in the national capital after her plight was notified by another INGON-partner organisation called Stop Trafficking and Oppression of Children and Women (STOP) based out of Delhi.

Also Read: Handlooms, Colours: How Designers From NE Are Making a Mark

“Ella gave us her first-hand insight into the importance of training people like her in a well-paid marketable skill, to prevent them from resorting to prostitution again for lack of income.

She suggested that along with a post-rescue measure, we could use employment to prevent human trafficking in vulnerable villages. Her input was instrumental in helping me enhance the Impulse Model, helping us create a for-profit branch of INGON called Impulse Social Enterprises (ISE), which now supports 30,000 artisans inducted through INGON from different states in the Northeast who develop products ranging from accessories to home furnishing products.

Ella Sangma with Hasina Kharbhih.
Ella Sangma with Hasina Kharbhih.

7000 of them have been moved to the brand Empower under ISE which is connected to a global online customer base, and the rest are connected to a direct market base,” says Hasina.

Today, she assists both INGON and ISE in repatriating victims and guiding them to acquire economic freedom. Given a chance, every survivor can turn their life around.

Ella embodies that spirit.

Challenges remain

Despite all the work that has gone into battling human trafficking, the challenges before organisations like INGON remain steep. Northeast India shares international borders with China, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal, Bhutan. Transit points in the region provide an easy passage in and out of India for organised human trafficking syndicates to operate undetected.

Since 2015, there has been a spike in the number of girls trafficked from the Northeast and northern part of North Bengal to the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

(Source: Impulse Social Enterprises)
(Source: Impulse Social Enterprises)

“Nearly 50-60% of them had passports issued by Nepal and even Myanmar because it is easier to obtain visas for these women to traffic them into the Middle East and Southeast Asia. We have also been working towards repatriating many girls from Rohingya back home, after being trafficked into India to be sold here, either for sexual slavery or marriage. They have been living in government-run shelters because it has been difficult to trace their families,” says Hasina.

Nonetheless, INGON has found some success in replicating its ICIC model in countries like Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh to hasten the repatriation process of those rescued.

Despite suffering phsyical attacks and having her office ransacked in 2009 for her work her against human trafficking, Hasina Kharbhih remains undeterred in her battle against human trafficking. Along this journey, Hasina has won numerous accolades.
Despite suffering physical attacks and having her office ransacked in 2009, Hasina Kharbhih remains undeterred in her battle against human trafficking. Along this journey, Hasina has won numerous accolades.

It is also working with the Centre to spread this model across India, which will not only establish a single window platform for better coordination between governments and stakeholders but also set up a centralised repository of data on human trafficking.

“To address human trafficking in a major way, we have to give importance to home-based production and economic independence of women. If women have the power to choose, they can nip unsafe migration in the bud and consequently human trafficking,” says Hasina.

Health, Woman

Manipur Girl Quits Singapore Job, Brews Up Herb Tea to Empower Local Ladies!

It is around 8 am and 45-year-old Pratima is excited to begin her day. Her daily sojourn through Imphal’s Ima Keithal market or Mother’s market is a sensory onslaught of brightly coloured textiles in myriad shades, the array of spices tempering the air, and stalls bursting with fresh flowers, fruits and vegetables.

Pratima loves the all-women market but what she loves more is the cafe-cum-store where she works, hardly a kilometre from the 500-year-old market.

Pratima is one of the nine homemakers-turned-employees working at ‘Dweller Teas,’ a startup in Manipur’s capital city.

Warming up to the topic of the many benefits of the fruit, Pratima says, “Every time I drink a citrusy flavoured tisane of this fruit, I go on a nostalgic trip that reminds me of the time I spent with my grandmother.”

Founded by Elizabeth Yamben, a native of Imphal, the startup uses indigenous herbs and fruits to make organic and healthy tea infusions.

What’s more? The startup is empowering homemakers and female farmers.

The seed of the startup was sown during Elizabeth’s stint in London as a financial analyst. Though the 29-year-old was grateful for her new life in the bustling city, she felt restless, as if something remained to be done.

