Friday, May 27, 2022


The recent Supreme Court directions in the Budhadev Karmasakar 135/2010 case is worrisome both in the way it is worded and the lack of application of mind in understanding ground realities. 

Before I elucidate my concerns let me state what the Apex Court has reiterated regarding the existing legislation ie. The Immoral Traffic Persons Prevention Act. It has very clearly stated in its directions that the existing legislation should be implemented strictly by all states which essentially means the following will remain criminal offences:

1.     Brothel keeping

2.     Pimping

3.     Living on the earnings of prostitution

4.     Detaining a person in a place of prostitution

5.     Procuring, inducing or taking a person for prostitution

While the existing legislation defines prostitution as sexual exploitation for commercial gains it is silent on whether it should be prohibited or banned. Further it is completely silent on selling sexual services independently without a pimp or a keeper which has perpetuated a notion that selling sexual services independently is not a crime in India. 

Coming back to the directions of the court; brothels will be closed; pimps & keepers will be arrested and human traffickers who will bring women & girls for prostitution will be apprehended. So, this has not changed on the contrary it has to be strictly implemented by all states.  


So, what is worrisome about the recent directions? Let me pick out three of the directions which are going to have long term implications.


1.     Firstly, the Apex Court liberally uses the term ‘Sex Work’ and accords it subtly a status of a profession. While stating that a person selling sexual services is like any other citizen and is entitled to all rights that our constitution provides, it is somehow worded in such a way that indicates that selling sexual services is a dignified profession. Let me personally reiterate that every human being who is a citizen of this country is entitled to all rights enshrined in our constitution and that is non-negotiable. But what work is dignified and what takes away every ounce of dignity is a separate matter and needs deeper understanding on what constitutes this form of work and its impact on self. 

I am deeply concerned how something which is intrinsically harmful for body, mind and soul can be dignified. It is also rather confusing as all these directions are in the context of rehabilitation of persons who are selling sexual services. If you notice I am mindfully avoiding using the term ‘sex worker’ as I do not accept this as a profession and considered it as the oldest form of sexual slavery. I can understand dignity out of the situation which is ‘rehabilitation’ but what is dignity in the situation I am unable to fathom. The learned Bench in their wisdom failed to clarify this in their direction.   

2.     It is universally known fact that significant number of women and girls are lured in the name of job, marriage, love and induced or forced into prostitution. It is also well known that the revenue from selling sexual services is very high, in fact it is considered low investment high profit industry and has been ranked as one of the fastest growing criminal enterprise. It is not very uncommon that the combined forces of social stigma and criminal intimidation coerces most victims to normalize the exploitation and they are easily tutored to say that they are doing it voluntarily or by their free choice. In the given situation pray tell me how will a law enforcer prime facie differentiate between a voluntary seller and trafficked person especially when all them are parroting the same lines taught to them?  So, by blindly directing that the police should not touch any voluntary worker, the learned Bench has only exposed their lack of understanding of the ground realities.  In my opinion what would have been more balanced position was to direct all concerned parties to come together and draw out a protocol that would help the law enforcer differentiate between a voluntary seller and a trafficked person. Even there I would think it is rather fishy if a voluntary seller is found in a brothel. If you are voluntarily selling it should be without a pimp/broker or brothel as per the law so what is voluntary worker doing with a pimp or a brothel keeper? Check out the modus operandi used by the police or NGOs for the rescue operation and you will know the number of ‘in between’ people involved before the actual person is found.  


3.     From my own personal experience of establishing and managing Protective Home for the rehabilitation of victims, it has been our observation that most victims take 2-3 months to disclose the true facts of their ordeal. In the mean time they would give us fake names, fake national identities and acknowledge all the pimps and brokers as their relatives in the court and constantly reinforce that they are in it voluntarily. It is only when a home investigation is done the conflict between all that is stated and the true facts surfaces. 

So, when the Apex Court directs that all Protective Homes should be checked and all adult women should be released, it indicates the myopic perspective that only minor girls are trafficked and adult women do it voluntarily. Have the wise judges contemplated on what the protocol should be followed to release the adult women so that they do not go back to the same situation especially if the rehabilitation is their primary concern! 

By the way, the directions speak extensively on the attitude of the police and the need for sensitization, I would say the judiciary is no better with this myopic understanding of the ground realities.


There are several other issues such as Aadhar Card and sexual assault that comes in the directions which are much welcome; but the proposed method of handling them leaves you with the feeling that this bunch has no clue what is the ground situation.  Most victims admitted in all the shelters are neither a member of any CBO or have any connection with AIDS Control Society. In fact, most of them do not want any such membership or affiliation. So, if NACO or SACS is the only way to get a Aadhar Card a good number will still not get it. 


I understand one of the Judge in the bench was to retire the next day and that was perhaps the reason for such hurry in issuing these directions, but whether it will benefit the intended group only time will tell. 

