Understanding Trafficking in Madhya Pradesh – Interview with Prashant Dubey
Over the past few years, Prerana’s Anti-trafficking Center (ATC) has been instrumental in documenting challenges while working on anti-human trafficking (AHT) in India including the accomplishments and insights of anti-trafficking activists and service providers. In July 2019, our ATC team met with Mr. Prashant Dubey, Founder of Aawaj, Bhopal in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Established in 2013, Aawaj works with anti-trafficking initiatives in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Their work at present mainly deals with advocacy, research, on field assistance in conducting rescues but they eventually hope to work more on preventive interventions in AHT.
Prashant started his journey from volunteering in libraries and working with local organizations in his village in Hoshangabad, Madhya Pradesh. Having been in the field for 19 years now, he sees his perspective as having evolved from a welfare-based approach to a rights-based approach. When Aawaj started in 2013, there was no organization specifically working with anti-trafficking initiatives in Bhopal. Bhopal does not have a conventional red-light area as such, but the trade functions in a dispersed manner. Aawaj began its work with the Fakeeri community. Fakeers are a nomadic community from Sagar, Bundelkhand, where instances of children being pushed into prostitution have been reported in the past. They are known to beg to make a living but the community does not perceive their way of living as begging and see it as ‘asking for alms’. Prashant indicates a possible complicity between trafficking and the community, hence their work started with this community.
Aawaj started their work with an activity center in Aishbagh, Bhopal which eventually evolved into an educational center. Prashant said that when they began, they saw working with education as an entry point into the community before addressing the issue of trafficking. Their larger goal remains to work with protection and advocacy. They wanted to do substantial groundwork on their own and subsequently start advocacy, based on their field experiences.
Aawaj’s work in the community
Aawaj engages extensively with young people in their preventive interventions. In partnership with UNICEF, Aawaj working on an initiative to make youth understand child protection. Through the National Service Scheme (NSS) in colleges, they are reaching out to youth, creating awareness on child protection when working with the youth. He believes that it is important to make young people change makers and bring a sense of responsibility in them towards their communities.In his words, the preventive measures that Aawaj is undertaking in Bhopal in collaboration with NSS in colleges to ‘’make young people the ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ to keep a vigil on child protection’’. At present, they are working with 380 National Service Scheme (NSS) units in Madhya Pradesh with around 100 students in each unit.
Aawaj also runs a fellowship program for young people to become changemakers and spread awareness through whatever means they can. The youth group that they have been working with has staged over a 100 street plays on child protection.It includes people in the age group of 18 to 30 years of age. They meet every fortnight to hold discussions, under the name “Rubaroo”. Prashant shared an observation that he felt was interesting about the Rubaroo group. When the group began to meet, around 70 percent of people acknowledged and agreed with granting death penalty to offenders of child sexual abuse but through discussions, they have begun to reason out the implications of a sentence like death penalty on the larger society. Prashant says that it is too early to see it as an impact. He sees it as a trend that may or may not change in the long run. Through mobilizing and creating awareness amongst the youth, they have managed to curb around 12-15 cases of trafficking. However, Prashant shares that though their work on prevention has been limited, he hopes to see it grow with time.
At this point, Aawaj does not work with rehabilitation of a victim after the rescue as they do not have the resources to continue working with victims’ post rescue. Aawaj believes that they are a youth led organisation, that has a strong relationship with media. They also encourage their youth to write on social justice platforms about the issues of child protection and juvenile justice. As a future goal, Aawaj wants to work exclusively on the prevention front. They require legal support and hope to provide psychological services to the victims when they have the resources.
In their interventions, they give a lot of importance to media presence and outreach. They facilitate content for media and also help them in research on child protection for their programming. Prashant himself anchors shows on All India Radio, and Doordarshan on issues of child protection. In his opinion, engaging with media is important to advocate for an issue. Being a former journalist himself, he sees merit in keeping the media in the loop of what is happening in the field of child protection.6
The case of missing children
Prashant narrated an incident to the team when in 2008, he was traveling to the Mandla district in Madhya Pradesh he came across the reports about missing girls in the area. At the time of his visit, 16 girls were reportedly missing. To understand the situation better, he visited around 750 homes across 9 districts. He also filed an RTI, where he got to know that 22 children were going missing each day, with 3 children among them never to be found again. He was keen on finding out where those children were and how they were going missing. Upon inquiry, he also realized that most of the children that had gone missing belonged to the Scheduled Castes’ (SC) and Schedule Tribes’ (ST) or other marginalised communities. One of the children that was found eventually and had been trafficked to Iraq, shared that she had seen around 150 more girls with her that were being trafficked. Prashant also stated he had observed many of the girls were being trafficked for labor, for prostitution, and marriage.