“I moved out of Imphal at the age of 12 in pursuit of quality education, and a thriving future. I moved to London right after I completed my education. I always wanted to do something of my own, but had very little expertise in terms of starting a business,” Elizabeth tells TBI.

Elizabeth Yamben quit her job in Singapore and moved to India to add value to indegenous resources

Soon, she took a transfer to Singapore. Once she thought she had saved up enough, she was ready to trade a cushy job, a fat salary and a secure life with a path less travelled—one fraught with risks, uncertainty and financial instability.

As anticipated, quitting her job without any concrete professional plans did not go well with her parents. “I may not have been confident about my future then, but I was sure I wanted to make a difference in my community.”

After landing in India, Elizabeth’s first step was to study and identify the local strengths of Manipur, “Football and tea are two strong points of my State. The choice was obvious,” she chuckles.

Besides, Elizabeth’s priceless memories with her grandmother revolved around herbs and its secret recipes, “I grew up in a household where traditional herbs and medicines were used every time someone would fall sick. I remember my grandmother soaking the herbs or plants overnight and making concoctions that would eliminate all our ailments.”

Even today many Indian households depend on homemade cures. So, I fused traditions and a product that is available in abundance, she adds.

With her savings Elizabeth launched ‘Dweller Teas’ in 2017.

She hired around nine women homemakers and three men. The objective of hiring women was to give a tender touch to the products. She saw how passionate the elders in her family were about using indigenous fruits and herbs.

Dweller Teas team enjoying the natural tea

The gamble worked, and today, each of its tea products is packed with the nutrients that the herbal mixtures offer along with loads of love and care from all the women involved in their manufacture.

I convert our indigenous herbs and fruits into infusions. I make them just like how I would, for my three children, says Indu, one of the employers at the cafe.

Interestingly, the growers of fruits and herbs that Elizabeth works with are all women.

There are two ways in which Elizabeth procures the harvest. She approaches the women farmers and provides them with seeds depending on the demand. Once the product is ready, she purchases it from them, thus giving them an extra source of income.

She has also collaborated with local women vendors who sell the herbs in the local markets. This way Elizabeth has also been instrumental in reducing wastage.

Giving an example, she says, “One day I was strolling in the market and came across this lady who was worried about selling her Indian olives. She told me about how the olives get wasted almost every day because there are very few takers. So, I buy her produce from her thus reducing the wastage.”

Lemongrass is another plant that is cultivated in abundance. Here too, Elizabeth helps out the farmers as she buys lemongrass for the aromatic tea she prepares with them.

There are several blends of herbs, fruits and vegetables that Elizabeth and her team use to make the tea. All of the varieties have a unique USP of their own.

For instance, their famous blend is Nong-mang-Kha or Phlogacanthus thyrsiformis plant. The antibacterial properties of the plant can cure a cold, cough and fever.

Dweller Teas uses natural herbs like Nong-mang-Kha that have antibacterial properties.

“It is a sacred plant of Manipur. It’s commonly planted for house fencing, food, medicine and to protect from the evil spirit psychologically. Surprisingly, it tastes smooth with the warmth of ginger,’ says Elizabeth.

Giving a thumbs up to Nong-mang-Kha, Joyraj, one of Dweller’s customers says, “This tea is magic! Though it is bitter, it has rich medicinal value, and the aroma of the tea is a huge relief.”

Meanwhile, red-coloured and caffeine free fruity roselle tea tastes like cranberry and contains hints of citrus olive. It is rich in vitamin C, and is traditionally consumed to improve metabolism.

As she is sourcing her raw materials from nature, she makes sure she gives back in kind and thus all the packaging at Dweller Teas is biodegradable. At the store, the tea is sold in banana leaves and paper boxes.

Dweller Teas practices eco-friendly packaging

Up until recently, all the Dweller’s products were sold offline at their store. Last year, Elizabeth ventured into the online platform. Her products are now sold pan India. She plans to open five such cafe-cum-stores in Imphal by the end of this year.

