A 16-year-old Muslim girl from West Bengal, who was allegedly sold to live as a “slave wife” with a Dalit man, has been rescued from Ponchhada village in Karauli district of Rajasthan. Women’s groups here say the girl was a victim of a big trafficking network in eastern part of the State where there is a high gender imbalance.
Memi Khatoon, belonging to Nijgaon village in Malda district of West Bengal, was brought to Ponchhada from Delhi about a year ago after allegedly being purchased for Rs.26,000. She was forced to live as a wife with 40-year-old Paramsukh Lal Bairwa and was tortured and confined to his house for doing household chores.
Women’s groups produced the visibly upset and malnourished girl at a press conference here on Saturday, claiming that she escaped while being taken for medical treatment to another village and was rescued by some Muslim families whom she approached. She will be lodged for the time being at the short-stay home, Shakti Stambh, run by the Rajasthan University Women’s Association.
Memi said she had left her village with some of her relatives to visit Delhi, where she met a woman who gave her biscuits laced with a tranquillising drug. She fell unconscious and later found herself at a house in Ponchhada village. When she tried to escape, the family members said they had “purchased” her and forced her to live with Paramsukh.
The Dalit family allegedly forced her to speak to her mother on telephone and tell her that she had married a Muslim boy on her own and was living happily with him. She was not allowed to venture out of home and was compelled to have sexual relations with the 40-year-old man.
Memi also said she knew of four to five girls living in similar circumstances in the village. “I noticed that the woman I had met in Delhi was in regular touch with the family which purchased me. She seemed to be running a racket for supplying young girls to the region,” she said.
Activists belonging to the National Federation of Indian Women and National Muslim Women’s Welfare Society demanded stringent punishment to those who had purchased the girl and identification of people involved in the girl trafficking racket. They have lodged a complaint at the women’s police station in Gandhi Nagar here.
Kavita Srivastava of People’s Union for Civil Liberties said the girl trafficking route in eastern Rajasthan had revived during the last couple of years following the decline in the sex ratio due to which the men were not able to find girls for marriage. As many as four such cases had been detected during the last two months in the region, she added.
Association for Protection of Civil Rights convenor Paikar Farooque said the case of Memi Khatoon clearly depicted the increasing crimes against women in the State. Women activists Nisha Siddhu and Nishat Hussain demanded immediate reconstitution of the State Women’s Commission, lying defunct for over a year, for dealing with such cases.
Activists also expressed concern over the Dalit families in Hindon tehsil, where Ponchhada is situated, reportedly threatening the local Muslims for having extended support to Memi. A caste panchayat of Bairwa community is reportedly being convened shortly in the village to discuss the matter.