NORTH LAKHIMPUR, Dec 20 - Lakhi (name changed), a 12th standard passed girl in her early twenties returned home to Koilamari Tea Estate on the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border in Lakhimpur district from a household in Delhi six months ago where she had been engaged as a domestic help.
Lakhi was promised a job with a decent salary by Ursula Tete of No 2 Labour Line of the same tea estate and sent to Delhi after her educational certificates and PAN card were taken away. But in reality, Lakhi was forced to work under inhuman conditions in Delhi and not allowed to speak to her parents back home over phone. Her parents were only intimated by Ursula when Lakhi fell ill six months ago. Lakhi’s parents rushed to Delhi only to find her in a critical condition. They took her back home without getting any salary for her work as a domestic help. Ursula has also not returned Lakhi’s educational testimonials and her PAN card after her return. Lakhi’s mother, who went to Delhi to rescue her, tells about trafficked girls from various parts of the country kept in a house of a woman from Jharkhand in Delhi. She also alleges that the trafficked girls, who were promised good jobs, were actually force into flesh trade in Delhi. For her, Ursula is solely responsible for the plight of her daughter.
Ursula Tete, when contacted, appeared to be unaware of the fate of the girls that she used to send to placement agencies in Delhi. A woman in her early forties, Ursula has been active in this illicit trade for the last two years and has reportedly earned two lakh rupees as commission from the placement agencies. She admitted her role of accompanying the girls to the Guwahati railway station from where they are picked up by others. Ursula also informed that ten more girls were to be sent to Delhi from Bihpuria region of Lakhimpur district soon.
The Doolahat Tea Estate, 15 km north-west from North Lakhimpur and stretching to the inter-State border with Arunachal Pradesh has become a red zone of girl child trafficking. Here hundreds of girls have been trafficked over the last two decades with no news of their return. Most of the trafficked girls are reportedly sent to neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh.
Roopali Barla, daughter of late Remes Barla of the Doolahat Tea Estate has the same story. She has not returned home ever since she was taken away by a local agent 12 years ago. Her widowed mother has no idea of her whereabouts. Similarly Hawamani, daughter of Nandalal, the sweeper of the same tea garden was taken away by a local agent named Paul ten years ago. Hawamani has not returned home ever since. Tinu Karmakar, a labour from No. 20 Line of Doolahat Tea Estate is also waiting for his daughter Teresa taken away by an agent Simanta Tanti six years ago.
The No. 20 Labour Line of Doolahat Tea Estate has earned the dubious distinction of a girl child trafficking zone in Lakhimpur district. Dozens of girls are found to be trafficked by a local agent named Monica. Chiragjyoti, daughter of Baha Lohar, Bhani, daughter of Lal Dhan, Arati, daughter of Rubul Tanti are some of the unfortunate girls from this labour line who might still be languishing in some unknown places. ‘Reformed’ local agents like Samuel, Stephan from this area are still alleged to be involved in this trade.
Trafficking of girl children from the tea garden and other remote areas of Lakhimpur district is also going on an individual basis. Temu, a woman labour from Zoihing Itabhata lost her daughter Tuntuni five years ago when she was eight years old. According to her, a man working in a mobile tower construction site near her home took Tuntuni away. Now Temu has only a worn-out photograph of her lost daughter Tuntuni.
Carlos Dhela, a labour from Zoihing tea estate lost his seven- year-old daughter Suman as somebody had kidnapped her from the road in front of his home. In one case, an official from the management of a tea garden was also found to be involved in forcefully keeping one girl as domestic help away from here.
The proximity of the tea estates to the inter-State border makes buyers from the neighbouring State visit and roam the labour settlements easily. The indifference of the tea garden management to these activities is also responsible for increase in this trade. The local agents make false promises of a better life ahead of the girls to their parents with lure of money. The poor and mostly alcoholic parents easily succumb to these alluring words and hand over their daughters to the buyers coming from Arunachal Pradesh. But unfortunately, these girls never return home thereafter. The geographical remoteness of these inter-State border areas of Lakhimpur district and the prevailing socio-economic conditions of the people living there make them easy prey to the predators of human trafficking.
Poverty, economic hardship coupled with alcoholism has made most of the parents here vulnerable to the lure of money in exchange of their gild children to the world of slavery and abuse across the inter-State border. The easy availability of spurious IMF liquor from Arunachal Pradesh as well as the locally-made one make things worse for these people, who sell their most precious possessions in lieu of drinks. The apathy of the concerned authorities– the police and the Excise department, the Social Welfare department, the Health and Child Welfare department and mostly the tea garden management has made the inter-State border areas of Lakhimpur district a haven for girl child trafficking from Assam.