From overcoming financial loses to creating her little niche, there were a lot of ups and downs in Elizabeth’s two-year-old journey. However, she remained undeterred in her mission of uplifting the locals, dwellers, homemakers and herbs.

Pratima, who has studied till class eight, had never imagined her life would take a turn making her financially independent, “I enjoy my work, and it has given me the hope for a better future. I see myself growing here; it is like carving a new path that never existed before.”

Gopi Karelia

Woman

Why is India so bad for women?

Of all the rich G20 nations, India has been labelled the worst place to be a woman. But how is this possible in a country that prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy?

by Helen Pidd 

Video of a woman being molested in Guwahati, India
A woman being attacked in Guwahati, Assam, has sparked outrage in India.

In an ashram perched high on a hill above the noisy city of Guwahati in north-east India is a small exhibit commemorating the life of India’s most famous son. Alongside an uncomfortable-looking divan where Mahatma Gandhi once slept is a display reminding visitors of something the man himself said in 1921: “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex (not the weaker sex).”

One evening two weeks ago, just a few miles downhill, a young student left a bar and was set upon by a gang of at least 18 men. They dragged her into the road by her hair, tried to rip off her clothes and smiled at the cameras that filmed it all. It was around 9.30pm on one of Guwahati’s busiest streets – a chaotic three-lane thoroughfare soundtracked by constantly beeping horns and chugging tuk-tuks. But for at least 20 minutes, no one called the police. They easily could have. Many of those present had phones: they were using them to film the scene as the men yanked up the girl’s vest and tugged at her bra and groped her breasts as she begged for help from passing cars. We know this because a cameraman from the local TV channel was there too, capturing the attack for his viewers’ enjoyment. The woman was abused for 45 minutes before the police arrived.Advertisement

Within half an hour, clips were broadcast on Assam’s NewsLive channel. Watching across town, Sheetal Sharma and Bitopi Dutta were horrified. “I was fuming like anything. There was this horrible, brutal assault being shown on screen – and the most disturbing thing was, the blame was being put on the woman, who, the report emphasised, was drunk,” says Sharma, a 29-year-old feminist activist from the North-East Network, a women’s rights organisation in Guwahati. “The way it was filmed, the camera was panning up and down her body, focusing on her breasts, her thighs,” says Dutta, her 22-year-old colleague.

When the police eventually turned up, they took away the woman, who is 20 or 21 (oddly, Guwahati police claimed not to know exactly). While NewsLive re-played pixellated footage of her attack throughout the night, she was questioned and given a medical examination. No attempt was made to arrest the men whose faces could clearly be seen laughing and jeering on camera. Soon afterwards, the editor-in-chief of NewsLive (who has since resigned) remarked on Twitter that “prostitutes form a major chunk of girls who visit bars and night clubs”.

It was only a few days later, when the clip had gone viral and had been picked up by the national channels in Delhi, that the police were shamed into action. By then, Guwahati residents had taken matters into their own hands, producing an enormous banner that they strung up alongside one of the city’s arterial roads featuring screen grabs of the main suspects. Six days after the attack, the chief minister of Assam, the state where Guwahati is located, ordered the police to arrest a dozen key suspects. He met the victim and promised her 50,000 rupees (£580) compensation.Advertisement

The damage was already irreversible. Most Indians know full well how tough life as a woman can be in the world’s biggest democracy, even 46 years after Indira Gandhi made history as the country’s first female prime minister in 1966. But here, caught on camera, was proof. And in Assam – a state long romanticised as the most female-friendly corner of the country, largely thanks to the matrilineal Khasi tribe in Meghalaya. The nation was outraged.

“We have a woman president, we’ve had a woman prime minister. Yet in 2012, one of the greatest tragedies in our country is that women are on their own when it comes to their own safety,” said a female newsreader on NDTV. She went on to outline another incident in India last week: a group of village elders in Baghpat, Uttar Pradesh, central India, who banned women from carrying mobile phones, choosing their own husbands or leaving the house unaccompanied or with their heads uncovered. “The story is the same,” said the news anchor. “No respect for women. No respect for our culture. And as far as the law is concerned: who cares?”

