India is in denial of the fact that a majority of its women do not feel safe alone on the streets, at work, in markets, or at home, even though they have learned how to cope with this existential anxiety. When I asked young educated women in Delhi if they feel safe, most said no. And most of those who said yes had learned to modify their behaviours to feel safe – they don’t go out alone unnecessarily; come home at night before dark; get permission to go out; are always careful and alert; and they censor their speech, their clothes and their body posture, including whether or not they look men in the eyes. Indian women are in a constant state of vigilance, like a country on terrorist alert. For rape there is no fixed time: always be alert. No democracy is a democracy when half its population lives in fear. India – and the rest of the world – would do well to make women’s safety and freedom central goals of democracy and development, and learn about the science of cultural change.
In the era of equality nothing much has changed, girls are molested, raped and burned alive by the male counterparts, nothing much has changed for the daughters of India. In our country of an estimated 20 million commercial sex workers, 16 million women and girls are victims of sex trafficking according to non-government organisations working in India. Most of the poor girls pushed into sex trade by family members to counter poverty. The father literally bargains for perks while letting go his daughter in an agent’s hand. Once the girls were gone, families rarely found out what had happened to them and had no further communication at all. Researchers found 78% of girls sold for commercial sexual exploitation were from West Bengal.
Official data in 2019 showed that West Bengal accounted for about a fifth of India’s 5,466 cases of human trafficking with the state both a source and a transit location for women and children trafficked into the sex trade. Reports of human trafficking in India rose 25% in 2015 compared to the previous year, with more than 40% of cases involving children being bought, sold and exploited as slaves, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. In the recent past, a study led by the My Choices Foundation in partnership with major anti-trafficking groups across India, found the average age of girls being trafficked had fallen to age 10-14 in recent years from 14-16 in the past. Fathers in rural India are the targets of a new campaign to stop traffickers trapping young girls into the sex trade as research showed the average age of girls forced into prostitution had dropped with some as young as eight. But a key finding was the role of fathers with researchers discovering that traffickers were convincing fathers to give away their daughters by promising to arrange a marriage without the need to pay a dowry to the boy’s family or a job in a metro city. Apart from selling or bartering daughters, the large numbers of missing girls are mostly found in the flesh trade, especially from rural areas.
Researchers also found during work in the field that parents were also unwilling to report a missing girl to the police fearing stigma. Few months ago two minor tribal girls of the same family, aged 12 and 14, who went missing from Lemru village of Korba district were rescued from traffickers. 11 people, including 3 women, were arrested. The girls were raped by six ‘customers’ and were kept confined at a farmhouse. One of them was almost sold and she was supposed to be sent to another city for flesh trade. Girl trafficking is strengthening its roots in tribal dominated regions or in the rural villages, where jobs and the economy are in big crises. On grounds of providing jobs in metro cities and also locally, where girls get exploited. Last year, a 17-year-old girl was sold and pushed into the flesh trade in Thane, Mumbai. She was hailing from Bangladesh and was repeatedly raped by her friend’s acquaintance, while promising marriage at her native place. In the same month, he sold her to agents (involved in trafficking) in Bangladesh who in-turn sold her to their counterparts in India. The girl was subsequently brought to Thane district; she was taken to customers at various places in Thane, Vashi in Navi Mumbai, Mumbai and Bangalore. These days even social networks are used for exploiting these girls; they are from villages and not educated. The agents take advantage of such situations. They create their FB profiles and even websites; they display their pictures inviting customers. These girls are exploited to the core and if they dare to oppose, they face cruel treatment. There is no one in their life to fall back. Trafficking of women from the state to metros has increased, though the government has chosen a mystifying silence. More than 60,000 girls between 12 and 15 years work as domestic workers in Delhi and Mumbai. One girl in every ten families is pushed into prostitution by middlemen, who take them to the cities with the promise of a job. The government should take steps to stop this violation of human rights. In a male-dominated society, women are not allowed to claim their rights. There is another example; the ‘Rajnat’ community of Rajasthan is struggling to give up prostitution, a profession it has practised for generations. But with no jobs on offer, even for educated members of the community, the girls have been forced to join dance bars in Mumbai. At least it ensures a decent income and a better future for their children.
The ‘rajnats’ or ‘nats’ were dancer and singers in the royal courts but were reduced to utter penury and took to prostitution with the decline of the feudal order. While most girls in the community were pushed into commercial sex, the men functioned as pimps and the tradition has continued. Though in most parts of the State, commercial sex work has been given up, there are pockets where some girls still follow the profession because even the educated men have no jobs and the situation has become even more difficult when it comes to girls. Even if the community want their daughters to be educated and live a respectable life but when they educate the girls they are not getting good grooms as the men are jobless and no one wants to have a matrimonial alliance with this particular community, even if the community gives up commercial sex work altogether, there is no other option for survival. Each state of India is going through the worst for girls; we need some drastic step towards the prevention of such practices. Just saying Beti Bachao is not enough.