I can foresee a huge amount of confusion in rescue operations, increased police bashing and large contingent of criminals escaping under the grab of ‘voluntary work’.       


Tuesday, July 13, 2021


 Imagine, you or someone dear to you is going through a difficult time due to financial or emotional issues. You find yourself in a vulnerable situation, and as the days go by you are unable to see any solutions. A certain bleakness enters your being. Coincidently, all the support systems you usually banked on, have also failed you.


Add to this scenario, a bunch of people keeping an eye on you, watching your every move outside your house, your school, your work place, or even the social media platform that you frequent.  All this just to find an opportune moment to offer you lucrative options that you are desperately waiting for. Only that you don’t realize that this is a trap, which will gradually push you into a state of exploitation. On the face of it, these offers may appear beneficial to you under the circumstances, but in the long run they are largely favorable only to the ones making these offers. 


Human traffickers are all around us, on the ground and in the virtual world and their eyes are perpetually on the lookout for their next victim. It could be an abandoned or a runaway child, a broken family, communities devastated due to natural disasters, persons who have lost their livelihood, or persons who are emotionally deprived of attention and love. It could be just anybody.


Are these traffickers a small number? 

Unfortunately, No! Just looking at the thousands of children rescued from labor exploitation every year during Operation Muskaan or the number of women and girls removed from commercial sexual exploitation every month give us an insight into the numbers and the depth and breadth at which these networks operate.  If that does not convince you, try rescuing one victim from a place of exploitation and ensure that the victim is kept in a safe home on the directions of a legally competent body. You will soon see an endless line of persons at the court filing for custody of the victim. You will see how the network of traffickers works like a well-oiled machinery, while people are busy questioning organizations involved in rescue and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking. Maybe you could  try with a poor child begging outside an upscale mall or restaurant, try rehabilitating the child instead of reaching out for your wallet and experience the organized network of criminals! 


The business of exploiting the vulnerability of human beings for commercial gain is what the organized crime of human trafficking is all about. In a country like India, with a large population and a significant percentage of them below poverty line, human trafficking is largely an internal problem impacting hundreds and thousands of women and children within the country. Only a small percentage of women and girls are trafficked from across the borders into India. However, the number of persons from other countries being trafficked into India has slowly increased over the years, with persons from Bangladesh, Nepal, Tanzania, Ghana, Uzbekistan and Thailand sporadically being reported from different parts of the country.  

It is not as if men are not trafficked. But on the scale of vulnerability, and taking into consideration our regressive patriarchal norms, women, children and transgender persons find themselves more affected than men.


So, if human trafficking is such a great threat to internal security of the country why has the Government not taken take proactive measures to address the problem?                 


The drafters of our Constitution, perhaps, foresaw the pernicious capacity of this crime against humanity and therefore included prohibition on human trafficking under Article 23. The earliest form of human trafficking that the Government of India took notice of was the trafficking of women and girls for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. The special legislation ‘The Immoral Traffic Persons Prevention Act, 1956 did not criminalize the sale of sexual services by an individual but ensured that when it involves sexual exploitation of a person by another person and an institutional set up such as a brothel, a pimp, and other mechanisms of procuring of human beings for the purposes of sexual exploitation, it becomes a criminal offence. While laws like these were enforced to address not just sexual exploitation but also the issue of labor exploitation of children, a comprehensive mechanism to address the issue of human trafficking was sadly lacking for over 68 years till 2015. 


On the civil society front, organizations emerged from time to time that worked on various aspects of human trafficking. But it was only in early 1990s that these efforts became publicly visible and an internationally acceptable language in addressing the problem of human trafficking became clearer. This also corresponded with all international conventions and protocols that India ratified. Organizations such as Bachpan Bachao Andolan founded by Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi became one of the strongest voices, both nationally and internationally, on child labor trafficking. Several organizations such as Prajwala, Prerna, STOP, Sanlaap, Save The Children, Rescue Foundation, Shakti Vahini, Impulse etc. became powerful voices against trafficking of girls and women for commercial sexual exploitation. 


Civil society interventions led to many of us filing several Public Interest Litigations (PIL) praying for remedial action against this organized crime. One such - PIL 56/2004 - filed by Prajwala for bringing victim protection protocol and a comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation saw results 11 years after it was filed in 2015 when the Supreme Court directed the Government of India to draft a comprehensive legislation to combat trafficking. Thus, another chapter began in independent India to address an organized crime that is an absolute threat to life, dignity, and liberty of every disadvantaged Indian.


A big part of Prajwala’s petition was a demand for an organized crime investigating agency. This demand arose from the situation on the ground where practitioners not only from Prajwala but also from other grassroots organizations observed the highly organized manner in which human beings were procured and exploited. Combined with this was the fact that the state police could hardly do anything in crimes that started from another state due to jurisdictional issues. The situation of those human beings who belonging to another country was another reality completely. 

