No justice for his sister: Man loses his living, travelling from Gujarat to Haryana

Young Assamese labourer has been making a 1,000km journey back and forth as he awaits the verdict for his sister who was sold off as a child bride.

 |  The Inner Courtyard  |  4-minute read |   17-03-2015
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"Do you want the court to come to you?" the judge asked Shamsul. He was three hours late for the hearing that day. The odd rains had led to a massive traffic jam. Plus, he could not hear his phone ringing because of the hoot and rattle on the way, as he rode the bus from Nangloi to meet the lawyer at Bhikaji Cama Place. Once there, he took a while to locate the stop to board a bus to Palwal. Shamsul could not have told the judge all this.

The 22-year-old labourer had to appear at Haryana's Palwal district court as the primary complainant in the case filed against his sister's traffickers. In 2013, Shamsul's sister Sakeena, then 17, was sold off as a bride for a paltry Rs 14,000 in Palwal's Pingod village. Since Sakeena was rescued in July and later released from the state-run Nari Niketan in September, her brother has been fighting her case. Meeting Sakeena at Nari Niketan was no easy task. It would seem that, if you had the means, meeting death row convicts at Tihar jail and interviewing them for an international documentary was easier than meeting rescued trafficked women at government-run shelter homes. Since Haryana has only one government-run rescue home, Sakeena had to be sent to Karnal, 133km from Delhi. For her brother, it took lawyers, documents and money each time, to travel to Karnal from Delhi, to meet her.

Shamsul moved to Gandhinagar to work at a wood-moulding factory in January 2014. He was hired on a salary of Rs 9,000 a month and given a room to stay in the factory premises, which he shared with five others. He would start the 14-hour workday at eight in the morning, with a lunch break of two hours to spare - during this, he cooked, ate and slept. Since he started working at the factory, Shamsul had visited his village in Assam only once, in July 2014. The sleeper ticket from Gandhinagar to Assam costs Rs 950 if he books a month and a half in advance. Similarly, the ticket from Gandhinagar to Delhi, where he must go for the case hearings, costs Rs 650. This is his fourth trip to Delhi for the case. Since, on two occasions, he did not get a reservation, Shamsul had to pay a broker Rs 1,000 to secure a seat. The lawyer told him that the court pays for "reasonable" expenses that witnesses incur in attending the trial upon producing the tickets, provided they are of dates close to the hearing. Needless to say, the court does not foot brokerage expenses. The dates, too, are never close to the hearing day since Shamsul must board the train on the day he gets the ticket for, within a week of the hearing.

He made his last trip to Assam when his wife was about to deliver their son, Altamash. Because he could get only two weeks of leave, he did not wait for the delivery. Thus, he hasn't ever seen his son. He does not have enough money for travel and savings to send home to the family. Back in Assam, Shamsul’s father is paralysed. His wife does not work because "it is not allowed in their area" and the only patch of land they owned was sold to rescue Sakeena. Last September, the contractor the workers saved their money with, ran away with Rs 22,000 of Shamsul’s savings. He complained to the factory owner, but how could he have done anything, anyway? This time, Shamsul had to quit his job to attend the court hearing. The factory owner just wouldn’t give him leave as he had already made three trips in the same year for the trial.

Out of the other Rs 20,000 that Shamsul had saved, Rs 10,000 were used in paying a bail for his sister. The court had, by mistake, issued a warrant against Sakeena instead of Sameena, her trafficker. The police at the Palwal court have been confused about their names since the beginning of the case. They confused Assam, the state Shamsul hails from, with Madras at the time of filing the FIR. Since both Shamsul and Sakeena are illiterate, they paid the bail amount, without any inquiry. Their lawyer found this out later and filed an application to get their money back. But that too will take time.

It has been 19 months since the case was registered. Sakeena now works as a domestic help in the capital. She doesn’t want to get married anytime soon and used the compensation to pay off the family’s loans. The day after the hearing, Sakeena met her brother and told him that everything is fine back home. He then left for Gandhinagar to find a new job at another factory. It will be another few months before the case can be concluded.

(Some names have been changed in the article.)

Writer

Neha Dixit Neha Dixit @nehadixit123

The writer is an independent journalist who writes on gender, development and politics in South Asia.

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