Prashant felt that incidences of missing children had also gone up in the Satpura region which happens to be a region that has less police deployment, thus less access to the police stations (Prashant Dubey, Madhya Pradesh Mein Neelaam hota Bachpan (2013) (Unpublished research report, Vikas Samwad). Through fieldwork and inquiry, Prashant gradually realized that trafficking was happening in a very organized manner, with traffickers being aware of who the girls in the neighboring villages were, and also being aware of their school and home addresses. He suspected that school and railway officials were also a part of the procurement of the children that are trafficked. He had also come across Grameen Haat Bazaars (Local village markets) as the pickup points for traffickers. He believed that, girls were being trafficked as per the requirements of the traffickers. He elucidated with an example saying that if someone demanded a girl with certain specific features and asked the trafficker to find someone to fit this description, the trafficker was so well aware of the women and girls in the village, that they could provide for the ‘demand’. He had also met with the once ‘missing children’, who had now come back. Through those interactions, he got to know how while being trafficked in trains, the trafficker would manage to get a seat on the opposite berth of the victim, to keep an eye on her/him. They would also have separate tickets so that if caught, the trafficker can pretend to not know the victim.
Recent trends in trafficking
Speaking on the destination crimes of trafficking, he shared that Madhya Pradesh serves as a source, a destination as well as a transit for trafficking. Child trafficking for labor, sex, organ trade and marriage is reported in the region. Among the major destinations for trafficking are Delhi, Maharashtra specifically Mumbai, Goa, and West Bengal. Trafficking also happens internally within the state of Madhya Pradesh with children being trafficked from one part of the state to the other. Minor boys are also trafficked to the southern part of India.
Prashant also spoke about girls from scheduled tribes being sold in Gharanas to work as dancers (and subsequently are made available to customers for sex in exchange of money). In Ujjain, the Pujaris (priests) themselves act as pimps for the girls. In Khajurao, he has come across cases of sexual exploitation of children where the caves feature various carvings that depict sexual positions. There exist networks of traffickers who find customers at these archaeological sites. He has come across albums being made available to the customers to make a choice. The pimps scout these places to look for customers. In his experience, there are also instances where a group of tourists is taken to a field where a young tribal girl strips her clothes, while the audience takes images. The tourists are brought to the location by an agent who takes money from them to allow them to click pictures and gives a part of the money to the girl.
Prashant also shared about trafficking instances where children were being ‘leased’ out by parents for a few years for camel grazing. These instances have been observed in Gujarat, Rajasthan and MP too but remain undocumented. He shared that the child is leased on a seemingly ‘legal’ document on a stamp paper, so the parents think that this process is legal, unaware that the child is being trafficked.
There are religious linkages to trafficking too, in Prashant’s experience. Boys are being trafficked for Pandityakarma with many children that are native to Chhattisgarh, being trafficked to Mumbai. As part of the religious rituals, the boys have to be fed by the devotees. The more the children are fed, the more they are paid by the devotees. The children are made to over-eat to get dakshina (alms). Trafficking also has been observed in the name of Madrassas. Children are brought to madrassas for religious teachings but then are made to work as child labour. In one case, the children had been working in a juice factory for three years in a dingy place, till they were rescued.
On drug addiction and dependence, Prashant shared that there was no de-addiction center in over 53 districts in Madhya Pradesh. He shared that he had come across pamphlets in Aishbagh, advertising that ‘nashe k sath, ladki free’ (get together with a girl free of cost when you buy narcotics). Who these girls were and how they landed in this situation remains unclear. In another area, Koh-e-fiza, he spoke of prostitution where girls were being flown in from metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai. He was unsure of how these young girls were trafficked and the nature of the trade since this was operating in posh localities.
Speaking on intergenerational trafficking , Prashant shared that traditionally, the Bedia community would get customers through the Rai dance form that they practised. In Banchadda community, their eldest daughter would enter the trade but the other daughters might get a choice if they want to join the trade or not. The brother and father act as pimps for their sisters and daughters. Prashant also shared that some 5 years ago, around 50 girls were rescued from families in these communities as they were not their biological daughters. The community has now begun to buy girls from other places to force them into prostitution. Girls are being trafficked from Nepal, Bangladesh and from other states as well. Odisha has emerged as a source of trafficking for marriage.
This is part one of the interaction, part two will be posted in the next month. The interaction was insightful in understanding trends of trafficking in Madhya Pradesh as understood by local partners. It is a part of the many interactions that are held by the ATC team to document human trafficking in India. Watch this space for more.