It is in this context that the need arose for an investigating agency that had pan-India powers for investigation and one that could provide focused attention on inter-state and cross-border human trafficking cases.               


In 2016, when the initial drafting of a comprehensive Trafficking in Persons Bill started, ideas ranging from setting up of a new body to designating Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) for investigating trafficking cases were thrown around. But gradually more clarity was gained and the Government decided to designate National Investigating Agency (NIA) as the Organized Crime Investigating Agency. 


I was very skeptical at this stage. How could an agency only dealing with terror related cases that impacts the national security deal with human trafficking cases, which are more layered and difficult to unearth in terms of one single agency or a single chain of events.


My doubts were put to rest when we got an opportunity to work with NIA on two cross-border trafficking cases. By the way many of you might not know that the National Investigating Agency has been handling human trafficking cases from 2019. 

Giving human trafficking cases high priority on par with high profile cases changed the tenor and handling of the case. Cases dealt by the state police would definitely apprehend the traffickers seen at the place of exploitation, but thereafter it would be just another routine case that would forget even the victim, leave alone the chain of traffickers who were involved in the crime anywhere. The cases would take the trajectory of any other petty case, the alleged offender getting bail much before perhaps even the victim being admitted to a safe home, and most cases going to an acquittal and perhaps, also the victim being re-trafficked. That said, I definitely cannot generalize that all cases handled by state police have met the same fate. This is so because I have personally witnessed the dynamic efforts of compassionate officers who changed the way human trafficking cases were dealt and perceived by the police. But this, I would humbly point out, is more due to the leadership, commitment, and vision of an individual charisma than a concerted, institutional effort. 


Coming back to NIA as dedicated institution for investigating human trafficking - in the two human trafficking cases involving several foreign nationals that I mentioned earlier, NIA ensured high quality of investigation and the alleged offenders could not get bail even a year after their arrest; the victims were supported through Prajwala and given all protection so that they could safely testify against the traffickers. I need to specifically mention this as most of us practitioners constantly lament about how quickly bail is given to traffickers and how they are all over the place trying to intimidate the victims.In one instance, when we as an organization felt that the victims should be safely repatriated to their country and any further court proceedings could be done virtually, NIA strongly opposed it legally. It took a while for us to understand the wholesome nature of their interventions and the long-term impact it might have on traffickers. 

I have personally worked on this mission for over 30 years and Prajwala the organization that I have founded has been here for 25years; but never have I heard fear in the language of a trafficker until the NIA cases came up. For the first time we witnessed victims absolutely confident that they will get justice sooner than they imagined. 


It is 2021 and the anti-trafficking bill has come full circle from the time it was first introduced in the parliament in 2018, which after being passed in the Lok Sabha, lapsed in the Rajya Sabha. Now the amended, draft Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Care & Rehabilitation) Bill is available in public domain and I sincerely hope it will be placed in one of the sessions of the parliament after all due diligence is completed. 


This Bill truly is a comprehensive draft that not only addresses all forms of human trafficking but also ensures that the organized crime perspective is not lost. Newer trends such as cyber-trafficking has also been brought into its fold. Apart from stringent punishments, accountability of all stakeholders including those managing protection services, has been mandated. 


For those who have never worked on human trafficking issues directly, it might be difficult to understand how this Bill is the most comprehensive effort ever and how an agency like NIA can play a critical role. Needless to say, our expectation is that a dedicated wing in NIA will be handling trafficking cases at the inter-state and cross-border level and the intra-state cases will be handled by the Anti Human Trafficking Units which are empowered as independent police stations.  

I just hope lack of understanding among some will not lead to misinformation about this critical Bill. Each one of its components is vital and will have a long-standing impact. A strong legislation is usually labelled ‘draconian’ by many. But let’s face facts, any matter related to external or internal security of a nation should be given the importance it deserves. 

In case you are genuinely concerned about the misuse of the provisions, which is possible in all legislations, then apply your mind on the safe-guarding mechanisms that should be incorporated into the draft Bill to protect it against misuse. So instead of panning the Bill, contribute to strengthening, what could be a landmark legislation in our fight against human trafficking.  But please do so now before the Bill goes to Parliament for discussion! Together, through this Bill, we all can shake the very existence of an exploitative criminal enterprise that is a threat to security of our nation. 



Wednesday, October 21, 2020


Many people have asked directly or indirectly why I am opposed to the advisory on ‘Human Rights of Women in the context of Covid19’ issued by NHRC to the Government. 

So, at the outset let me clarify the advisory is a laudable effort to ensure that all women including women in “sex work”(I have serious problems with this word) who have gone through extremely challenging times due to the Covid pandemic have been recognized and some recommendations have been made to ameliorate the situation. 

So where is the problem?

