Is life after rescue another Agnipariksha?

| Tagged in: Think Tank

I have never been able to fathom the meaning of “ek aurat ki izzat” nor understand the meaning of “chastity of a woman”. Is there a concept of “chastity of a man”? Well! atleast never heard of one, and definitely not in a similar context.

Often the above references to a woman’s izzat are related of her sexual life and experiences and sadly even exploitations. If she is raped, we say she has lost her izzat. If she is a victim of trafficking and has been forced into prostitution we say she has lost her purity and label her as a kharab aurat (bad woman). Despite policies, laws and awareness programs, even today, crime against a woman, especially when it is sexual in nature, is still considered by many to be the fault of the woman. Is the credibility of a woman that vulnerable, that it will be lost just because she has been victim of a crime, a heinous crime? Is purity/credibility/respectability not related to the mind, heart, soul and karma- to the thoughts and actions that one wilfully and consciously does?

Sadly, as a society we have made it so easy for a woman to loose her chastity but we do not even question the chastity of people who are bleeding humanity of human values.

We often hear reference to Sita’s Agnipariksha, in our day-to-day conversations, a phrase inspired from the Indian epic, Ramayana. As per Adi Kavi Valmiki’s version, Sita, the consort of Rama (the prince of Ayodha and also an incarnation of Lord Vishnu), was forced to undergo an Agnipariksha (test of fire), to prove her chastity, because she was abducted and imprisoned by another man, Ravana (King of Lanka). Of note, abducted and imprisoned. So, it was against her will. Yet, she was asked to prove her chastity.

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A victim’s Agnipariksha!

Her ordeal and suffering did not end even after being rescued!

The story of Ramayana is estimated to date back to the 4th or 5th century BC. We are presently in the 21st century and sadly nothing has changed. Even today, infact every single day, we hear or read or assaults, violence and exploitation of women. Even if a few manage to escape, we burden them by questioning their chastity. Instead of open, compassionate hearts, we greet them by throwing them into a fire for their Agnipariksha.

Recently, there was an article by Divya Arya on BBC titled, ‘The Indian Women who escaped sexual slavery and became entrepreneurs’’, where she brings forward reports of women from a remote village in Eastern India. Once a victim of human trafficking and forced prostitution, these brave women have returned to lead independent and respectable lives. They have turned into entrepreneurs, starting their own shops to earn a living. But life after their escape had not been easy. Why? Because, we, have not made it easy for them. They had been ostracized by family, friends and society, because they were thought to be a bad influence. People ‘doubted their intentions’, says one of them.

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Sold!

Bad influence? They are fighters; personifications of strength, bravery, respect, who have shown the guts to fight against crime and regain their lives- but we consider them as bad influence. Why? Because they were victims of crime and forced to provide sexual favours to other men who were not their husbands! Of note, one of the protagonists in the report was sold by her own husband. Janab ki izzat to barkarar hai, bechari biwi ki izzat loot gayee! The husband’s respectability is maintained, while the wife looses her, eventhough it is he who made her a victim of human trafficking and prostitution. Alas! However, this is another debate and requires a serious review and reflection by every individual in the society. But how is Life after exile for victims of human trafficking? Today, does Sita’s ordeal end after being rescued? Are the laws of our country adequate to provide for victims of human trafficking?

Human trafficking is estimated to be the third largest organized crime, after drugs and arms trade across the globe. It, as defined by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), is “the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them”. Today millions of people across continents, involving hundreds of nations, are trafficked for sexual exploitation (sex trafficking and child sex trafficking) and domestic servitude and as bonded labours and child labours. Although men are also victims of the crime, their numbers are less. It is mainly women and children who are abducted or allured for a better life, those have become victims of this international trade. As per the 2010-2012 UNODC report, about 26% of trafficking victims in the East Asia, South Asia and pacific region, were exploited sexually, while 64% were forced into slavery and servitude.

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Victims of Human Trafficking, 2011 UNODC report

India, has long been a source, destination and transit for victims of forced labour and sex trafficking, with the former dominating. It continues to rise due to increased growth and mobility of in the industrial sector that require cheap labour. Thousands of unregulated placement agencies deceive financially distressed adults and even children, forcing them into servitude, slavery and prostitution. It is predominantly members of the financially weaker sections of the country, especially lower caste Dalits, members of tribal communities, religious minorities, women and girls from excluded groups, that have been reported to be the most vulnerable. Although no formal statistics are available, millions of women and children are estimated to have been victimized. Under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) and the Bonded Labour Abolition Act, the Child Labour Act and the Juvenile Justice Act, trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, bonded and forced labour are prohibited and can be penalized by the Government of India. Penalties may include 7 years to life imprisonment. Under sections 366(A) and 372 of the Indian Penal Code, abduction and selling of minors into prostitution, can lead to arrests with imprisonment upto 10 years. But does our law distinguish between voluntary prostitution vs. forced prostitution as a result of human trafficking?

Section 8 of the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956, criminalizes prostitution including seduction or solicitation for purpose of prostitution; use of verbal and/or non-verbal gestures and/or attempt to temp or attract the attention for the purpose of prostitution including molestation or any public indecency. But should a victim of human trafficking, forced into prostitution, be penalized? Although, no statistical or official data are available, there are reports that claim that police officers have been sensitized and trained to differentiate and use their discretion while using the provisions of this law. But these appear to be subjective and not very dependable to counter the crime, possibly one of the reasons why till 2010, India was classified under the “Tier II-Watch List” nations by the U.S State Department, implying that India was failing to meet the commitments or show considerate efforts to counter the growing menace of human trafficking.

