With over 1.15 lakh postcards addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several meetings with MPs, thousands of women and child survivors of human trafficking from across the country are running from pillar to post demanding that Rajya Sabha pass an anti-trafficking bill that the Lok Sabha cleared in July.
Several Rajya Sabha members, including D. Raja (Communist Party of India), have supported the bill. However, several days of the current session have been washed out due to a variety of political wrangles, the latest one concerning the triple talaq bill. There are just five working days left for the session and though the Lok Sabha will meet briefly in February to pass a vote on account and not a regular budget as general elections are due in May, it is not clear if the Rajya Sabha will also meet. In such a scenario, the bill can only be taken up when parliament convenes after the general elections.
With their demands, survivors from various collectives -- Utthan, Vimukthi, Aazaad Shakti Abhiyaan, Bandhan Mukti and Worker Survivor Support group -- had gathered here last month to share their experiences of trafficking, ranging from sexual exploitation, bonded labour and forced marriage, among others.
The gaps in the existing legislation, according to the survivors, had led to more suffering after the rescue, as currently there is no official rehabilitation scheme for the freed victims.
"The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, has a strong mechanism for voluntary rehabilitation and victim-protection and, in its absence, we are struggling for justice, official rehabilitation and compensation," Ankita (name changed), a trafficked bonded labour, told IANS.
Ankita was 20 years old when she was trafficked to a brick kiln in Odisha from Chhattisgarh, along with 13 others from her family and village. After being abused sexually and mentally for months, they were rescued in February 2018 but still await justice and official rehabilitation.
"We were promised by our trafficker that our families will be paid Rs 20,000 per head and every day we will get Rs 500 as the wage. I went there to an unknown location in Odisha with my father as it was difficult for him to run a family of six. After going there we realised that we were not employed, but were sold to the brick kiln owner."
Recalling their heart-rending slavery days, Ankita, now 22, said in the brick kiln, they were subjected to sexual and verbal abuse by the agent and other staff.
"We were under high observation all the time and were denied personal space. All of us (13 people) were staying in a small room. We were not allowed to move freely or go out. We were neither paid nor was sufficient food given to us. The other women, including me, were physically abused and sexually assaulted. They even tried selling me for prostitution for Rs 20,000, but my father protested."
With the help of a mobile phone she kept secretly, she got in touch with Jan Jagriti Kendra (JJK) who helped rescue her through tracking her location online.
"The rescue team of JJK, along with some local police officers, visited the brick kiln. The owner of the brick kiln fled. However, he was arrested later. His nephew and the contractor were also arrested. The victims were rescued and an FIR was lodged at the local police station. No release certificate was issued to the rescued. No compensation was received by the victims. No wage settlement was done," JJK head Manju Gardai told IANS.
The bill lays down a stringent punishment of 10 years to life imprisonment for aggravated forms of trafficking, which include buying or selling of persons for the purpose of bonded labour, bearing a child, as well as those where chemical substances or hormones are administered, and if a survivor acquires life-threatening illnesses such as AIDS.
The bill also proposes a National Anti-Trafficking Bureau (NATB) for coordinating, monitoring and surveillance of trafficking cases. It also provides for a Relief and Rehabilitation Committee and Rehabilitation Fund with an initial allocation of Rs 10 crore. It prescribes forfeiture of property used, or likely to be used, for the commissioning of an offence.
It also provides for the establishment of investigation and rehabilitation authorities at the district, state and national level. Anti-Trafficking Units will be established to rescue victims and investigate cases of trafficking. Rehabilitation Committees will provide care and rehabilitation to the rescued victims.
Twenty-nine-year-old Chandrima belonged to a poor family that had largely ignored her well-being. In her teenage days, she was lured by one of her neighbors into commercial sexual exploitation. She was trafficked from Tenali district in Andhra Pradesh at the age of 18 and rescued by the police from Vijayawada when she was 25.
"An FIR was filed against Sujatha, the trafficker, but no justice has been done in so many years. Now I am working with other survivors to assist them and help rescue them. I want the Bill to be passed so that culprits like my trafficker will be scared and are punished for spoiling lives of innocent girls," Chandrima told IANS.
Twenty-five-year-old Zohra, who was trafficked into domestic work and commercial sexual exploitation, echoed the same demand. Recalling her life after being trafficked, Zohra said she was forced into commercial sexual exploitation.
"I was transported to various brothels and hotels in and around Maharashtra. If I resisted, I was tortured severely, beaten and threatened with death."
Rescued by the Pune police in a raid, she said an FIR was lodged against the trafficker, the agents and other offenders but no prosecution took place and no compensation was given to her.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau report, 15,379 victims of human-trafficking were reported in 2016, out of whom almost 60 per cent were minors. The report has also estimated that more than one lakh children (111,569) have gone missing till 2016, and 55,625 of them remain untraced.