At first glance, Sheekha Rana and Saraswati Rana are like any other Nepalese girls moving along on the Indo-Nepal border. Speaking a mixture of Gurkhali and Hindi, they appear friendly as they mingle freely with the Nepalese girls and women crossing the border.
But listen in on the conversations and it is not at all idle talk. What these girls are trying to do is win the confidence of the girls who cross over to India every day and find out if they are being lured by human traffickers. They even peep inside passing vehicles. For all their trouble, they have managed to rescue around 400 girls.
There are hundreds of poor girls in Nepal who are lured to India by agents with promises of good jobs and salaries. But most of them land up in brothels in Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi. “It is our duty to protect the girls. We are doing whatever we can to check human trafficking,” says Saraswati.
“With the assistance of the Nepalese police, we trace the address of rescued girls and inform their parents about their whereabouts. Those girls whose parents and relatived do not turn up are sent to rehabilitation centres in Nepal,” says Sheekha.
Though normalcy has returned to the Indo-Nepal border with a big drop in Maoist violence, human trafficking continues unabated and remains a major concern. According to an estimate, each year, around 3,000 girls and women are trafficked into India. There are 22 check-posts on the 2,500-kilometre border but “the border is porous and it is difficult to keep an eye on every person crossing it”, says an official.
Tamil Nadu shows the way
Chennai: It may top the list of states afflicted by HIV/AIDS but Tamil Nadu has managed to keep the number of infected persons from growing, thanks to a unique support programme. The Tamil Nadu AIDS Initiative (TAI) — funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Avahan scheme — has in the two years of its existence become a model for other states to emulate.
Community support is the key word in AIDS prevention and control, according to TAI. In December, it brought together 1,400 people comprising HIV-positive and AIDS-affected persons, sex workers and transvestites on the same platform as healthcare providers, government and NGOs to demonstrate that networking matters. Mothering an intensive support programme in 14 high-prevalence districts, TAI has in two years managed to reach out to 50,000 male and female sex workers with help from 25 NGOs. “TAI addresses the vulnerability of the sex workers,” says project director Laxmi Bai.
“When I first came to the TAI centre, I was afraid. Now, I am with them and I tell everyone about condom use and talk to other women about TAI services. I lead a life of grace and confidence,” says Sundari, who was abandoned by her husband and took up prostitution to feed her child. She is now a TAI community leader.