-Prerona Ray Baruah |
Assam and India’s North-East are often described in either extreme ways – it is either the lush green verdant hills and vales, or it is the gun-toting militia and ethnic strifes that seem to occupy the public mind when the north-east is mentioned.
But I often find that there are many acute problems that the Assamese populace faces that seldom find mention in the national media. I was horrified to learn recently how acute the problem of human trafficking is in Assam. And I learnt of this problem first hand.
A few years ago, a poor widow named Amori Das of Keyajeni village near Hajo in Kamrup district approached us to help her in tracing out her 16 year old daughter, Kanika. Amori has five daughters, the eldest of whom worked in our household at that time. Kanika had left for Haryana with some unknown people in hopes of getting a job there. Little did we know that our search would reveal a shocking racket of human trafficking wherein young, often minor girls, from Assam’s villages were being taken to villages in Haryana and ‘married off’. In Kanika’s case too, it turned out that one Deepa had taken her to Rewari in Haryana and reportedly married her off to one Pappu Singh Ahir. Today, he denies any knowledge of Kanika. On tracing him out, it was found that another Assamese girl, Pranita Das, was living with him. Both these girls were taken to Haryana by the same woman, Deepa, who herself hailed from Bagta village near Hajo in Assam, but married a Haryana man about 15 years ago. Since then, several Assamese girls have been found in Haryana’s villages. Complaints to the police have yielded little result. Kanika is yet to be traced out. The major reasons for such situations are rampant practice of female infanticide in North-Indian states like Haryana resulting in a skewed male-female ratio, and unemployment in among the Assamese youth.
The problem of trafficking is a great cause for concern since it is a violation of the basic human rights to which all persons are entitled to. This calls for regional cooperative initiatives to combat the issue, which includes launching awareness drives in the villages of Assam so that the villagers can prevent the likes of Deepa from luring away any more of their girls. The root cause of such unfortunate events is the acute poverty and unemployment among the youth. Providing means of subsistence and opportunities of employment is the only way to break free from this menace for the women in these areas. The state has failed to provide any meaningful employment to these illiterate or semi-literate women and the only way forward is to equip them with some skills which make them employable in the shortest possible time. It may be more meaningful to provide basic skills which cater to the local requirements and utilise the resources which are locally available and which do not involve too much cost.
NGO’s and government aided groups can provide training to some of these girls from impoverished families located close to cities like Guwahati in carrying out household chores and then place them in urban households where there is a great demand for such domestic help. Another solution is to provide training in Sericulture, which is the art of rearing silk-worms and extracting the silk from cocoons. Assamese women are expert weavers. With some professional help and marketing facilities, the rural women can become economically self-sufficient. Candle-making is also a viable option, since the basic raw material – paraffin wax, is a by-product of refining Assam’s crude oil, which is manufactured by Assam’s Digboi refinery as well as other refineries located in the north-east. Unless all right-thinking citizens join hands to better the economic conditions of the girl-child in Assam’s rural hinterland human trafficking will remain rampant in these parts. We should not brush these issues under the carpet and deny the existence of such crimes in our society. Its time that social organisations highlight these issues and if need be take to the streets to force govt agencies to act.