Why I want political parties to talk about human trafficking, and not Ram Mandir, this election season

Victims of human trafficking don’t make headline news. That's despite the huge numbers of them and their unbelievable trauma. Why is there such deafening silence from our voluble politicos on this?

 |  7-minute read |   14-03-2019
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A few months ago, I sat down with Bhuvan Ribhu of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) at his quaint Kalkaji office. This was after my return from the Global Sustainability Network United Nations, New York Chapter. After listening to Kailash Satyarthi in the US, I was convinced that there’s a lot that needs to be done in the area of human trafficking.

I was motivated to make a difference as a journalist.

I thought I could rake up issues that matter and use the power of the media to generate enough political will for an issue like human trafficking — an ignored reality of the nation.

The issue has been left ignored by the political class that is more concerned about ranting "Mandir wahin banayenge".

child-690_031319104034.jpgHuman trafficking has not received any attention from any political party. (Source: Reuters)

So I said to myself, I will ensure these victims whom I met in person get justice. I will ensure I create enough awareness.

Alas!

Most mainstream media did not find the issue meaty enough. The Ram Mandir generates more TRPs than modern-day slavery and trafficking — the politics of ‘tweets’ and bickering had more importance than the safety of the victimised women and children of our country.

So, I let it rest.

We are now heading towards an election that is going to be fought on muscular nationalism, Ram Mandir and other issues that appeal to voters’ emotions.

The victims of human trafficking don’t make headline news. They just get ‘exported’ as commodities to ‘masters’ who exploit them, rape them, use them as sex slaves, exposing them to near-death experiences — sometimes even death.

The political class goes scot-free. Because the issue is not in the eye of any storm as mostly, media channels ignore it too.

The ‘landmark’ (as I’d like to call it) Anti-Trafficking Bill, 2018 was for the longest time hanging fire until it was passed in the Lok Sabha on July 26, 2018 — but it was lost in the multiple whitewash sessions of the Rajya Sabha. NGOs and individuals still want to oppose this bill for the sole objective to lobby the legalisation of prostitution in India. It is commercially lucrative for them, so why support? Some criticised it on the grounds therefore that it did not define ‘sexual exploitation’ — to which, in our coversation, Bhuvan was quick to tell me that the definition of ‘trafficking of person’ has been adopted from the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (Section 370) which includes the term ‘sexual exploitation’.

The arguments made by the Opposition have been based on false assumptions, without going through the entire Anti-Trafficking Bill, 2018.

I want to draw attention to some quick facts now. Every eight minutes, a child goes missing in India. 59% of the total trafficked persons during the year 2016 were below 18. Even where I sat in Kalkaji, Bhuvan showed me how I needed to look outside the window on the roads in New Delhi — full of massage salons and placement agencies for maids where this ‘trade’ is ramphant.

Wherever you are sitting and reading this in India, you can look out — the reality won’t change.

It is a known fact that certain college parties, with the attendance of students from some of the biggest educational institutions in India, target girls and lure them into escort services. One thing leads to another; the taste of money makes the world go round. And before you know it, they’re into a full-blown prostitutional racket. In an aspirational world where you see peers holding the latest phones and gadgets and wearing the best designer outfits, it is easy to get carried away for some.

This horrifying trend, of both the deeply vulnerable poor and sections of aspirational groups being thus exploited, will just continue unless nipped in the bud. So what did our government of the day do to nip it in the bud? Not much. What did the opposition do? Nothing at all.

The perpetrators of these crimes are around each one of us. Even when you make that call to a placement agency asking for domestic house help, you never know what’s going on the other end. Bhuvan’s team does have many crackdowns like these, but NGOs with their hearts in the right place need support from the law of the land.

Not just laws, but the fear of violating them.

Law enforcement becomes essential. But where is the law in India? We are waiting.

text-690_031319104103.jpgThe government needs to ensure stricter laws which are actually implemented to address the huge issue of human trafficking. (Source: Reuters)

I went through the Anti-Trafficking Bill 2018. It is clear in print and Bhuvan explained that it provides for forfeiture and attachment of property of traffickers and this is one of the most important provisions of the bill. The functioning of anti-trafficking units needs immediate attention. Not just that, the Women and Child Development Ministry needs more persons on the ground to investigate and act on the issue of ‘supply chains’ for child labour in India.

Vineet J Mehra, an active member working on Goal 8 of the Global Sustainability Network, explained how India fails to recognise trafficking as an industry. “What did we do to fix this?” he asked. “Giving money out of a ‘supposedly’ good heart to a woman with kids at a traffic signal or buying a beautiful woven carpet in an auction without realising it was made by small kids who may have been trafficked and worked forcibly is denial — these are lost souls right under our watch. They have a right to a dream and dignity in an India as much as we do and the law ought to be passed. There is a lack of political will," explained Vineet. At GSN, the community that delivers Goal 8 of the 17 global goals, this takes centrestage.

And yet, in India, the pleas fall on deaf ears.

From Bhuvan Ribhu’s elucidation to me and my chat with Vineet, one thing was absolutely clear. The fact that several positions at various government institutions and human rights bodies are vacant shows that the government is apparently not keen to take appropriate steps in this regard.

children-690-1_031319104131.jpgShould we let their childhood be snatched away? (Source: Reuters)

The trafficking of people, especially women and children, is not considered important by political parties and therefore is not an electoral issue in India. The major demand by most activists like Bhuvan before the government is that no child should be employed anywhere. Secondly, law enforcement against the crime should be strong. There also needs to be zero tolerance towards any crime against a child.

And this should come from the government of the day as a rule.

I would like to ask which political party — whether the BJP or the Congress or even the Aam Aadmi Party that wants to be the voice of the common person — has made the protection of women and children a core issue for elections?

Why is the top political class, be it the ruling BJP that chest-thumps at every given opportunity, or the Congress that is quick to find fault with all that is wrong with the ruling disposition, or any party for that matter just not willing to raise this issue?

As a citizen of India over a journalist right now, I want this answer.

Also read: Anti-trafficking Bill: No, it does not take away sex workers’ rights. Here’s how

Writer

Chaiti Narula Chaiti Narula @chaiti

The author is deputy editor with India Today TV.

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