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Thousands of Assamese girls bought as sex-slaves in Haryana

Local police officials admit that over 5,000 girls, mainly from Assam, have been sold all across the Mewat region. And that new girls arrive almost every month

Mewat, a belt that runs south and southwest of Delhi, is now one of the biggest markets for the flesh trade in the state of Haryana, where thousands of girls from the northeastern state of Assam are sold at prices ranging from Rs 4,000 to Rs 20,000. The prices vary depending on the girl's physical condition and the degree of abuse inflicted on her from the time she was bought from her village. Needless to say, the recent floods in Assam have further boosted the trade.

"It is simple," says Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, an organisation fighting for the rights of commercial sex-workers. "They all come very cheap. You can buy a girl for Rs 4,000. It is cheaper than buying cattle. Of course, in Assam, people in the villages actually believe that the girls are leaving home for a better life." NGOs working against trafficking in women say that `buyers' from Haryana travel nearly 2,000 km to procure the girls.

Shockingly, there is wide social sanction for the practice in the region. The practice is prevalent among all communities and is openly discussed. Women, locals say, are property and the state has no business interfering in such `personal' matters.

Shahzadi from Buraka village says: "I bought Farida (name changed) for Rs 12,000...I had to sell part of my land for that. Now the police have taken her and one of my sons away. What is wrong if the girl chooses to be sold and I choose to buy her for my sons?"

The other villagers sympathise with Shahzadi. Says Fateh Mohammad: "Shahzadi and her husband Razak bought her for their three sons. Thousands of these girls are bought and sold in the villages all around us. We really don't see anything wrong with this practice."

Last month, the police rescued four minor girls from Hatin block in Faridabad district. All of them were bought by a tout named Hanif, who is now in prison.

Farida's ordeal began long before she was bought by Shahzadi to `serve' her sons. "I was raped by six men," she confessed sobbing, as the police took her away to Karnal to be lodged in a home for women criminals. She was sold three times. Each time, the frail 14-year-old was sexually abused by her buyers.

Mariam, a 13-year-old girl captured along with Farida, looks in a worse condition. She hardly speaks any Hindi, let alone Haryanvi, and it was only with great difficulty that she was able to tell the police that she was pregnant.

Mariam says she was `married' to someone 20 years older than her because his first wife could not have any children. There is no record of the marriage ever having taken place. Her `husband' Khursheed has been arrested for trafficking. His first wife Ameena admits that money was paid to get Mariam.

The state government does not even acknowledge that the practice exists, and the central government is just waking up to the issue. "It is a horrifying trend. I am going to get the facts verified and take the matter up with the Assam chief minister," says Dr C P Thakur, minister for development of the northeastern region.

The department of women and child development (DWCD) is the only official authority to have initiated some action. Following the rescue of the four girls by the Hatin police, DWCD secretary R V V Iyer wrote to Haryana chief secretary A N Mathur expressing concern and asking for follow-up details. "We are still to receive a reply although we plan to pursue the matter in all possible ways," says a DWCD official.

Unofficially, the police admits that over 5,000 girls, mainly from Assam, have been sold all across Mewat. New girls arrive almost every month.

An investigation traced a couple of girls who were sold two years ago and have finally settled in a village in Rewari. Their `husbands' refuse to admit that the girls were bought, and claim they married them.

One of the girls is Praneeta Das, who now claims she is 18 and `married'. She was brought to Kufurpur village from Assam. Her family back in Hajo village in Kamrup district has been trying to trace her ever since she disappeared.

In a letter written to the Kamrup SP, Praneeta's parents Harkantu and Radhey Das have urged the police to search for their daughter. "A woman named Deepa Das took Praneeta to get her married. But for more than a year we have not heard from her. We are worried and we want our daughter back," the letter states.

Praneeta, however, says she doesn't want to go back. "I have a child and I live with a family," she says. Her `husband' Pappu Singh Ahir has been accused of buying another girl, Kanika Das, from Assam's Keyajeni village. Kanika's family too has reported her missing. Pappu Singh flatly denies any involvement.

Kanika's family hasn't given up. Her sister Babita has shot off letters to local NGOs, the police and even some MPs to help trace her sister who seems to have disappeared. "Kanika left the village with Deepa Das of Rewari. There is no sign of her after that," says Babita in a letter written to the Rewari SP.

Deepa Das, an Assamese married and settled in Shabajpur village in Haryana, is a name that often crops up in letters written by anxious parents of missing girls from across Assam. Local NGOs fighting against trafficking say she is one of the main players in the racket. According to Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini, Deepa lures girls to Haryana and sells them off to touts.

Deepa, however, says that the girls come willingly to Haryana because people here are wealthier. "I haven't forced anyone. They want a better life and they come here. Ask any girl if I have forced her."

Source: Outlook, August 10, 2003