02/04/2015, 00.00
INDIA - NEW SLAVES
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Prema and Reema, a dream about a new life that turned into the nightmare of prostitution

by Nirmala Carvalho
The story of two young women illustrates what the Asian Movement of Women Religious against Human Trafficking (AMRAT) is doing. The group represents the combined efforts of female religious orders in South Asia. In 2013, India had 15 million slaves, with 4,566 reported cases the same year, mostly children and girls.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - The Asian Movement of Women Religious against Human Trafficking (AMRAT) want to raise "awareness about human trafficking all over Asia, in today's globalised world, involving girls and young women who fall into this way of life."

The association represents the combined efforts of female religious orders in South Asian countries (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) in the fight against human trafficking.

Out of 30 million "new slaves" estimated worldwide, almost half are in India alone. According to the latest government figures, 4,566 known people fell into the trap of trafficking in 2013. However, the actual number is much higher. The state with the worst record is Rajasthan (1,190), followed by Delhi (864), Tamil Nadu (762) and Maharashtra (630).

During the same period, complaints were filed in 1,657 cases, most of them (944) involving children and girls who were abducted (or bought) to be sold into prostitution, used as forced labourer or maimed for begging.

Currently, the Church in India and across Asia is observing a novena dedicated to Saint Bakhita (from 30 January to 7 February), ahead of the first International Day of prayer and reflection against human trafficking (8 February).

"Our prayers are also for the conversion of the traffickers, who perpetrate and profit from this evil, as well as for users who nurture it," AMRAT Secretary General Sister Rita Mascarenhas FMA told AsiaNews. "We also pray for government leaders, politicians and government officials, that they may deal with the system that allows human trafficking to happen."

In what follows, the nun, who belongs to the Salesian Order of Don Bosco, describes to AsiaNews the story of two young women who were saved with the help of the Christian group.

Sister Emilda came back from Delhi to Ranchi with two young women, both grade 12 graduates. Prema and Reema are distant relatives. The pair, along with two other young women, were brought to Delhi by their friend Namitha, lured by promises of office work.

Namitha goes back and forth from Delhi regularly. She likes flashy clothes, and lures young women with phony job offers, benefits and salaries. Her lifestyle and the city lights have dazzled many of her victims.

On 23 July 23, the two young women were taken to a flat in Delhi, which Namitha described as an employment agency. However, once inside they were locked up, their belongings stolen along with their papers. However, Prema was able to conceal her mobile phone, which she had turned off.

Namitha gets 5,000 rupees per woman she is able to "recruit". Prema and Reema said that they were almost 400, both adult and underage, in the place where they were taken, a big flat, with a bar and many rooms. The women came from different states, but mostly from Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Orissa and West Bengal.

The young women found themselves in an appalling situation. Trafficking in girls and women went on there, day and night. The men who hanged out at the place mistreated them if they refused to obey. The two women were given spiked drinks and drugged food. They were also sexually abused. However, in view of the situation, Prema and Reema refused to eat and prayed instead.

On the second day, Reema was sold to a man from Ahmedabad. She was supposed to leave the next day, but she refused. Her handlers threatened her in a locked room. They also tried to woo her with promises of shopping. At the same time, Prema kept on saying that she wanted to go with Reema.

In the end, they tried to escape using the ruse of shopping. When they fled, they took the mobile phone. With it, Prema managed to call her mother and a neighbour, who urged them to get into a crowded street and shout for help. Following his advice, they ran into a street shouting.  

At that moment, a rickshaw driver stopped to help them. After listening to their terrible story, he took them to Anand Vihar Railway Terminal in Delhi and gave them 600 rupees. With the money, they bought two tickets for Ranchi in order to flee.

As they waited at the railway station, they saw Sister Emilda, a nun from the (Anglican) Society of the Sisters of Bethany who was also waiting for the train to Ranchi. They recognised her religious affiliation from her habit because one of the two young women had studied at a Bethany school.

The two approached the nun and told her their story. Sister Emilda was with the daughter of their driver, whom she was taking for admission to a boarding school.

Touched by their suffering, the nun helped them after they left for Ranchi. She fed them, clothed them and gave them shelter at her nunnery in the city. This put the two young women at ease. After a week, for the first time, the two felt safe and free from fear. Sister Emilda did everything to protect them, and was eventually able to take them home.

In this particular case, the trafficker was called Namitha, a young woman with a junior college education. She is the second wife of Saif (an invented name), a Muslim man. He is the main link and key person in trafficking from Jharkhand.

As an ethnic Santal, Namitha can easily visit tribal villages. She is very persuasive with young women, both educated and uneducated, captivated by tantalising stories about good jobs, a comfortable life and so on.

Namitha knows how to work on them, getting them ready psychologically, before she takes them to transit points in the main district towns. Here the victims are kept for a while, treated well, cared for, and further enticed by even better stories about their future prospects.

Eventually, Saif and Namitha take their prey to Delhi to another transit point where they are kept until they are sold to buyers.

It is really distressing to know that in Delhi there are hundreds of such transit points, invisible to most, where the lives of the innocent and their families are destroyed.

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