The missing girls and women of Odisha’s Sundargarh district

Three persons from Odisha were arrested in connection with rescue of 19-year-old woman from Madhya Pradesh. 

Three persons from Odisha were arrested in connection with rescue of 19-year-old woman from Madhya Pradesh.  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The recent rescue of a Sundargarh woman from Madhya Pradesh by Odisha Police has brought the focus back on human trafficking, especially of women, from the tribal-dominated Sundargarh district.

In April, the Sadar Police Station received a complaint from Lalindra Bera of Gotabandha village that his 19-year-old daughter was missing. Subsequently, family members received a call from the woman, who had been confined at a remote location. They came to know she had been forcibly married off to a person in Karwakhedi village in Madhya Pradesh’s Ratlam district. The woman was lured to migrate for work by middlemen who offered her a “decent job” and transferred ₹60,000 to her father’s account.

“It was a clear case of human trafficking as the woman was forcibly married and confined. After her rescue, we have handed her over to her parents. Now we have expanded the scope of our investigation to find out if any bigger organised gang is at work,” said Sagarika Nath, Sundargarh Superintendent of Police (SP).

Ms. Nath said the police had received tip-offs on two more missing women, who could be trapped in Uttar Pradesh. “We have started our probe by constituting a special police team to trace the women,” she said.

Three cases of missing women were pending at the Sadar and Bargaon Police Stations of Sundargarh district in 2021.

The registered cases, however, do not reflect the magnitude of the human trafficking issue, especially of women.

Teenage girls from Odisha migrate to other States to work as domestic help and subsequently end up in forced marriages. In many cases, they are subjected to sexual exploitation. In early 2000, Pragati, a Sundargarh-based NGO, undertook a house-to-house survey and came up with a horrific estimate of trafficked women. Its survey found over 43,000 women of different age groups were missing in 11 out of 17 blocks of Sundargarh district.

“The survey we had conducted was an exhaustive one. In most cases, the family members of the women had not approached the police in the early 2000s. Since then, the situation has not improved much. The number of missing women in Sundargarh could be in thousands,” said Subhashree Ray, a lead member of Pragati.

Similarly, Suru Mishra, a Sundargarh-based activist who is working on the issue of human trafficking, said, “We conducted a study in six migration-prone blocks of Sundargarh. About 30,000 men and women had migrated mostly in distress conditions. While the men had headed for Goa, New Delhi was the destination for the majority of women.”

“In 2019, I had organised a meeting in New Delhi’s South Extension. About 300 women hailing from Sundargarh district attended that meeting. Most of them were employed as domestic help,” Mr. Mishra said.

According to him, a new trend has come to the fore lately. “Women are initially induced to work for a lucrative pay package. Subsequently, they are married off in States like Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, where the sex ratio is on a declining trend. At the Kinjirkela Police Station, cases pertaining to 13 missing women are pending,” he said.

Flora Lakra had been missing for more than a decade from Sarajanga village of the Balishankara block of Sundargarh district. She had gone to work in New Delhi. From the same village, Blasius Lakra had sent his 14-year-old girl to work in Mumbai. Subsequently, she went missing. Though cases were registered in local police stations, they are yet to be solved or the women rescued. In 2017, two women, then aged 24 and 36 years, returned from Saudi Arabia after they had been sold off. Most traffickers are known to victim.

The Sundargarh SP Ms. Nath concurred that naïve girls from Sundargarh district were taken to other States and forcibly married to men in States like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. In most cases, marriage affidavits were being shown to the police as supporting documents, she said. “Last year, we had a campaign where we urged people to enroll with the district labour officers before heading out of the district for any work, so that in case there is any issue later, we will have some contact to begin the investigation,” she said.

During the ‘Ama’ community policing meetings initiative, the issue of human trafficking is frequently discussed to make people aware of the lost girls and women.

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Printable version | Aug 8, 2022 6:36:44 pm |