There is currently no special law in India against sexual assault or harassment, and only vaginal penetration by a penis counts as rape. Those who molested the woman in Guwahati would be booked for “insulting or outraging the modesty of a woman” or “intruding upon her privacy”. The maximum punishment is a year’s imprisonment, or a fine, or both.

As a columnist in the national Hindustan Times said of the attack: “This is a story of a dangerous decline in Indians and India itself, of not just failing morality but disintegrating public governance when it comes to women.” Samar Halarnkar added: “Men abuse women in every society, but few males do it with as much impunity, violence and regularity as the Indian male.”

Halarnkar then offered as proof a survey that caused indignation in India last month: a poll of 370 gender specialists around the world that voted India the worst place to be a woman out of all the G20 countries. It stung – especially as Saudi Arabia was at the second-worst. But the experts were resolute in their choice. “In India, women and girls continue to be sold as chattels, married off as young as 10, burned alive as a result of dowry-related disputes and young girls exploited and abused as domestic slave labour,” said Gulshun Rehman, health programme development adviser at Save the Children UK, who was one of those polled.

Women on a bus in Chennai, India
 Women travelling on a bus in Chennai, southern India. Photograph: Gustafsson/Rex Features

Look at some statistics and suddenly the survey isn’t so surprising. Sure, India might not be the worst place to be a woman on the planet – its rape record isn’t nearly as bad as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for instance, where more than 400,000 women are raped each year, and female genital mutilation is not widespread, as it is in Somalia. But 45% of Indian girls are married before the age of 18, according to the International Centre for Research on Women (2010); 56,000 maternal deaths were recorded in 2010 (UN Population Fund) and research from Unicef in 2012 found that 52% of adolescent girls (and 57% of adolescent boys) think it is justifiable for a man to beat his wife. Plus crimes against women are on the increase: according to the National Crime Records Bureau in India, there was a 7.1% hike in recorded crimes against women between 2010 and 2011 (when there were 228,650 in total). The biggest leap was in cases under the “dowry prohibition act” (up 27.7%), of kidnapping and abduction (up 19.4% year on year) and rape (up 9.2%).

A preference for sons and fear of having to pay a dowry has resulted in 12 million girls being aborted over the past three decades, according to a 2011 study by the Lancet.

A glance at the Indian media reveals the range of abuse suffered by the nation’s women on a daily basis. Today it was reported that a woman had been stripped and had her head shaved by villagers near Udaipur as punishment for an extramarital affair. Villagers stoned the police when they came to the rescue. In Uttar Pradesh, a woman alleged she was gang raped at a police station – she claimed she was set on by officers after being lured to the Kushinagar station with the promise of a job.

Last Wednesday, a man in Indore was arrested for keeping his wife’s genitals locked. Sohanlal Chouhan, 38, “drilled holes” on her body and, before he went to work each day, would insert a small lock, tucking the keys under his socks. Earlier this month, children were discovered near Bhopal playing with a female foetus they had mistaken for a doll in a bin. In the southern state of Karnataka, a dentist was arrested after his wife accused him of forcing her to drink his urine because she refused to meet dowry demands.

In June, a father beheaded his 20-year-old daughter with a sword in a village in Rajasthan, western India, parading her bleeding head around as a warning to other young women who might fall in love with a lower-caste boy.

This July, the state government in Delhi was summoned to the national high court after failing to amend an outdated law that exempts women (and turban-wearing Sikh men) from wearing helmets on motorcycles – an exemption campaigners argue is indicative of the lack of respect for female life.

But the story that outraged most women in India last week was an interview given to the Indian Express by Mamta Sharma, chairwoman of the National Commission of Women (NCW), a government body tasked with protecting and promoting the interests of Indian women. Asked by the reporter if there should be a dress code for women “to ensure their safety”, Sharma allegedly replied: “After 64 years of freedom, it is not right to give blanket directions … and say don’t wear this or don’t wear that. Be comfortable, but at the same time, be careful about how you dress … Aping the west blindly is eroding our culture and causing such crimes to happen.”Advertisement

She added: “Westernisation has afflicted our cities the worst. There are no values left. In places like Delhi there is no culture of giving up seats for women. It is unfortunate that while the west is learning from our culture, we are giving ourselves up completely to western ways.”

