You must have seen them in your neighbourhood dhaba or even in the plush comfort of your homes - quiet young boys and girls, hope in their eyes, who leave their villages in Orissa, West Bengal and Jharkhand every year and reach Delhi in search of a living. In a few months, despair dims their bright eyes and the big city swallows them. Most never meet their parents again. The number of these young people caught in the "placement agency" trap is high, but there are no estimates of the exodus, nor any mechanism that can protect them.
Some families do land up in Delhi in search of their missing children but their effort often comes to naught. Hindustan Times met a few of these desperate parents. Their only question: how do we get back our children?
Amrita Ekka: This 16-year-old left her home in Olapokka village in Sundergarh district of Orissa in June, 2006, lured by the promise of a job as a domestic help. Since then, her family has not heard from her. Ten days ago, her father Dasiya, arrived in Delhi to look for the youngest of his three children. "I found out from somewhere that the agent gave my daughter to Joshna Sahara Bureau in Palam Colony. I kept waiting outside their office for at least two days, but they refused to tell me anything," he says. The distraught father cannot stop blaming himself. "I was not at home when they took her away. They probably convinced her that she will get a lot of money and can send a hefty amount back home," he says.
Manjula Kinndo: Teophil Kinndo’s 17-year-old daughter Manjula Kinndo left her village two years ago. She was in Class IX then and the pride of her parents. "One day she never came back from school," says Kinndo, showing her picture in school uniform. In these last two years, the only reminder of his daughter was the Rs 5,000 she once sent home. Kinndo’s search also landed him at Joshna Sahara Bureau’s door. "I stood there for three days but they threw me out." he says. When the Joshna Sahara Bureau was contacted, all they confirmed was that there was a placement agency by that name. "Joshna Singh has gone back to her village. I don’t know anything else," said Suresh, who picked up the phone.
Uday Khakha: One mobile number is all that Rampal Khaka has in his search for his 14-year-old son Uday, who left home 17 months ago. "One of my acquaintances Saroj Ming took him away from the school. Ming told me that he was working for Laloo Placement Agency in Delhi and gave me a mobile number," Khakha splutters in broken Hindi. Khakha traced the placement agency but not his son. "They have changed his name from Uday to Sonu. One person over there told me that he has been send to Punjab, but they do not know the address," he said. The agency is of little help. "He is working at Rajouri Garden. I had a contract with him for a year. But now I do not know where he is. I have not renewed his contract."
Poly: He was all of 15 when he ran away from his house in New Jalpaiguri 18 months ago. "Many of my friends had also come to Delhi. We were told that there is a lot of money in Delhi," said Poly. He was taken to the placement agency at Peeragarhi and sent to Jind in Punjab in a few days. A job at a dairy gave him a taste of the trap he had walked into. His day started at 3 in the morning and ended at 11 at night. "I got two meals a day only," he added. After a year, he was sent back by his employers with Rs 20 in his pocket. But Poly is lucky. He managed to contact his brother through an NGO, Chetanalya.
No way out
More worrying than these horror stories is the fact that these young people have no legal shield. Police admit that placement agencies do not follow any regulations. "It is an unorganised sector. Although we try to inspect a few of them periodically, there is no actual record of who they recruit. This creates an exploitative situation," said DCP West Robin Hibu. Placement agencies are quick to wash their hands of the matter. "The domestic helps are supplied by the guarantors, who usually come from the same village. We only arrange for jobs in different households. Their employers hand us the salaries, which we give them at the end of the year," said Rakesh Kumar of Raja Placement Agency in Greater Kailash.