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Global Traffic

In an attempt to meet international standards and align the country to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Supress and Punish Trafficking in persons, especially women and children, the Criminal Law Act of 2013 was enacted to amend various sections of the Indian Penal Code, including provisions on human trafficking in India (Ref- India’s Human Trafficking Laws and Policies and the UN Trafficking protocol: Achieving Clarity, Jindal Global Law School). The Act primarily redefined the offense of human trafficking under Section 370 of the IPC in line with the UN protocol. However, there were still differences such as

  1. Indian laws do not explicitly recognize and define all forms of labour trafficking (eg. amended Section 370 of IPC does not include forced labour in its definition)
  2. Lack of an effective centrally implemented, accessible and uniform system for the safety, recovery and compensation of victims of human trafficking
  3. Inadequate measures and policies aimed at preventing human trafficking for both sexual exploitation and other forced labour
  4. Decriminalization of illegal immigrant status of cross-border trafficking victims and provide for their safe repatriation

In summary, India’s legal framework is not adequate to counter and moreover, provide for victims of human trafficking, which indirectly allows for high level of impunity to perpetrators who continue to operate while law officials struggle to investigate and prosecute. In short, rebuilding lives is still a challenge. Possibly one of the reasons why India still features as a “Tier II” nation in the July 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. State Department, indicating that despite significant efforts, it is still not compliant with the minimum standards of their ‘Trafficking Victim’s Protection Acts (TVPA)’. But, efforts are ongoing.

Very recently in May 2016, Ms. Maneka Gandhi, Minister of Women and Child Development, unveiled the first-ever draft of a comprehensive anti-human trafficking law in India. The Bill is called the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2016 and is aimed to prevent trafficking of persons and provide protection and rehabilitation to the victims of trafficking and to create a legal, economic and social environment against trafficking of persons and for matters connected therewith. “The bill shows far more compassion and makes a very clear distinction between the trafficked and the trafficker, which is a nuance that should have been made 60 years ago”, said the minister to The Indian Express.

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Ms. Maneka Gandhi (Minister of Women and Child Development)

Among others, the draft legislation

  1. Provides for constitution of district anti-trafficking committees for exercising the powers and performing such functions and duties in relation to prevention, rescue, protection, medical care, psychological assistance, skill development, need based rehabilitation of victims
  2. Defines procedures in relation to victims of trafficking of persons
  3. Provides for establishment of State Anti-trafficking committee to oversee the implementation of the act and advise State/UT governments and District Anti-trafficking committees on matters related to prevention, protection and rehabilitation of victims
  4. Provides for constitution of Central Anti-trafficking Advisory board headed by the Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development and representatives from the concerned Ministries, State/UT and members from civil society organizations, to advise and oversee the implementation of the Act
  5. Requires The Central Government to constitute a Special Agency for investigation of offences under the provisions of the Act
  6. Requires the maintenance of protection homes by appropriate governments directly or via voluntary organizations that shall provide shelter, food, clothing, counselling, medical care and other required services to the victims
  7. Requires maintenance of one or more Special Homes by appropriate governments (directly or via voluntary organizations or use of existing shelter homes) in each district for the purpose of providing long-term institutional support for the rehabilitation victims
  8. Requires registration of the Protection and Special Homes under the Act
  9. Requires appropriate governments to frame schemes and programs for the purpose of providing rehabilitation, support and after care services necessary for social integration into mainstream society and prevent re-trafficking; It also requires State Governments to create specialized schemes for victims, especially for women engaged in prostitution or any other form of commercial sexual exploitation, to enable them to come forward and reintegrate into mainstream society
  10. Requires registration of placement agencies and their compliance to government norms
  11. Defines offences and penalties in case Protection and Shelter Homes and Placement Agencies contravene the provisions of the Act
  12. Provides for confidentiality and protection of victims and witnesses of the crime of trafficking
  13. Provides for punishment and penalties for use of narcotic drugs, psychotropic or alcoholic substances, chemical substances or hormones for the purpose of trafficking
  14. Provides for recovery of fines and application of penalties on the convict for recovery of wages for the period of employment of a victim as per provisions of Section 421 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

The new draft Bill is a welcome step-forward to counter the growing menace and provide security and rehabilitation for victims of the crime. However, there are many who have welcomed it with a pinch of salt considering trend in implementation of laws in the country. In a report last June in Asia Foundation, Diya Nag, writes “while the draft law does fill the existing legal vacuum and could benefit trafficking victims greatly, many of the sections and provisions need further elaboration. For example, the fast-track courts that were set up after the December 2012 gangrape of a student in Delhi have not been operating as effectively as needed. The lack of judicial manpower and infrastructure will only mean that an existing court will officiate as the anti-trafficking special court. Further, while the bill calls on the central government to set up a special agency to investigate trafficking offences, the draft does not lay out how this agency will coordinate with the state police departments, and how its role differs from existing policing and security agencies. Practitioners have also expressed concern that the Anti-trafficking Fund to ensure the welfare and rehabilitation of victims may have the same fate as the Nirbhaya Fund, launched in 2013 to improve women’s safety, but is largely under-utilized”.

Nevertheless, the draft bill is a first step that brings hope to victims of human trafficking. Over a period of time, once passed and implemented as a law, it may evolve and be implemented to effectively prevent, protect and rehabilitate victims.

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