There are two from my perspective:

1.     Recognizing women in sex work under the ‘Women At Work' category and describing them as work in informal space.

2.     Directing the Government under Clause III B(ii) to provide registration to these women as workers which states “sex workers may be registered as informal workers and be registered so they get worker’s benefit”   

So why I am I outraged? 

As a deeply convinced abolitionist I personally believe that flesh trade is the oldest form of oppression in the world. Triggered from a patriarchal framework which believes in commodifying a woman’s body as a sexual object & has normalized the sale of sexual services as a matter of social/community requirement flesh trade has been here for centuries in various forms. In India it has also been an oppressive means to force and coerce women from the lowest caste to remain in a submissive state.  

But today for those fighting for ‘sex workers’ rights it is their firm belief that it is a matter of woman’s ‘self-determination’ to decide what she wants to do with her body. 

How I wish it was as simple and straight forward as people make it sound. 

Before we go any further, let’s understand the Indian law.

Is sale of sexual services illegal in our country. ‘No’ so long as it is between two consenting adults in a private space. 

But the moment the selling or buying comes into a public space it become illegal. So, soliciting is illegal, maintaining a brothel is illegal, living on the earnings is illegal and even detaining a person in a brothel is illegal.

Prostitution as we see it today is about pimps, brothel keepers and whole lot of other stakeholders who live on the earnings of a woman who is selling her body. 

Are these the persons who have to be registered? Because all of them are part of this outfit called ‘sex work’.

The thousands of women I have met who were removed from brothels, kept repeating multiple times during the time of removal/rescue that they were ‘here by their voluntary choice’. The same women when removed from that influence and relocated to a safer place spoke at length of a journey of constrained choices, deception and exploitation. A significant number of them were children when they were inducted into the trade. All this and more pointing out to trafficking in persons. This apart when you study the socio-economic profile of these persons, a huge majority are Dalits or tribal. Communities who have been socially oppressed for centuries and are forced, coerced or deceived to choose this option. So, by using fancy names does the oppressive systems become now liberating.  

The question then is how will the registration as ‘workers’ rule out that a victim of organized crime ie. Trafficking is not shown as a person who has voluntarily chosen this trade. 

Prostitution is a term which our law defines and so I will use that with confidence. The Immoral Traffic Persons Prevention Act defines ‘prostitution’ as sexual exploitation of a person for commercial gains. And that is the world of exploitation that I have witnessed across the country from red light areas of Budhwarpet (Pune), GB Road(Delhi), Kamatipura(Mumbai, Sonagachi (Kolkatta) to houses, apartments, resorts, hotels, spas, beauty parlors across the country. 

No police officer raids a place where two consenting adults have ‘paid sex’. It is mostly through a ‘pimp’/broker’ that a contact is made and thereafter the commercial transaction with multiple third parties such as organizers, brothel keepers and agents established, which is followed by a raid/rescue. 

So, when we say registration, are we saying ‘register’ these layers of exploitation and provide it legitimacy.


So, what does the Civil Society want? 

First of all, civil society is not a homogenous body. The larger civil society has three schools of thoughts one who believe this is a ‘necessary evil’ and should continue as it provides safety for their daughters, the second who believe that ‘sex work’ is a liberated term and provides safe framework for operations and a third group who believe that this should end.   

In terms of those who are working directly for this cause from multitude & diverse position I would say again there are largely three groups. 

The first group who works for the rights of ‘sex workers’ and believe that dignity and liberty is within ‘sex work’ and it should be considered as a ‘voluntary choice’ and represents ‘self- determination’ of those persons. Organizations such as SANGRAM(Sangli), Saheli (Pune), National Network of Sex Workers, Lawyers Collective come under this category.

There is a second group who also believe in ‘sex workers’ rights but have intwined themselves in the anti-trafficking brigade and prefer to be identified as anti-trafficking organizations and believe ‘sex workers’ should have rights at the same time the institutional elements such as brothel keepers, pimps and brokers should be eliminated. Organizations such as Sanjog(Kolkatta), HELP(Ongole) fall into this category.

And there is a third group with organizations like Prajwala (which I have founded), Shakti Vahini, Arz(Anyay Rahit Zindagi) and some others who are not only part of the anti-trafficking brigade but also believe that a person’s dignity and liberty is outside ‘sex work’ as this trade is intrinsically exploitative and is essentially a human rights violation and therefore work towards ‘sustainable exit options’.

What is common for all the groups? We all believe unanimously that relief and support must be provided.

While the pro ‘sex workers’ believe that it has to be done by maintaining and legitimizing ‘sex work’, those of us who belief that ‘sex work per say is fundamentally flawed and has only sustained oppressive systems believe all relief should be given paving way for rehabilitation. 

The position held by us, is the same position taken up both by the Government and the Hon’ble Supreme Court. 

