The long journey of Debyani (name changed) from her village in the Burdwan district of West Bengal to Delhi and then to Bharatpur in Rajasthan is a saga of a minor girl who was kidnapped by traffickers and sold off for forced marriage and then subjected to continuous physical and sexual abuse for the past four years. The girl, who has now been rescued, is the mother of two children.

On the pretext of getting her employed as a domestic help, a fellow villager had one day taken Debyani along to a place where she was handed over to a trafficker four years ago. It was two years after she went missing that the local police registered a specific case on the basis of a complaint lodged by her father who raised suspicion about the complicity of a girl named Sulekha.Police investigations revealed that she was handed over to a person named Kalu Sheikh, who sold her off for a paltry sum. She was then forcibly married to a resident of Deeg village of Bharatpur in Rajasthan. “About a year ago, the investigating officer tracked her down and rescued her. He also arrested Kalu Sheikh. The girl had by then become the mother of two children. Surprisingly, she was escorted back to West Bengal by some villagers. In her judicial statement, she claimed that she had fled on her own as her parents wanted to push her into prostitution. As a result, the accused was released on bail and the girl was taken back to Rajasthan,” said a West Bengal police officer.

It was after the victim’s family moved habeas-corpus petition in the High Court that an Anti-Human Trafficking Unit team led by Inspector Sarbari Bhattacharya was directed to probe the matter. The officer discovered that the case had been closed. She got it reopened and in coordination with non-government organisation Shakti Vahini reached Bharatpur.

“The moment the girl saw the Bengali-speaking woman officer, she clung onto her pleading to take her back home. She even forgot to take her elder son along and wanted to leave immediately. She kept crying, alleging that she was sold off and subjected to torture,” said Rishi Kant, who was part of the rescue team.The police officer made enquiries and found that a woman named Rakhi from West Bengal, who had settled down there 20 years ago, lived in the neighbourhood. “During questioning, she disclosed that she had bought the victim from her relative Kalu Sheikh. Her brother had tortured the victim so much that she still dreads him.”

Realising that it was purely a case of human trafficking, the officer decided to rescue the girl along with her two children and arrested Rakhi. “However, it will be difficult for us to now track down Kalu Sheikh and Sulekha…there are umpteen number of cases were girls and women from West Bengal are being trafficked to places like Delhi and being pushed into prostitution, forced labour and marriage. But we come across officers who do not realise the gravity of the problem and treat the victims as just ‘poor Bengalis’,” said a West Bengal Police officer.