Anti Human Trafficking

Jesuits of the Darjeeling Province join in the Campaign against Trafficking in Persons

In 2016, the new Social Action Centre, named Human Life Development & Research Centre (HLDRC-estd. 2013) presently located in Matigara, Dist Darjeeling in the state of West Bengal got involved in Anti- Human Trafficking campaign. The preliminary studies  and visits to different tea gardens in the North Bengal tea region revealed that after the closure of many tea gardens (approximately 20) many touts/ agents had started visiting the afflicted families, and taking young women, girls etc to big cities like Delhi with promise of jobs (including domestic help). Many unsuspecting families were sending their girls/women without any verification of either the existence of job providing agencies or cross checking the addresses/contact numbers of agents or places where their wards were being taken. After few months when the contact of their women either got disconnected or lost, the panicked parents would go around seeking help that would prove futile. Similarly, tales from tea gardens/villages bordering Nepal started emerging that often men/women from the same village/tea garden or even relatives and family acquaintances were luring girls and women to unknown destinations. No proper study has been done to establish the number of girls, children, women and even men being trafficked or gone missing after being taken for some kind jobs or lured with promise of money. In 2010 CID (central investigating department) reported only 124 girls/children missing but the same year UNICEF and Save Children organizations in their combined reports sated that about 3500 girls have gone missing from 12 tea gardens of Dooars. Some other agencies have estimated about 18 thousand missing cases from this area between 2010-2015 with just a few hundred having been traced and returned to their families.

Reports of hundreds of girls missing from North Bengal tea region especially from closed tea gardens and areas located on the borders of neighbouring countries such as Nepal after being taken to distant places for works/jobs resulted in HLDRC creating awareness about this problem during its social/legal awareness seminars organized in various tea gardens. Fortunately, the UK Mission accepted our project proposal for funding “ Anti-Human Trafficking Project” from January-December, 2016 in the tea gardens of North Bengal region of the state of West Bengal, India.

Under the project the following activities were conducted:

  1. Anti-Human Trafficking Awareness Seminar:

The main objective of the program has been to prevent trafficking of girls/women by creating awareness among the people of tea gardens particularly those bordering Nepal and also closed/abandoned gardens where the girls and young women are vulnerable to trafficking. So far we have organized eight seminars titled, “Awareness Campaign against Human (sex) Trafficking” – in Darjeeling, Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri Districts of North Bengal region.

  1. Seminar at Thangjhora Tea Garden: The first awareness seminar was organized on 4th March, 2016 at Thangjhora Tea Garden about 4 km east of Nepal border in the Darjeeling District. Attended by 360 people- mostly girls and women- it was also participated by the head of the block level police officer (Mr. Gazmer) and two sub-inspectors, head of the local Panchayat body (Pradhan) and Panchayat members. The event was carried by the local Hindi Newspaper “Dainik Jagaran” on the next day (5thMarch, 2016).
  2. Seminar at Mohanlal/Krishna Tea Gardens: on 2nd May, 2016 the second seminar was organized at Mohanlal-Krisha tea gardens about 7 km east-south of Nepal border in the Darjeeling District. Attended by more than 400 people, again mostly girls and women, it was also participated by local police-officer-in charge Mr. Alam, officers of Tea Board of India,  principal of a local Girls’ High School, some other NGOs as well as members of local administration-  Panchayat members. We also invited the families from where some female members were taken away to Delhi and neighbouring areas with promise of jobs and hadn’t returned after 3, 5 and even 10 years. That created a stir as the mothers of those missing girls wept in front of all and even police looked helpless and shocked.
  • Seminar at Birpara Tea Garden The third seminar was organized on 12th May, 2016 at Birpara closed garden in the Alipuduar District. It was also attended by about 200 girls/ women and youth. In the seminar besides the HLDRC staff, the local Block Development Officer (BDO) Mr. Adhikari, local police officer-in charge as well as district Samiti member (Miss Jacinta Lakra) also spoke on the problem of trafficking from closed gardens as well as some works being done to stop this menace.
  1. Seminar at Bundapani Tea Garden: The fourth seminar was organized on 13th May, 2016 at Bundapani tea garden in the Alipuduar District which is closed and abandoned for about 10 years and is located barely 2 km from the border of Bhutan having no alternative works/jobs and thus makes the girls/women more vulnerable to flesh trafficking.  Since many people have migrated for work or have gone missing, the place was an ideal place for awareness on trafficking in person. However, due to many people having left the garden in search of work, the seminar attracted barely 60 people many of them were children or old.  Beside the HLDRC director, two staff and two workers from another NGO, five border security force men from Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) also attended and warned the people of some unscrupulous men and women move around masquerading as “job agents” to lure girls and young women to big cities like Delhi.
  2. Seminar at Moonee Tea Garden: The 5th Seminar was conducted on 4th September, 2016 in a closed garden located about 10 km north of HLDRC centre in the Darjeeling District. It was attended by about 150 people which was quite small because many people were working had left their homes to work in far away tea gardens only to return at night. Yet, after the seminar women from Self-Help Groups formed a kind of tasked force that will be vigilant to any outsiders looking for girls with promise of works.
  3. Seminars in Satkhaiya and Hantapara tea gardens: In the month of October, after the monsoon season awareness seminars were resumed and a series of seminars were conducted in tea gardens of Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts. In Satkhainya girls who are being helped with skills training helped in mobilizing the people while also working as volunteers to spread awareness in their own community. In Hantapara closed tea garden once again some girls who are being sponsored under the project helped in organizing the event and with arrangements of chairs/table, sound systems. In both places some local NGOs also participated while local administration also came forward enthusiastically to create awareness and promise for help missing cases.
  • Seminars in Girls Schools: Besides tea gardens director and staff of the project also ensured to conduct seminars in three girls schools- Maria Goretti Girls High School, Demdima under Alipurduar district and Rashtrabhasa Hindi High School under Jalpaiguri School since majority of the students come from tea gardens surrounding those schools. Students were givne specific instructions to create awareness among their own people especially girls.

Besides this about 60 girls are being helped with short-term course in skills training such as tailoring, beautician, nursing, hotel management, sales & services and so on.

Dr (Fr) Lalit P. Tirkey SJ

Director, HLDRC