Her remarks caused a storm. As Sagarika Ghose put it in the online magazine First Post: “It’s not just about blindly aping the west, Ms Sharma. It’s also about the vacuum in the law, lack of security at leisure spots, lack of gender justice, lack of fear of the law, police and judicial apathy and the complete lack of awareness that men and women have the right to enjoy exactly the same kind of leisure activities.”

The Guardian asked Sharma for an interview to clarify her remarks but our requests were ignored.

Maini Mahanta, the editor of the Assamese women’s magazine Nandini (“Daughter”), believes the NCW chair’s remarks are indicative of what she calls the “Taliban-plus” mentality that is creeping into Indian society. “In this part of the world, it’s worse than the Taliban,” she insists in her Guwahati office. “At least the Taliban are open about what they like and dislike. Here, society is so hypocritical. We worship female goddesses and yet fail to protect women from these crimes and then blame them too.”

Women in Bawana, Delhi
 Indian women, such as these three in Bawana, on the outskirts of Delhi, frequently come under pressure to abort female foetuses. Photograph: Gethin Chamberlain

Mahanta explains how traditions still cast women as helpless victims rather than free-thinking individuals in control of their own destiny. Girls still tie Raksha bandhan or “safety ties” around their brothers’ wrists as a symbol of their duty to protect them, she says. She complains, too, about the Manu Sanghita, an ancient Indian book that she claims preaches: “When a girl is young, she is guided by her father; when she is older, she is guided by her husband; when she is very old, she is guided by her son.” She despairs of the cult of the “good girl, who is taught to walk slowly ‘like an elephant’ and not laugh too loud”.Advertisement

Even in Mumbai, India’s most cosmopolitan city, women have been arrested and accused of being prostitutes when drinking in the city’s bars.

Sheetal Sharma and Bitopi Dutta, the young feminists from the North East Network, complain that modern women are divided into “bad” and “good” according to what they wear, whether they go out after dark and whether they drink alcohol. “We are seeing a rise of moral policing, which blames those women who are not seen as being ‘good’,” says Sharma. “So if they are abused in a pub, for example, it’s OK – they have to learn their lesson,” adds Dutta, 22, who grumbles that young women such as herself cannot now hold hands with a boyfriend in a Guwahati park, let alone kiss, without getting into trouble with the moral police, if not the real police.

Many women agree the response from the Guwahati authorities shows they are blind to the root cause: a society that does not truly respect women. Instead, a knee-jerk reaction was taken to force all bars and off-licences to shut by 9.30pm. Club Mint, the bar outside which the young woman was molested, had its licence revoked. Parents were urged to keep a close eye on their daughters.

Zabeen Ahmed, the 50-year-old librarian at Cotton College in Guwahati, tells how she was out for an evening walk not long ago when she was stopped by the police. “They asked me what I was doing out at that at that time – it was 10.30pm or so – and they asked me where my husband was.”

The fact that India has a female president – Pratibha Patil – and Sonia Gandhi in control of the ruling Congress party means very little, insists Monisha Behal, “chairperson” of the North East Network. “In the UK, you have had Margaret Thatcher – if you are being harassed by a hoodlum in the street there, do ask: ‘How can this be when we have had a woman prime minister?'” she says.

Every Indian woman the Guardian spoke to for this article agreed that harassment was part of their everyday lives. Mahanta revealed that she always carries chilli powder in her handbag if she ever has to take public transport and needed to throw it in the face of anyone with wandering hands. Deepika Patar, 24, a journalist at the Seven Sisters newspaper in Assam, says city buses were notorious for gropers. “If women are standing up because there are no seats, men often press up against them, or touch their breasts or bottom,” she explains.

