She was married off at 12 for fear of getting trafficked and narrowly escaped from getting “sold” by her inlaws.
Nothing could deter this indomitable woman’s fight against human trafficking. Finally, she has won international recognition.
While the West Bengal Women’s Commission has feted her as an anti-trafficking crusader, Monika Sarkar, 32, will now rub shoulders with leaders from various fields at the International Visitor Leadership Programme (IVLP) in the US next year.
“I’m happy my efforts have got international recognition. I am happier still to see the smiling faces of parents who have got back their daughters,” says Sarkar.
Sarkar, who grew up amid constant fear of trafficking, began her crusade almost a decade ago, joining some NGOs in North 24-Parganas district.
The mother of two started her fight collecting data about missing girls from in and around her village, Sayestanagar. She discovered a startling fact - more than 5,000 minor girls had been missing in the past few years and yet hardly any police complaint was filed.
“Police would refuse to register missing complaints saying the girls have willingly gone out for work. It was difficult, but we continued our fight. As more women joined the fight, police had to relent,” said Sarkar, whose efforts have now brought down trafficking cases.
Her efforts at educating families against traffickers - mostly local youths - soon took the shape of a movement.
With the help of a citybased NGO, she now runs her own Samya Shramajibi Samity.
NGO Prantakatha has guided her efforts to end trafficking in the district.
It has not been an easy path for the woman who now lives with her two daughters and works as an artisan. She left her husband some years ago after he and her in-laws almost sold her off when she failed to bring dowry.
“The lure of a job for their daughters is too tempting an offer for the poverty-stricken population here. Moreover, the traffickers are often powerful and it is very difficult to fight them,” says Sarkar, who has been attacked several times.
While her efforts have forced the administration to act - nabbing traffickers and rescuing the trafficked girls in the district - her battle postrescue is no less challenging. She tries to get the families and society accept the girls, most of them having been pushed into the flesh trade.
Counselling the families and the rescued girls are an integral part of her campaign. Social pressure is a big obstacle.
“While some rescued girls are living a new life, have got married and have families, others had no option but to return to the flesh trade as their families refused to accept a girl who was a sex worker,” said Sarkar.
Some girls have voluntarily returned to the sex trade preferring a more “affluent life” to the daily struggle for meals. Sarkar has not forgotten the importance of education.
Having dropped out of school after her forced marriage, she later resumed her studies. She is currently pursuing her graduation.