By K Raveendran
The disgraceful incident in Rajasthan’s Bhilwara in which a man ‘auctioned’ his daughters to repay his debt is a social evil that manifests in similar occurrences in parts of northern India from time to time. The incident attracted widespread condemnation and lowered the prestige of India as a modern nation in highly negative western media reports.
According to local media, a distraught father who had owed Rs 1.5 million to a lender was recently ordered by the area’s caste panchayat to sell his sister as well as a 12-year old daughter to settle the debt. When that was deemed not enough, he was forced to sell four more daughters. The ‘sale’ was made official by recording it on stamp paper, which is used for all formal financial transactions.
The practice is prevalent in many parts of India where debt is repaid by exchanging girls and women, who are then sent to places like UP, MP, Mumbai, Delhi and sometimes abroad in trafficking. Harrowing tales of such victims get reported in the media occasionally, leading to calls for stringent action. There will be a lot of noise for some time, but the incidents continue to occur. There are laws that ban the practice, but deep-rooted social systems in some regions ensure that the arms of law cannot reach the evil, which gets sustenance from community-based groupings.
Early this year, police had made several arrests following massive outrage over the online ‘auction’ of over 100 Muslim women through what was known as the Bulli Bai app, hosted on GitHub, which was meant essentially to denigrate Muslim women who expressed themselves on social media and other platforms against what they perceived as anti-minority policies of the ruling parties.
Some three decades ago, Indian Express reporter Ashwini Sarin had created sensation by ‘buying’ a young woman, whom he named Kamala, for Rs 2,300 from Dholpur, the tri-junction of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Madhya Pradesh, and bringing her to Delhi to expose the large-scale trafficking in women in the Agra-Morena-Mainpuri-Etah area. Rather than trying to fight the menace, the authorities slapped a case against the enterprising reporter for ‘trafficking’.
A poll by Thomson Reuters in 2018 had described India as one of the most dangerous places for women, worse than even Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia. But India had questioned the methodology used for the survey and challenged the conclusion. In fact, in the wake of the report, the Indian ministry of tourism launched a global campaign to dispel the impression, highlighting the support systems that are in place for the safety and security of women, particularly in the aftermath of the gangrape and murder of a girl student in Delhi in 2012. The girl, who has since been named Nirbhaya, is often projected as an icon of initiatives for women’s security.
But there are still areas where such initiatives have failed to touch the lives of women, as demonstrated by the latest instance in Rajasthan. A skewed sex ratio that is heavily tilted against women in states such as Haryana has meant trafficking of women from places like West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Odisha, and Jharkhand to service the needs of the highly patriarchal society. There have been stories of women being sold multiple times. Haryana has only 834 girls per thousand boys in the state’s population.
Over the last three years, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have seen the highest number of human trafficking cases, followed by Assam, Jharkhand, Kerala, Odisha and Rajasthan. But according to the latest report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), conviction rate in human trafficking cases across the country continues to be low. While police filed chargesheets in 84.7 per cent of the 2,189 cases registered under the Anti-Human Trafficking Units (AHTUs) across the country in 2021, only 16 per cent of the cases saw convictions.
In the wake of the latest report about auction of girls in Rajasthan, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has issued a notice to the state government and sought a detailed report from the chief secretary in the matter, including the action taken so far and the measures proposed to be taken to prevent recurrence of such incidents.
Bahujan Samajwadi Party leader Mayawati, who once came to power by championing the cause of the downtrodden, has used the incident to attack at the Ashok Gehlot’s Congress government in Rajasthan, and take a dig at Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadhra whose ‘Ladki hoon lad sakti hoon’ (I’m a girl, I can fight) campaign had hogged the headlines.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP has also trained its guns on Congress, saying such incidents reminded one about Taliban. “Under the Congress government in Rajasthan, girls are being sold in the markets, which is a heinous crime. If we compare such incidents, they happen under the Taliban rule and in Syria-Iraq. There too, the innocent girls are made slaves. Such incidents are reported from half-a-dozen districts in Rajasthan,” BJP national spokesperson Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore said.
The skewed sex ratio of 834 girls per 1,000 boys and the patriarchal system in Haryana have led to a practice where women are easily bought from poor states like West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Odisha, and Jharkhand. And sometimes, from even across the border. (IPA Service)