In an important case in the Apex Court, Budhadev Karmasakar Vs State of West Bengal, Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra clarified and I quote :

“1. While concurring with the views of my learned brother Justice Altamas Kabir, I prefer to add in regard to the second issue that this Court should not be misunderstood to encourage the practice of flesh trade or advocate the recognition of sex trade merely because it has raised the issue to emphasize the rehabilitation aspect of the sex workers, for which this Court had taken the initiative right at the threshold. I consider this essential in order to allay any apprehension which prompted the Union of India to move this application for modification, by highlighting that the sex workers although have a right to live with dignity as the society is aware that they are forced to continue with this trade under compulsions since they have no alternative source of livelihood, collective endeavor should be there on the part of the Court and all concerned who have joined this cause as also the sex workers themselves to give up this heinous profession of flesh trade by providing the destitute and physically abused women an alternative forum for employment and resettlement in order to be able to rehabilitate themselves. I, therefore, wish to reiterate by way of abundant caution that this Court should not be perceived to advocate the recognition of sex trade or promote the cause of prostitution in any form and manner even when it had stated earlier in its terms of reference regarding conditions conducive for sex workers who wish to continue working as sex workers with dignity.

2. Thus, when we modify the earlier term of reference and state regarding conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution, the same may not be interpreted or construed so as to create an impression or draw inference that this Court in any way is encouraging the sex workers to continue with their profession of flesh trade by providing facilities to them when it is merely making an effort to advocate the cause of offering an alternative source of employment to those sex workers who are keen for rehabilitation. When we say conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity, we unambiguously wish to convey that while the sex workers may be provided alternative source of employment for their rehabilitation to live life with dignity, it will have to be understood in the right perspective as we cannot direct the Union of India or the State Authorities to provide facilities to those sex workers who wish to promote their profession of sex trade for earning their livelihood, except of course the basic amenities for a dignified life, as this was certainly not the intention of this Court even when the term of reference was framed earlier. 

3. We, therefore, wish to be understood that we confine ourselves to the efforts for rehabilitation of sex workers which should not be construed as facilitating, providing them assistance or creating conducive conditions to carry on flesh trade for expanding their business in any manner as it cannot be denied that the profession of sex trade is a slur on the dignity of women. Conditions conducive for sex workers to live with dignity in accordance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution be therefore understood in its correct perspective as indicated above. “


 So why has NHRC given such an advisory which is even violative of the Hon’ble Apex Court’s position?  


What should NHRC do?

I believe it should modify the contentious advisory without compromising on providing all relief and support to all marginalized women. 

With respect to women in prostitution, the advisory should direct the Government specifically through the Ministry of Health & National AIDS Control Organization(NACO) to reach out to all the persons in prostitution whom they are already directly in contact through their Targeted Interventions Programs to provide sustenance support till the end of Covid  pandemic and through Ministry of Women & Child Welfare, Ministry of Labor & Employment and Ministry for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship to provide support for alternate livelihood, livelihood training and micro-credit support. As NACO is in direct contact with these vulnerable groups they could facilitate through a special cell all of them receive civic identities such as Aadhar Card and Voter Card on a priority basis to access the Government schemes.

I believe the Government should take this up as this is the need of hour. For all of us who  are witness to the plight of the most the vulnerable this group stands out. Each one of us have in our own capacities reached out with support but at the end of the day it is only the Government which has the capacity to provide sustained support. Our committed support stands with the system to ensure that the last beneficiary is identified and supported.

We are standing today at an important point of history where we have to collectively take a decision whether we want to legitimize centuries old oppressive system (u may call it any fancy name) or bring in a new world of equality, liberty and dignity by building bridges for the oppressed to exit and access support.               

Wednesday, August 12, 2020



For the last one week the case of a child who was allegedly raped multiple times by a donor in an orphanage located in Hyderabad has bothered me and I have extensively used the social media platforms to express my pain and anger. 


This morning the child died.

And I am wondering whether she is in a better place now?


I am constantly disturbed by the apathy the community at large has about the rights of children. Somehow, they are not a priority. Most think that in any case in a few years they will become adults so why bother. Life just does not matter!


And that is why perhaps it absolutely does not make any big headlines that India is producing the highest content of child sexually abusive material in the world. This is as per the report of NICMEC a validated American organization that is involved in monitoring and reporting the online child sexually abusive material. Close to 2 million contents were reported from India which is over 11% of the total reports from all over the world. 


Why is this not bothering us? Why are we not shaken to know that thousands of our children are being sexually exploited and raped? 


While the suicide of an actor, daily investigation of smuggling case, political horse-trading and so many other ‘very important’ issues including making or breaking of religious structures  get supreme importance in both electronic and print media…and the journalists are scrambling to report it day in and day out… 9pm channels are filled with heated debates….a child dying of a systemic failure, a child being raped by those who pledged to protect her…a child being rejected by her family and the system just does not bother us!


Ohhh…I am sorry we do react…and we react strongly…. using our social media platforms…. press meets…candle lights…. protest marches….in selective cases that makes some sense to our needs.


