Fifteen years ago when Lata Lakra came to Delhi from Jharkhand, life was tough. As a domestic help, the hours were long, the work strenuous and a salary of Rs 2,000 just not enough. Today, the 35-year-old has a flat in Delhi, a shopping complex and a lot of real estate in her home state — and she is behind bars.
Lakra, who ran an illegal placement agency in west Delhi’s low-income neighbourhood of Shakurpur, built her empire trafficking more than 1,500 minors from Jharkhand, police said. She was arrested in Chano, about 25km from Ranchi on June 23, on charges of human trafficking and kidnapping. She was wearing two kilos of gold at the time, the police said.
“Now, my job is to find these minors, who must be in Delhi and NCR. In Jharkhand, no one dared to speak against Lakra, but now that she is behind bars, I hope the parents of children she kidnapped will come forward,” said Aradhna Singh, who heads the Jharkhand Police’s anti-human trafficking unit in Khunti district of which Chano is a part.
About 33,000 minor girls and boys are trafficked from the mineral-rich but poor state of Jharkhand every year. A majority of these children end up as domestic helps, working in appalling conditions. Many of the girls are pushed into prostitution or forced into marriage with elderly men.
Lakra, who comes from a small village in Chano block, was fortunate. She chose to come to Delhi to earn a living. During the three years she worked in homes and a nursing clinic, she met a trafficker, police said. She realised there was a lot of money to be made – there was a huge demand for helps in Delhi.
In 2003, she made her first placement — a minor girl sent to a Delhi home. Lakra was on a roll. She “employed” many men from her village as “agents”, a euphemism for men who would ensure a constant supply of children, promising a better life and hefty pays to their unsuspecting parents, police said. If needed, they resorted to strong arm tactics.
Human trafficking remains a big problem in Jharkhand, the biggest supplier of domestic helps to Delhi and other metros. Though several laws have been enacted, India has one of the highest numbers of children working as labourers in the world.
“The modus operandi was simple — the placement agency would get at least Rs 20,000 in commission in return for a domestic help. It would also get a part of the salary,” a Delhi police officer said on condition of anonymity.
The agency would ask for Rs 5,000 a month for a girl who was “good” with household chores and Rs 4,000 for an “average” girl.
Lakra didn’t hesitate in getting children kidnapped and even sold girls to Gulf countries, the police said. She has several abduction cases against her name.
Her network was widespread and she allegedly met her agents in churches in Delhi. To impress the villagers, she would often say her husband – a clerk with a coal PSU -- was a CBI officer.
Her lavish lifestyle was the talk of the village – a local girl who made it big in Delhi. Her two children are students at an expensive private school in the Capital. She owns a flat in Shakurpur, the hub of placement agencies in Delhi, a shopping complex and several other properties in Jharkhand. Her bank accounts and those of her relatives are being looked at by the police to get an estimate of the money she made through trafficking children.
NGOs working against human trafficking have criticised the Delhi Police for failing to act against Lakra, who was on the list of 35 kingpins the Jharkhand Police had sent out.
“The woman has been working in Delhi for years and despite having details, Delhi Police did not do anything,” said Rishi Kant, an activist with Shakti Vahini NGO. The government should crack down on illegal placement agencies to check the menace of trafficking, he said.