The narrow dusty road that leads to Renuka's hut in Gumla — 100 kilometers away from Ranchi — is lined with fields on either side. But the cracked parched land is a far cry from the green fields that you have seen on TV or Bollywood movies. They do not make you smile, they leave you worried.
It is not surprising then that Renuka agreed to send her 13-year-old daughter, Meena, to Delhi to work as a domestic maid.
"Paisa nahi hai isliye kuch kamane bheja tha (We have no money that is why we sent her to earn something)," she says simply when asked why she sent her daughter away.A 100 feet away one can see a group of men lounging about under the shade of a 'pipal' tree with tumblers in their hands.
"They are drinking Hadiya," explains Renuka, who is returning home from a day's work in her small field. "That is all they do. It is the tradition here," the 35-year-old mother of five adds ruefully. The 'tradition' she speaks of is drinking a pungent locally brewed rice wine.
Renuka is among the thousands of women who have sent their daughters to big cities to work as domestic maids in the last decade. She is also among the fortunate few who have got their daughters back.
"I had no other option. The trafficker gave me Rs 5,000 initially and promised to send Rs 2,000 every month after that. This is a lot of money for us. The rest of my five children can easily live on it. I sent her seven months back but have not spoken to my daughter in five months. The money has also dried up," said Pushpa Devi, another woman in the village who had sent her daughter to work in Delhi.
Renuka's daughter, Meena, came back to Dumardi only a couple of months ago. The 13-year-old refuses to say much about her three-month-long stay in Delhi, where she worked as maid. But child welfare committee (CWC) members tell us that she was beaten up by a placement agency owner when she said she wanted to go back home. She, along with three other girls, was rescued from a placement agency in Delhi's Prasad Nagar.
"She was locked in a room and beaten up brutally because she wanted to go back home. Even a mention of Delhi is enough to terrify her," said Mamta Devi, the CWC worker.
The outer limits of district Gumla start barely a hundred kilometers away from Jharkhand's capital city Ranchi. It is one of the three districts from where the highest number of girls are trafficked to big cities such Delhi and Jaipur to work as domestic maids each year. With the authorities in Delhi acting tough against traffickers, new routes between Jharkhand and Mumbai, Goa, Jaipur and Ahmedabad are opening for the traffickers.
And it is not hard to imagine why.
Men women and children lie about listlessly in the afternoons — the men usually drunk. There is simply no work to do. "There are no means of irrigation; the fields are useless all year round, except during the three months of monsoon. We go out as unskilled labourers the rest of the year," Renuka says. She gets paid R100 for eight hours' work if she manages to find any in and around Ranchi.
According to Tribhuvan Sharma, CWC member, Gumla, around 15 girls have been trafficked from each village in the district. There are 944 villages in Gumla, which puts the number of trafficked children at 14,160.
But the numbers revealed to law enforcement agencies by traffickers is around 25,000.
The horror stories of minors being tortured and beaten at work in big cities prove no deterrence for mothers like Renuka from sending their minor kids to big cities.
They, after all, also know that starving to death is worse.
(Names of children and their parents have been changed to protect identity)