Hundreds of girls and women have been sold-off by human traffickers as brides in Haryana villages since the past several years

In the tea gardens of Banarhat, a remote village bordering Bhutan in West Bengal, her father once worked as a labourer. After his death, the family survived for years on the meagre income of her mute brother, not enough to even pay for the proper treatment of her recurrent bouts of a mysterious stomach-aches. And then one day, yet another tragedy struck in the garb of a well-wisher. A human trafficker took Paro (name changed) to faraway Haryana, raped her and then sold her off as a bride to a middle-aged widower.

The family knew Mustafa Ali as the husband of the girl who once lived in their neighbourhood.

“We had taken Paro to the village doctors, but they could not cure her. This had us worried and in such a state of haplessness, Mustafa approached giving us a hope. He stayed with us for a night. Mustafa told us that not only Paro, but her mute brother could also be cured by the blessings of one Baba Rampal Maharaj, claiming that the godman had his ashram in Haryana,” said Paro’s elder sister. She had no inkling of Mustafa’s visit as she lives in another village with her husband.

Convinced that he was a God-sent saviour, Paro’s mother readily agreed to accompany Mustafa to Haryana along with the girl and her two sons. They boarded a train on July 3.

“We left for Delhi, from where we were taken to Kheri Man Singh village in Karnal. Mustafa took us to his house, where he lives with his two wives. We were shocked to discover that the villagers there knew him as Rajender Pal,” said a frail Paro, a 24-year-old woman who had virtually starved for the past few weeks.

Narrating her tale of horror, Paro recounted: “Rajender disclosed that he wanted to marry me off. When my mother and brothers objected, he and his men beat them up. He also attempted to sexually assault my mother. Following this, she and one of my brothers were forced to board a train back to our village. Rajender raped me and kept me in confinement for over 20 days. He would lock me inside a room whenever he went out.”

Paro refused to eat in protest and partly because she did not get her staple food — rice. While she languished at Rajender’s house, about four prospective grooms paid visits to check on her.

“The deal was finally struck with one Darshan Kumar for Rs.70,000. They staged a ceremony, where my brother was forced to pose for a photograph showing that the marriage had his approval,” said Paro. She was sent with Darshan, while her brother was sent packing home after his job was over.

“Darshan, a widower, sexually assaulted me and ill-treated me all the time. His mother also abused me. I was constantly looking for an opportunity to escape. Then and one day, in the early hours, I managed to slip out while the others were sleeping. I spent the entire day in the nearby sugarcane fields, but the villagers caught me the next morning and took me back to Darshan. They forced me to put my fingerprints on a blank paper,” said Paro.

A few days after Paro’s brother reached his village, the family learnt that Rajender had once again visited the village looking for some more girls. “We had got a case registered at the Banarhat police station on July 27. The police soon arrested him,” said Paro’s sister. The West Bengal Police then contacted non-government organisation Shakti Vahini seeking assistance for the victim’s rescue.

The NGO contacted the Karnal Superintendent of Police, on whose orders a team was sent to Darshan’s residence along with the organisation representatives on Monday, over two months after she was kidnapped. A video footage capturing the operation showed Paro screaming, bursting into tears and hugging her sister as soon as she sees her. Holding each other tightly, the sisters sobbed as Paro shared the agony and torture she had been subjected to.

Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini said: “Darshan was not home when the team reached there. The villagers confronted the NGO members, asserting that she had been bought for Rs.70,000. We finally managed to take the victim to the area police station, where she immediately went to the bathroom and sat under a tap till the sindoor was washed away completely.”

According to Mr. Kant, hundreds of girls and women like Paro are sold-off by human traffickers as brides in Haryana villages since the past several years.

“A skewed sex ratio [877 females per 1,000 males] in the State is the prime reason behind the mushrooming of such organised syndicates. As reported in the latest report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC], a field study by Drishti Stree Adhyayan Prabodhan in 92 Haryana villages covering 10,000 households revealed that over 9,000 married women had been bought from other States. They address the purchased brides as Paro [from outside the State],” said Mr. Kant. Age, beauty and virginity are the yardsticks that determine their price.

Studies by various organisations have revealed that girls from poverty-stricken villages in Assam, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar, Odisha and even from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, are trafficked to Haryana and Punjab via Delhi for forced marriages.

“Trafficking for forced marriages has also been reported from Kutch in Gujarat. Hundreds of Bengali-speaking Muslim women are trafficked from West Bengal and Bangladesh to Kutch, where they are sold off as brides,” stated the UNODC report, observing that from Haryana, they are also sent to the bordering areas of Rajasthan.

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