So what are the cases that makes sense to us….we love brutality….so any brutal case will be a great priority, we are scared if it happens in our neighborhood or to somebody who belong to our own social strata or somebody we can economically relate to…so anybody belonging to our social strata we will start screaming our protests….we love political position so anything that relates to our vote bank is something we will definitely jump around. 


Interestingly there are political leaders in Hyderabad who will raise their voice to the highest pitch when a child is being raped in Jammu/Kashmir but they maintain perfect silence when a child is being raped just next door in Hyderabad.


Our state and system are also equally selective. Any case that gathers huge media momentum and political mileage, that case definitely will be fast tracked and not just compensation but all kind of financial support will be offered.

I am not saying that those cases don’t deserve that support, what I am saying is that every child/girl/woman who is sexually assaulted should also get equal access to all that support. 


After years of working on the issue of sex crime against children and providing a safe haven for hundreds of such children who face threat perception from their perpetrators, what I see is over 70% of cases are pending for last 4 years. Hardly 30% of the children have received small amounts of interim relief fund from the District Administration. And that too only when we have constituted a team whose only job is to follow up and ensure papers move. Not a single child got relief as a matter of right.   


I am angry about what is becoming of us….I am angry that we collectively fail as humanity….I am angry that we as a society feel helpless about our own inadequacies…I am  angry that the State response most often is only reactionary and does not put in place systemic processes that ensures equal access to justice for all…I am angry that we tolerate all this….I am angry that this incident will bother some of us but in a few seconds life will move with no remnants in our memory till the next incident happens…


I want to break our hypocrisy…I want to break our pseudo stands…I want to break the power mongers whose political position is the only real thing for them….and a child’s life matters only when it suits them.


I know I am raving and ranting. 

But all I want to reiterate- your inaction, your silence, your apathy, your self-centeredness and your indifference is not going to break my spirit

I will continue to fight, continue to flag these issues even if it makes me unpopular, continue to support those violated with a safe space and continue to be the voice of the voiceless…And you can rest assured that there will be many more like me here & elsewhere who will be bearing this torch now and for years to come…till every human being is respected with dignity and systems become really functional for all.





Tuesday, August 11, 2020


Currently in between a case of a 14 year old orphan girl who was allegedly sexually assaulted repeatedly by a donor of an orphanage while the founder of the orphanage and her brother are abettors in the crime. As per the child's version the lady managing the orphanage had send her to this man(in the same building where the orphange is located) who drugged her and sexually assaulted her. This seems to have happened multiple times.  

The information came out when the child was sent back to her relatives during the Covid lockdown (as per Govt orders all Child Care Institutions were directed to send back children to any safe relative) on March 21st, 2020.

For 4 months she lived with her uncle whom she apparently had informed about the abuse. For reasons best known to the child & the family, the child was physically beaten up continuously by her uncles during the stay. Reliable information also points out that the uncle tried to leave the girl back to the same orphanage at least on three occasion but the home refused to take back the child citing Covid.


After four months the uncle decided to send the child to another aunt on July 28th, 2020. Seeing the physical condition of the child (she could hardly walk) the aunt was concerned and when she probed, the child once again described her plight.Alarmed by the information, the aunt rushed to the police and booked a case against the perpetrators on 29th July, 2020

While the police  did take the case promptly and the sexual assault was booked and the arrests were made but interestingly the abuse that had happened during the 4 months with the uncles was completely ignored.

Interacting with the legally competent bodies who dealt with the case,I have come to understand that the girl could hardly walk when she was taken to the police station or to other places. She was visibly sick, appeared severely malnourished and had deep fresh bruises all over her body mainly on her thighs.

The aunt deposed before Child Welfare Committee that she is unable to take responsibility so  finally the child was admitted in the Government Home. The officials in the home, seeing the dire health conditions of the child admitted her to the Government Nilofer Hospital for children after completing all the legal formalities including 

recording her statement and medical examination. 

Simultaneously another case was booked against the uncles on the intervention of CWC.

The child's condition after she was admitted in the hospital worsened inspite of all the care & attention. Multiple complications including a clot in the brain, septicimia,urinary infection etc. 


Right now the girl is battling for life with less than 1% chances of recovery, she is on ventilator support and her condition is critical. 

I am have we so miserably failed our children? For many of us this will be another feel sad...maybe get outraged...rave & rant about what is going wrong and move on....

But a life is on its way out...just 14years that brief period she has experienced rejection, indignity, violation and betrayal...rape & physical name it...she has experienced it.   

I am flooded and challenged with multiple questions...

-Who is accountable for this child's life?

-Should safe homes/orphanages/child care institution allow donors/visitors to have direct contact with the child?

-What are the non-intrusive means to monitor and track all safe homes/institutions?

-Should the licensing authorities also be taken to task for issuing registration/licensing for organisations who have questionable protocols?

