A cat and mouse game is now a regular feature at Uttar Pradesh’s Gorakhpur Station, 266 km east of Lucknow.
There are, on the one hand, human traffickers smuggling young girls from Nepal, and a group of individuals trying to stop the practice, on the other.
Though the issue has not figured in discussions between political leaders of the two countries, it has become so sensitive that it is inflaming anti-Indian sentiments in Nepal.
Maoists in Nepal, a political force to reckon with, have been demanding a ban on sale of liquor and girl trafficking. They had even made it known that anyone taking part in this would be humiliated publicly. And they want the Indian government to take concrete action.
“Earlier we used to rescue the girls at Gorakhpur Station itself. It is easy to identify them — scared, huddled together. But then some touts also started travelling by road to Deoria, about 100 km east of Gorakhpur, to board the trains (to escape us),” said Abhishek Shahi of the Childline Foundation, a central government organisation.
“The girls are picked up from Nepal on the promise of employment. They are handed over to touts operating on the Indian side. The tout would then take them to Delhi or Mumbai. He also helps in getting them a passport to go to other countries.”
In Mumbai, the girls are paraded before prospective buyers: the younger ones are sold to buyers in West Asia and the rest are sent to brothels across the country.
Traffickers and their agents trick young girls and their parents by promising them work and the pleasure of visiting spas and beauty parlours, only to push them into the sex trade.
Neither the parents nor the girls make much money from the deal. While the agent earns Rs 1-10 lakh, the parents end up with something like Rs 5,000, according to Shahi.
The Asian Development Bank estimates that 100,000-200,000 Nepalese women and girls, roughly 25 per cent of whom are less than 18, are held in Indian brothels.
A recent study by Maiti, a non-government organisation in Nepal, said: “There are about 70,000 Nepali women migrant workers working in various international foreign labour markets. Annually, Nepal receives approx $1.5 billion (Rs 7,200 crore) as remittances and the contribution of women migrants make up about 11 per cent to this figure. In total, remittance has more than 17 per cent contribution to the GDP of our country.”
Maiti has estimated that a significant number of such girls end up being sex workers.
“Earlier the girls were sold to Indian brothels, but now they are being sent to the Gulf. It’s nearly impossible to bring them back from there,” said Prabha Khanal, a regional manager of Maiti.
Maiti rescued 13 girls in August this year. While six of them were intercepted at Kalyan railway station near Mumbai, four of the repatriated girls were rescued from Sahara International Airport, Mumbai, and another three from a brothel in Mumbai.
Dava Bhuti Tamang Sherpa (21) was sent to Lebanon. On her return, she was handed over to Maiti by Nepal’s Tribhuvan International Airport Metropolitan police. She had lost vision in one eye; her hands were bruised and burnt. She did not get the promised $150 (Rs 7,200) a month either. The physical torture suffered at the hands of her clients was evident.
Padma Darai (23) was brought back from Saudi Arabia, almost mad.
“Often girls are simply sent back to Nepal after their utility is over,” said Khanal.
With tears in her eyes, Revti (name changed on request) narrated her experience of escape from a Mumbai brothel. “Life is miserable. We have to serve up to five customers a day. The payment varies from Rs 150 to 500 a customer. But the owner of the brothel pockets the money. We live on tips, which is Rs 5-25.”
Several NGOs have set up counters on all major points on the Indo-Nepal border to counsel girls against migration.
Volunteers sit near the two main border crossing points at Bahraich in central UP and Maharajganj in eastern UP to maintain close surveillance. They are also running awareness campaigns in Nepal to save vulnerable girls from traffickers and their agents.
NGOs in Nepal too are now working closely with their counterparts in India to check the menace. “If the touts have built a network, we are also building one to combat them,” said Shahi.