On July 28, a 16-year-old-girl was rescued from Kolkata’s Sonagachi area by a group of activists and the local police. The minor, who hails from Nepal was produced before the Child Welfare Committee in the city and has been sent to a protection home in Kolkata. This was one of the most challenging rescues, the activists involved said, pointing out that finding a minor in the country’s largest red-light area of Sonagachi was like locating needle in a haystack.
“We had some information and we took the help of the police and conducted raids on the premises. Though there were no arrests, we could rescue her. Hopefully, she will be able to return to her country,” Kakuli Das, an activist with Gorabose Gram Bikash Kendra, an organization working in State’s South 24 Parganas district said. Ms. Das said that in this year alone she has been associated with seven other cases where women and girls from West Bengal were rescued from Maharashtra.
Not only the rescue, but conviction almost forms an important aspect of the fight against trafficking. On July 23, a court at Barasat in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas convicted six accused in connection with the trafficking of a 15-year-old girl from Baguihati police station in 2015. The minor was rescued from Uttarakhand the same year and interstate investigation led to the arrest of six people from Uttarakhand, U.P. and Bihar.
“The 2nd Court of Additional District Judge Barasat gave 20 years imprisonment to four accused in trafficking and 10 years to two people who were associated with abetment to the crime,” Public Prosecutor Shyamal Dutta said. Mr. Dutta said that more than the legal aspect, he had emphasised the social aspect of trafficking and had urged the court to look into the far-reaching implications if those committing crimes like trafficking is not punished.
July 30 is observed as World Day Against Trafficking in Persons by the United Nations and activists like Ms. Das and advocates like Mr. Dutta is working round the year to combat the organised crime of trafficking in India.
Bill in Parliament
Both Shyamal Dutta and Kakuli Das said that there is a strong need for more stringent laws to deal with the trafficking of persons. These developments are significant as The Trafficking In Persons (Protection, Care and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2022 is listed for introduction and passing in the list of businesses for the Monsoon Session of the Parliament. Experts point out that new legislation will help survivors of different kinds of trafficking in terms of investigation of their cases, the functioning of AHTUs ( Anti Human Trafficking Units), interstate investigations and their rehabilitation. West Bengal, because of its geographical location, bordering Nepal and Bangladesh, continues to be an important State as far as trafficking of women and minor girls for sexual exploitation is concerned.
Kaushik Gupta, an advocate of Calcutta High Court who had represented a number of survivors on issues like compensation and rehabilitation said that trafficking is an organized crime which can only be compared with terrorism. “ The government should treat trafficking as a serious crime no less than terrorism where basic human rights are at stake. Imagine a 14- or 15-year-old confined in a room and forced to entertain customers one after the other,” Mr. Gupta said, emphasizing that Parliament should pass the new legislation at the earliest. The advocate said that even after suffering such torture, compensation is denied to survivors.
In the last week of June 2022, the Calcutta High Court described the inability of the State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) and the West Bengal government to pay victim compensation as a sorry state of affairs which cannot be permitted to continue for an indefinite period of time. Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya had directed the SLSA, the State Government Member Secretary and Finance Department, Government of West Bengal to file a report within six weeks from the date as to the steps which are proposed to be taken for ensuring that adequate amounts of funds reach the State Legal Services Authority within six weeks from date.