-What is the fate of children whose family & institution are unsafe?

-How can we ensure that our children get at the minimum a safe place to live?

As I wait for the final updates of the child...a deep vacuum engulfs me....


Saturday, June 27, 2020


As a focused and determined anti trafficking advocate, I have been a staunch admirer of the Government of United States for many years for the simple reason that this country has been a global leader and has rightly invested in its commitment to fight the global menace of human trafficking.  Individuals like me were recognized by the US Government as TIP Heroes way back in 2009 giving us the much-needed back-up and moral strength to continue our mission. 

The Trafficking Victim Protection Act (TVPA), 2000 is perhaps one of the earliest comprehensive legislation to address trafficking in persons with a three-pronged approach of prevention, protection and prosecution.  Over the years several praiseworthy measures were taken by US both domestically and internationally including engaging with survivor advocates. 

Having said this, I also have been a consistent critic of the utility and relevance of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report that the US Government releases every year end June. This report is something like a Global ‘Report Card’ for over 187 countries on their efforts to end human trafficking. Based on certain indicators countries are placed in different Tiers. The countries placed in the lowest tier, Tier III face imposed with certain non-humanitarian and non-trade related sanctions by the United States Government. 

The intentions are noble, making Governments accountable to act and take proactive efforts to end human trafficking. But does it really have the same impact in all countries? 
I seriously doubt! Here are my reasons.

Firstly, no economically stable country including USA will like to have another country playing ‘headmaster’ to them. Some poorer countries have no voice whatsoever due to their economic conditions.

Secondly, now coming to the quality of the content.  By its own admission the report is prepared from information received from US Embassies, government officials, non-governmental and international organizations, published reports, news articles, academic studies and research trips to every region of the world. It is certainly not being impugned that the contents are false, but what I would definitely point out is that there are far too many ‘hearsay’ in the Report, without any substantial empirical evidence being quoted therein. 

For example, let us take the India report 2020.  It states that as per NGO estimates there are 8 million bonded labor in India. Is there a substantiated document that can validate how this figure was arrived? Not that I agree to the Government figures and all of us definitely know the numbers are always higher than what is quoted officially; but to give it a numerical value one definitely needs to have more evidence. Similarly, several anecdotal incidences are broadly generalized to reflect the country’s situation. For a large country like India which is more like a sub-continent in itself, this approach is grossly unjust. The reports for all the countries have a generous dose of inputs from well-intentioned NGOs, who perhaps genuinely want to change the situation. However, if the concerned Government does not even give the report a basic weightage largely due to its unsubstantiated claims -  Where do you expect the change to happen - in USA??? 

Thirdly, every sovereign, democratic country has their own domestic laws which defines how they will treat their adult or child victims. It is grossly unfair for one country to judge another country by their domestic standards and value systems.  

Fourthly the US Government decided to include United States with 186 countries almost 10 years after it first brought the TIP Report. Fair to say, this might be because of the large-scale vocal criticism from many including people like me who questioned whether US has the moral authority to comment about other countries when they have not done an evaluation of TIP about their own country!

But finally seeing the US country report - it was like, ‘you prepare the question paper, you give your own scores, and irrespective of the scores given, you place yourself on top of the class!!!’ Well US Government very happily places itself on Tier I
I can modestly say a few hundred anti-trafficking advocates working in US will have serious reservations regarding this assessment!   

Yesterday after I read the TIP Report I had tweeted and expressed my reservations. A friend asked me ‘how can you write like this, you work so closely with them’. All that I wanted to say in response was ‘this is how any Government might feel about the NGOs who work closely with them and also contribute information to US-TIP Report. 

Anti-trafficking work is done in collaboration and in partnership with civil society stakeholders. None of the stakeholders cannot work in silos. Imagine what one stakeholder will feel about the other if they have to deal with the fact that the other is reporting to some foreign country, of course, with the virtuous intention of correcting the former. 

Personally, I will feel very uncomfortable and would be wary of such partnership!

While the intentions are noble, definitely the impact is absolutely undesirable. If a report ends creating hostile environment for proactive work to happen then such reports are more a headache than a weapon one can use for advocacy. 

If one has to consider some impactful reports that has positively contributed to proactive action by the Governments of several countries including India, I would say the United Nations Office for Drugs & Crime (UNODC) Global Report on Trafficking in Persons has been a powerful report. The strength of the report comes from its neutral status, the way the contents are structured and the quality and authenticity of the information. While it does report about all countries, there are no sanctions imposed, no gradings done, the concerned stakeholder gets a clearer picture of the trends in their country, the gaps in intervention and possible solutions. Due to its unique position, UNODC is able to engage with the Government and influence them to look at the report proactively and thereafter also becomes a part of the solution. There is a sense of partnership at every level. Many civil society organizations will comfortably raise issues on the UNODC platform with 100% confidence that the concerns stated will reach the right authority and will be taken in the correct perspective. 

