Kafkaesque is possibly the best word to describe the experiences of Roshenara Khatun (name changed), a teenage trafficking victim from Bangladesh who has got stuck in India for more than four years, confined in a rehabilitation centre, while the accused roaming free after spending 90 days in jail.
The trial is yet to begin and she is unlikely to be allowed to go back to Bangladesh before her statement is recorded.
On September 10, residents of Chikrand within Chanditala police station jurisdictions, intercepted Khatun, then aged about 14. Upon questioning her, they got to know that she was trafficked from Comilla in Bangladesh into West Bengal with the lure of a job in the garments industry.
The villagers also nabbed the accused trafficker, Ranjit Sarkar. The police booked (case no. 290/2012) Sarkar and his co-accused, S Gayen, under sections 363, 365 and 366B of the Indian Penal Code. The two were produced before an ACJM court in Serampore the next day.
While Khatun was sent to S.M.M Home for Girls and Women at Liluah in Howrah district, Sarkar was initially remanded in police custody and later into judicial custody, before being released on bail in January 2013. Sarkar’s co-accused remains absconding.
“Under ideal circumstances, the charge-sheet should have been filed within 90 days to start the trail with the accused in custody. Warrant of arrest should have been issued against the absconder, followed by issuance of proclamation. After about a month, the case should have been transferred to a session judge’s court to start trail. The absconder will be tried separately when arrested. Once the trial started, the victim would have been the first person to record statement. Thereafter, her presence would not have been necessary. She should have been home within six months,” said Ghanashyam Agarwala, an advocate at Serampore court.
For reasons beyond Agarwala’s knowledge, the case was not transferred to a session judge’s court. Agarwala took up the case about three months ago after the District Legal Services Authority approached him. He made two petitions, on October 5 and November 12, but failed to obtain any release order for Khatun.
During these four years, members of Sanlaap, an NGO working with trafficking victims approached the court several times seeking its order to send to girl back home. The court, however, asked them to produce the victim’s parents in court.
“She could have been sent back by virtue of the standard operating procedure (SOP) notified by the state government in February 2014. We had all necessary papers from the Bangladesh government and the state government. But the court did not grant release on the basis of the SOP because it has not yet been made into an Act,” Tapoti Bhowmik of Sanlaap said.
In the meanwhile the victim’s mother managed to contact her over phone. But there was bad news for her. Her father had passed away, leaving the family in greater economic stress.
According to Agarwala, Khatun is suffering from depression. “The last time I met her at the home, she was constantly crying. She said she keeps thinking of suicide,” he told HT.
He, however, hopes the case would be transferred to a session judge’s court in January. “I expect the trial to start soon,” Agarwala told HT.