At the age of 15, she found herself in a house in Haryana – over a 1,000 km away from her village in Jharkhand – washing utensils and sweeping the floor. This was in 2020.
“I only stayed there for five days because I found out that I had been ‘sold’ to them… I’d get no money for the work I’d do, so I fled,” said the girl, who’s now 18 years old.
She stumbled upon the phone number of the Jharkhand Child Welfare Committee and found her way back home to her village in Jharkhand’s Simdega district soon after.
Within a year, she had been trafficked again – this time to a house in Punjab to take care of two children.
Seated inside her crumbling mud house in Simdega, she recalled the torture she underwent there. “The employers would beat me up with their bare hands, tie me up with a plastic rope if I asked for my salary. Once I tried to run away and they dragged me up the stairs and I hurt myself badly…” she alleged, as her voice trembled.
Trafficked, rescued, re-trafficked – The Quint heard the same story, house after house in village after village in Simdega.
This is the story of how and why young girls are trafficked to cities multiple times; the cycle of poverty that forces them out of the villages; and why merely rescuing is not enough to ensure their safety.
‘I Was Trafficked Again, Beaten Up This Time’
The 18-year-old girl showed the scars on her hands and legs – gashes that have begun to fade with time. A complaint was filed at the local police station against those who trafficked her but she has no updates on the matter.
“I am afraid of men now. I only speak to women… Sometimes at night, I hear banging on the door. I think it’s being done by relatives of those who trafficked me. They are doing this to trouble me since I went to the police,” she claimed.
The 18-year-old lives close to the village of the minor girl, who was rescued from her employer’s home in Haryana’s Gurugram early February. The minor had been assaulted over months, allegedly by her employers. On 18 February, The Quint travelled to Jharkhand with the minor and her mother.
Both the minor and the 18-year-old have similar stories – they are from the Gond tribe, there is no money at home, and both got trafficked to big cities where they got assaulted.
Every second house here has at least one girl who was trafficked. There are hundreds of girls who are trafficked from the district each year. Why? Because there aren’t enough jobs for women in this area. There’s so much poverty. Parents want the children to earn money not just to take care of the house but also so that the girls can feed themselves.
Lalita Kumari, a sub-inspector in Simdega police
‘No Option But to Take Up Job in City’
For the 18-year-old, it was the dire situation at home that led her to Haryana and then Punjab. “My father died when I was a child. I live alone with my mother… My mother does a little bit of farming but we do not have much land. We just about manage to survive,” she said.
The 18-year-old said that she had “no option but to take up these jobs in cities.” Little did she know what awaited her in these homes.
Meanwhile, Sub-Inspector Kumari said that she often visits Delhi to rescue young girls who hail from Jharkhand. “An FIR is registered in most cases, and many girls are enrolled in school again once they are back,” said Kumari.
The 18-year-old had dropped out of school, and while she would like to go back to studies now, she’s “scared of leaving home.” For now, her life revolves inside the crumbling house, and the kitchen garden.
Teary-eyed, she said, “I want to find work or study but I do not know how to move on. Why does this always happen to me?”
A few kilometres away, in another village, The Quint met a 26-year-old woman who was repatriated with her family in 2021 – three years after she first left home for work in Delhi’s Pitampura.
Though she was not a minor when she took up the job, her experience has left the young woman scarred. In the three years that she spent in that Delhi house taking care of a child, she was allowed to speak to her mother twice.
“We thought she had died,” said her mother, a woman in her 50s, who works as a farmer. The woman has two brothers and together they own an acre of land in which they grow paddy once a year.
Seated inside her three-room mud house, the 26-year-old woman claimed that the employer used to slap her. Isolated and afraid in an alien city, she confided in the other domestic help who worked in that Delhi house. “Sometimes, we would coordinate and go downstairs… And then I would call my mother from her phone,” she recalled, as tears rolled down her face.
‘Traffickers Target Scheduled Tribes, Vulnerable Groups’: NGO Shakti Vahini
Back home in her village, her aunt alerted NGO Shakti Vahini and she was brought back home in November 2021. “When I met my family after three years, everyone started crying. They could not believe that I was finally home,” she said.
After she was rescued, the employers paid her Rs 60,000 – far less than the money that she was promised when she was offered the job.
Rishi Kant, from NGO Shakti Vahini that helps rescue trafficking survivors, told The Quint that the “most vulnerable groups in Jharkhand, particularly those from Scheduled Tribes, are targeted by traffickers and placement agencies.”
He said; The traffickers are often from within the community. The girls are mostly from tribal communities and low-income families. They take up jobs because they want to support their families and because there are very few employment opportunities.
‘Area is a Conflict Zone, Prefer Girls Find Work Outside’: Kin of Trafficked Woman
Limited work opportunities are what led the 26-year-old woman to leave for Delhi.
She said, “I used to earn Rs 250 as a daily wage worker, and that’s when the traffickers told me that I can earn much more if I move to Delhi. I left without telling anyone.”
The family too didn’t raise any objections when they found out. Her aunt told The Quint,
Our area is a conflict zone and we were afraid that she would get involved with the Naxals like many in our village do. That’s why we wanted her to start some work. Aunt of the 26-year-old who was trafficked
Lalita Devi who works with Simdega-based NGO Sakhi Mandal, pointed out the reasons why many girls get re-trafficked.
She said, “We counsel rescued girls so that they do not get re-trafficked. We also give them skills-based training so that they can earn their livelihood… But there are very few job opportunities around here. The region is not the safest for women and there are still so many cases of forced child marriages and witch-hunting.”
She claimed that “young girls are also offered money to join the Naxals… And, sometimes, they end up going back to the cities with traffickers.”
(This is part two of the The Quint’ series on trafficking of minors from Jharkhand to big cities. Read part one here.