While I applaud the efforts of the US Government for their commitment and actions to end this modern slavery consistently for the last 20 years…but I do think after two decades it is a good time to reflect and evaluate whether this approach of bringing a Global TIP Report is having the desired impact.

Change will come when each country will have the courage to look inwards at themselves and recognize the magnitude and extent of the problem within their territories….change will come when each country will constitute independent bodies to bring out their own TIP Reports…change will come when each country will value all its citizens as precious human beings who should not come to any harm…change will come when the inner awakening compels you to pledge zero tolerance to any form of slavery or exploitation.  

Friday, August 23, 2019


For Rahima(name changed to protect identity) 17yrs,a first year auto mechanic polytechnic student brought up in a conservative muslim family in Bangladesh it was fun to slyly take her father's mobile phone and randomly speak to her friends. In one such occasion she picked a WhatsApp call from a stranger who said his name was Moajjem. Slowly a friendship developed and soon her friend was desperate to see her in person.
With a lot of difficulty Rahima went to meet Moajjem. She took her 3yr nephew Norba also with her to avoid any suspicion. Moajjem turned out to be everything that she imagined in a man far away from a conservative world. When Moajjem professed his love for her, she was ready to go to any extent to be with her man. Moajjem was very clear, staying in Bangladesh would pose a lot of difficulty from her family and that is why India would be the best destination to start a new life.
Rahima eloped with Moajjem locking her sister and nephew in room. She was happy to be with Moajjem who took care of her with so much love and passion. She could wear what she wanted, she could eat what she wanted and most importantly she could see the world. Although illegally crossing the border posed quite a few challenges but she noted with pride that her boyfriend seem to be having a lot of influence with both the Bangladesh and India border police. Throughout the journey Moajjem did not touch her and treated her with great respect.
Entering the Indian border and reaching Kolkatta was uneventful and from there they immediately boarded a train to Hyderabad. While Rahima was curious why they did not stop at Kolkatta itself as it looked more familiar, Moajjem convinced her that they need to get away as far as possible.
When they reached Hyderabad, Rahima was kept in a nice flat with all amenities.
After two days, Moajjem said he has to leave to Bangladesh to get some important documents, he also said he needs to take divorce from his wife. Rahima was shocked and started crying. Moajjem held her and forced her to have sex and then told her 'now you are mine I will never let you go'. Moajjem took her to his best friends a couple named Viplob @ Sohel and Bisti. Who welcomed her to their family! They promised to take care of her unti Moajjem came back.

One day, Shujan another friend of the couple who was visiting them casually mentioned that she could 'dance' and earn some great money as she has not completed her polytechnic. Bored and lonely Rahima agreed. For two months she danced in bars and pubs. Shujan, Viplob and Bishti will continuously show her how much money she is earning and assured her that they were keeping it in safe keeping till Moajjem came back. The way they took care of her was incredible. She was not even allowed to wash her own clothes and there were days that Bishti would personally feed her. Biryani and rich food was daily diet.

One day during dance, Shujan introduced her to Sai who tole her come with him for another dance. With Shujan's encouragement, Rahima went with Sai who took her to a room. After raping her, he kept her in captivity for 8 months. Taking her escorted to several places in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka Rahima was forced into prostitution. His 'so called' mother Vijaya was his main supporter.

Then the news came to Viplob that Rahima's parents had filed a missing complaint and Moajjem was arrested. Immediately Viplob negotiated with Sai and brought back Rahima. The story that Rahima was fed is that Viplob was searching for Rahima for 8 months and finally after forcing Shujan, he found her. He paid a huge price to get free!!!

When Bangladesh Police called Viplob he immediately made them speak to Rahima who was so grateful to Viplob for saving her and told the same to Police. She also told that she voluntarily came with Moajjem and they should immediately release him.

Informed by our Bangladesh Parter,Justice & Care who works very closely with the Bangladesh Police regarding the suspicious nature of the case I immediately passed on all the information to our own Commissioner Mahesh Bhagwat. Rest is history, in 10 days & nights the girl was rescued. Sold and resold five times by Moajjem,Viplob/Bishti, Shujan,Sai and back to Viplob@Sohel/Bishti and violated by thousands of men, Rahima still thinks Viplob & Bishti are her well-wishers. Throughout the night after the rescue she kept repeating they are her relatives and they live in Kolkatta!!!

All the five traffickers, three Indians and three Bangladeshi have been arrested by Telangana Police and Bangladesh Police respectively. Perhaps a unique case where arrests have been made from the source to the destination in a international case.

A lot of reflections when I was dealing with the case:
-How we as parents are dealing with the emotional deficit that our children go through?
-Do we realize that this can happen to any of our dear & near ones and for months together while being exploited she may not even realize what is going on?
-That grooming and emotional manipulation is the main modus operandi in most cases of sex trafficking!