Human Trafficking…Headed to Bihar…
New Delhi-Not having left Delhi since returning to India late last June, Indians are constantly recommending places to visit. Manali. Mumbai. Kolkata. Leh. Srinagar. Goa. No one mentions Bihar. When I tell them that I am going there tomorrow, to one of the most impoverished and corrupt states in India, they suggest visiting Gaya, the place where Siddhartha Gautama “achieved enlightenment” while famously sitting beneath a still standing tree. Others simply make a face.
Rural Bihar may not be among the hundreds of popular tourist destinations present in this beautiful and ancient country, but the state does have it’s high points. Or perhaps had them.
Bihar is from where the Mauryan Empire, India’s first great empire, conquered much of what is now India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. After destroying the local governments left in place by the withdrawing armies of Alexander the Great and violently expanding north, the empire, which existed from 321 to 185 BC, ushered in a period of relative peace and stability. There was internal and external trade. Agriculture and economic activities expanded. The emperors Chandragupta and Ashoka promoted Jainism and Buddhism respectively. Buddhism especially was given importance, perhaps because Ashoka chose to dedicate himself to the religion after orchestrating a particular bloody battle, and the religion spread into China and across the rest of Asia.
Bihar has been continuously inhabited for 3,000 years, but now has the lowest GDP in India and a 2005 report declared it the country’s most corrupt state. I go there to work on a story on human trafficking, which is rampant in India.
According to a report prepared by the state government along with NGOs, most children smuggled from the state end up as bonded labourers, domestic workers and employees at roadside restaurants or small textile units.
So far this year 128 traffickers have been arrested in Bihar. In once recent raid that captured 28 traffickers, 91 women and 99 children were freed.
The Kosi flood last year exacerbated the already impoverished conditions in Bihar and there has been a rise in trafficking this past year as parents with too many mouths to feed sell their children in order to survive.
In Serbia, Kosovo, Ukraine, and China, human trafficking is something I keep coming across, but see compartivley few news reports on. While beginning to work on this story in Delhi I found most NGOs to be grossly irresponsible and more eager to promote their own organization than talk about people actually being trafficked. One NGO manager and I began yelling at each other after he wanted me to sign a legal document saying that his organization would receive a large amount of promotion in whatever article I did. Other NGOs agree to meetings and speak about the work that they are doing, but then do not come through with actually showing what they do. There is also a focus by most NGOs and government organizations on rescuing the trafficked people and receiving immediate media attention, but there is comparatively little effort made in preventing people from getting trafficked in the first place and rehabilitating them afterward to ensure they do not get trafficked again.
While the article and corresponding photographs will tell the story of different people that have been trafficked and then rescued in India, the focus will be on describing the existing conditions that allow trafficking to be possible and why the government sponsored rehabilitation packages rarely (at best) reach people that have been trafficked. The conditions that allow people to be trafficked will also not be explained so simply as by only describing the mass poverty that exists in rural villages. Poverty may be one of the main reasons that people are trafficked, but there is also a cultural acceptance of a certain degree of child labor and the fact that many of the traffickers are actually from the same rural villages the traffic people from. They build trust among people and make them believe they are going to make better lives when in fact they are prostituted or forced to work in abject conditions.
This article and set of pictures will be the first in what I hope will continue as a long term project on human trafficking. Bolivia, Kosovo Uzbekistan, and Cambodia are other countries I hope to visit for this story.