After the massive earthquakes in April that left Nepal devastated, trafficking of women from the neighbouring Himalayan nation on the promise of lucrative jobs has surged with Uttarakhand serving as gateway to India for such traffickers, say volunteer organisations.
The large population of Gorkhali people in Uttarakhand’s Dehradun, Pithoragarh, Champawat and Chamoli districts with relatives back in Nepal makes it easier for traffickers to use local contacts to lure Nepalese women, say experts.
“Uttarakhand has emerged as a major corridor for cross-border trafficking involving Nepalese women. In most cases, it is a close relative who is instrumental in the trafficking,” says Gyanendra Kumar, chief functionary of Empowering People, which works in close association with the NGO Maiti Nepal. The NGOs have rescued girls in Uttarakhand and Nepal, repsectively. The hill state shares a 273km border with Nepal.
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Fifteen-year-old Nir mala (name changed), an orphan who lived with relatives in Kanchanpur district of Nepal, faced a similar fate. When an aunt from Dehradun invited her to visit, she was elated. But when she arrived in June, she was sold to a group of men as a sex slave. It was a while before she even realised what she was being pushed into.
But thanks to some women from the neighbourhood Gorkhali community who smelled something fishy and tipped off a local NGO, ‘Empowering People Society’, she was rescued in July. At present, she is under care at Nari Niketan, a government shelter home in Delhi. Five people, including the girl’s aunt, were booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Uttarakhand, which Gyanendra says is used as source station to hide Nepalese girls before transporting them to other states and even abroad, has four main entry points -- Banbasa in Champawat district and Jhoolaghat, Sipaidhara and Jauljibi gates in Pithoragarh district.
‘Empowering People’ claims nearly 73 families from Sindupal Chowk district in Nepal, which is worst affected after the earthquake, had crossed the Banbasa gate. In a spate of recent cases, women have been rescued and ‘agents’ accompanying them have been arrested close to these entry points.
In January, a young girl from Nepal, her cousin and four other people were stopped by the police for questioning. They claimed to be travelling to the Punyagiri temple in Champawat district in Uttarakhand. But their bluff was called when the police asked them why they were travelling in the opposite direction.
Apart from these usual entry points that are guarded by Seema Shastra Bal (SSB) and police, there are other ‘unofficial’ gateways such as Boom and Jhulaniya Pul (Mealghat).
The police, meanwhile, say they are aware of trafficking. Three anti-human trafficking cells have been formed in Kumaon region of the state in Champawat, Haldwani and Pithoragarh districts.
Roshan Lal Sharma, superintendent of police, Pithoragarh, says there is an immediate need to strengthen anti-human trafficking cells. The cell in Pithoragarh district was formed in July, in a bid to check crossborder trafficking post-Himalayan earthquake.
“The cells just have constables, despite our district being very sensitive. The two-member team, though, is working against all odds and keeping an eye for such activities” Sharma told HT.