Thursday, December 27, 2018

IF NOT NOW…WHEN?

The nation is resounding with voices for & against the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Protection & Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018. My position on the Bill is well known so I will not take a neutral stand nor will I refute or try to dispel the arguments of those who are opposing the Bill. Their perception of truth is their reality and my perception of truth my reality.

I do not come from an academic background nor am I lawyer, my identity is the body of work that I have build for the last more than two and half decades. In these twenty-five years I have seen the vicious world of human trafficking at very close quarters. Having rescued with the assistance of the police over 20,000 women and children from sex trafficking I have been witness to their lives not as a journalist or an advocate but as a care-provider who was with them from the time they were being removed from the place of exploitation to the time they were taken to the police station, to the hospital, to the court and finally when admitted in my Protective Home and taking care of them for a period of time as specified by the Court or Child Welfare Committee which may range from 5-10 years in cases of children and 1-3yrs in case of adults.  

This essentially means that I have a fair understanding on how the victim behaves when she is rescued and over a period of time after a series of support services are provided how a slow and steady transformation happens in this person. 

In my 25 years of experience I have seen very few persons who willingly got rescued. Most often than not every victim resisted the rescue, she would give false names, will be very aggressive and violent and very often prone to self-harm behavior. Over a period of time with strategic psychosocial interventions and health care, the victim would gain trust in us and thereafter a new sinister world of deception, betrayal, and fraudulent means will open before us. The stories of how they were duped with promises of job, love or film roles or nightmares of how they were coerced by somebody closely known to them so that they can be commercially sexually exploited. This change was never overnight; it took weeks and months of consistent and persistent efforts by our care-providers which will trigger the need in a victim to become a survivor.

In the meantime another drama will open before us, outside the walls of our Protective Homes of those who desperately wanted these women & girls to get back to their fold. In a significant number of instances it would be under the garb of an advocate’/lawyer’ who would be threatening us of illegal detention or giving us lessons in constitution. We would see the same lawyers in the court corridors also representing the accused in similar cases. I have written umpteen times to District Judges and the Bar Association regarding the threats and intimidations we have faced in the hands of these lawyers. In fact if you visit the Nampally Court you will definitely come to know a set of lawyers who only take up these cases. 

It is through these instances that I personally understood that being in flesh trade is not usually a personal choice of a person. It is a well-organized industry and has many stake-holders and an individual trapped in this midst is controlled by many. It may not appear tangibly as an organized set up and pass off as something, which is an individual aberration, but practically it is well networked.  There is a closely guarded information network and the stakes are quite high. Otherwise how then will you explain, when a small group of telugu women supposedly impoverished and marginalized are rescued in Chandrapur, Maharashtra, before they are even shifted from Chandrapur to Hyderabad a whole of set of lawyers have already descended in the concerned court in Hyderabad! 

I have directly faced the opposition from these elements not only in physical attacks but also in other ways such as pressurizing my landowner to get me vacated from premises where the shelters were located. Thanks to these attacks, we have ended up having too many liabilities in the form of assets!!! The attacks continue in multiple forms, some direct some subtle. 
                      
But not all the women and children I have been party to rescue have been rehabilitated. There is a small but significant number who have chosen to go back to the same situation(including a child). Some of them have been re-admitted to my shelter. So I do recognize that there are people who are not willing to be rehabilitated and for reasons best known to them chose to go back to the same situation. But I am not willing to accept that it is by their own ‘choice’ as many would like to portray. For ‘personal choice’ is a liberating emotion and not a defeating expression. I have had umpteen number of such women telling me that ‘her life is over…don’t try to change’. I have seen the pain in those eyes and a sense of resignation to fate. In my lifetime I have also had the unfortunate experience of cremating many such women whose bodies were found on the streets. 

So when I am advocating for ‘‘Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection & Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, I am doing it because I genuinely believe it will bring systemic changes and will ensure victims get their rights due to them. I also believe for too long the State has shied away from taking a bold step to fight the organized criminal mafia that operationalizes the human trafficking networks. For far too many decades the Governments have subtly promoted this crime and allowed millions to perish. I do believe this has finally ended and there is somebody taking the courageous step to stand up for victims. Is it history? Yes I do think so… For centuries what you called as a ‘necessary evil’ today is finally challenged. There is at least one set of voice in this country which refuses to tolerate this dehumanizing trade in human beings.      

So here are the 10 reasons why I think you should support the safe passage of the ‘Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection & Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018 in the Rajyasabha (It was already passed in Loksabha in July 2018):
  1.  For the first time the Bill in its operational sense recognizes human trafficking as an organized crime and ensures a specialized Police body ie. National Anti Trafficking Bureau is set up which will be mandated to tackle inter-state and cross-border trafficking of persons. Till date there is no such legal statute, which provides this mechanism. An attempt was made few years back to designate CBI through an executive order, which failed due to lack of funds and political will. With a legal statute there is no way this can fail if the attempt is made
  2. While Sec 370 provides the operational definition of human trafficking many purposes of exploitation was not considered in 2013 (Criminal Law Amendment Act). The Bill ensures that all purposes including forced labor, begging, exploitative surrogacy, cyber-pornography is included and that is why it is comprehensive.
  3. Not only this Bill recognizes that a victim is subjected to inhuman pain & torture which is likely to cause a lot of damage in their minds and body, it puts in place safe spaces (Protective Home & Rehabilitation Home) that allow the healing to happen and mandates ‘rehabilitation’ as a right of the victim. This is perhaps for the first time that rehabilitation becomes such a core component of legal document.The Bill also ensures that foreign nationals trafficked to India are given all support for safe time-bound repatraition.
  4. It also recognizes that there are women in flesh trade who might not be trafficked and who are unwilling to be rehabilitated and provides a provision for voluntary exit through the intervention of a Magistrate.
  5.  The Bill also recognizes that not only the traffickers sometimes even the stakeholders mandated to provide protection are capable of victimizing a victim. Lack of accountability and dereliction of duties is a penal offense as per the Bill.
  6. At one end if the victim’s right to reintegrate is recognized at the other victim’s right for justice is mandated through a series of victim friendly criminal justice procedures including putting in place ‘victim witness protection’, video-conferencing and special courts
  7. The Bill recognizes mere rhetoric does not move anything on the ground and mandates budgetary provisions for rehabilitation, interim relief and compensation.
  8. While emerging trends such as cyber trafficking has not been covered in depth the Bill ensures that it takes into account the ever-expanding scope of human trafficking through cyber space. It puts in place both preemptive and deterrent clauses.
  9.   One of the major aspect that the Bill recognizes is that when a victim is rescued it might appear to be a local problem but it has state and national level implications if probed in the right manner. Hence all implementation mechanism from the local to the national level is put in place as legal statute.
  10. Finally the Bill recognizes that no human being deserves to be trafficked and puts in place a whole set of components targeting vulnerable groups to prevent the crime.              

No doubt there are many who will benefit if this Bill is stalled but there are million more who will benefit if the Bill is passed. While genuine fears can be resolved and addressed sooner or later but the millions of lives endangered can wait no more. 

I am standing before you as the voice of millions who want to be liberated from slavery and seek support from the State to create a safe mechanism to remove them from those dungeons of hell-holes to a world of options and opportunities.

I stand before you on behalf of millions whose human rights have been violated by commercial vested interests and who need justice for closure. 

I stand before you as a human being who is deeply anguished and angry about the growing impunity of criminals who believe even a 3 year old child should not spared.

There is a time in history, when you have to make a choice, on where you stand…this is that moment…If not now, When      


  

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