In June, an anonymous Delhi woman wrote a powerful blog post detailing what happened when she dared not to travel in the “ladies carriage” of Delhi’s modern metro. After asking a man not to stand too close to her, things turned nasty. Another man intervened and told the first to back off, but soon the two were having a bloody fight in the train carriage. Rather than break up the brawl, the other passengers turned on the woman, shouting: “This is all your fault. You started this fight. This is all because you came into this coach!” and “You women always do this. You started this fight!” and “Why are you even here? Go to the women’s coach.”Advertisement

Speaking under condition of anonymity, the 35-year-old blogger says she had experienced sexual harassment “tonnes of times”. “I hate to use the word, but I’m afraid it has become ‘normal’,” she says. “Like if you’re in a lift, men will press up against you or grab you or make a comment about your appearance. It’s because of this that I stopped travelling by buses and started travelling by auto rickshaws, and eventually got a car myself – to avoid this ordeal. When the metro was launched I loved it – it’s an improvement in public transport, very well maintained, you feel safe. Then this happened and I was blamed.”

By Thursday last week, the Guwahati molestation case had become even murkier. Police had arrested and charged 12 men with “outraging the public decency of a woman”, and on Friday they charged journalist Gaurav Jyoti Neog of NewsLive with instigating the attack he filmed. Neog denies orchestrating the attack or taking any part in it, apart from filming it “so that the perpetrators can be nabbed”. But police have forced him to give a voice sample, which has been sent to a forensic laboratory for analysis, to compare with the footage. The verdict is out on that case, but one thing is clear: 91 years after Gandhi urged Indian men to treat their women with respect, the lesson has yet to be learned.

• This article was amended on 24 July 2012. The original said brothers tied Raksha Bandhan threads around their sisters’ wrists, when it is the sisters who put the threads on the wrists of their brothers. (This report published in the Guardian on Mon 23 Jul 2012)

Helen Pidd
Helen Pidd, The Guardian
Woman

Safety and security of women : A serious matter of concern in Assam

by Vanessa Brown: ——

Seeing the last few crimes against women we cannot say that women are safe in India. Women generally feel frightened while going alone outside from their home. Woman safety in India is a very big concern nowadays which has been a most important topic regarding women safety. It is a very sad reality of the country that it’s women citizens are living with fear all the time.

Women are harassed not only in the night or evening but also in the day time at the their home, working place, or the other places like streets, club etc. It is found through the survey that the reason of sexual harassment is the lack of gender-friendly environment and improper functional infrastructure such as consumption of alcohol and drugs in open area, lack of adequate lighting, safe public toilets, sidewalks,  lack of effective police service, lack of properly working helpline numbers etc.

Likewise, security and safety for women in Assam exposes as very poor. Many incidents took place in last one month and the crimes against women are increasing day by day. Two recent  incidents took place within 24 hours, a student of the Assam Agricultural University in Jorhat was found dead in a toilet of the Kamakhya Express on Tuesday morning while the body of another was found in a toilet of the Avadh-Assam Express on Wednesday. According to the police both the victims were killed in a similar fashion. A few  weeks back, a female journalist was harassed in a lady’s compartment in Nalbari district.

Assam government revealed in the last February that 29,223 incidents of violence against women were reported from various against women were reported from various parts of the state in past two years. Since April 2016, 1786 people have been arrested in 3009 rape case filed in the different police stations.

Measures taken by Assam Government are not enough to stop crimes against women. Equally Railway Department is responsible for incidents that recently took place on the moving train. Most of the measures promised and taken by the government are failed or incomplete. In the wake of increasing crimes against women Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal launched “181 Sakhi” the toll-free number for women.

But it is claimed that the number do not respond when a women ring up to get rid of a situation in danger. According to the safety for women becomes a major concern among people but the government has not been taking the problem seriously. According to the available data, between 2005 & 2014 in Assam, around 60,000 women were raped, around 1400 killed for dowry and over 120 lynched in a name of witch-hunt. This is the government data which was submitted in the state assembly in 2015.

In this 21st century, women should not be trapped because of all this crimes going on they should get enough safety and security so that they can fulfill their dreams and make their future bright.

Author Vanessa Brown is a young journalist based in Guwahati, Assam