Thursday, February 08, 2007

Poverty and crime throw Bihar kids to ransom gangs, labour agents


FEBRUARY 6 : • On November 14 last year, 13-year-old Deepak Kumar, son of a railway employee, set out from home but never reached school. Police said he had run away but then the family got a ransom call. The family driver became the prime suspect and police detained his wife. On January 10, the remains of the boy were recovered from a forest in Jharkhand.

• When his son Lalu, 13, was offered a job in a vermilion factory in Delhi, Dolai Paswan of Kushiar in Araria was happy. He felt the boy’s income would help. After all, he and his wife had nine children. For over a year, the boy used to send money home. Then he stopped. The family was told that Lalu had run away. Dolai never lodged a case. He doesn’t even have a photograph of his son. “My son had gone with another boy. His father told me not to lodge a case. He said my son would return some day,” said Dolai.

If Mumbai is the “final destination” of children gone missing, Bihar is perhaps the starting point of that journey. For, it is here, in this poverty-stricken state, that the collapse of the law and order machinery has allowed crime to flourish as a cottage industry: kidnapping-for-ransom is rampant, flesh traders move freely and children from poor homes are packed off to cities as cheap labour where they work as domestic helps or, like Lalu Paswan, in small factories.

Once the children go missing, parents rarely file cases — many fear they will get into trouble because it was they who had let the agents take them away, hoping some money would come home every month.

Some are too poor to even have photographs to hand over to police.

Kidnappings often involve two or three gangs, which coordinate operations in which one gang abducts, another gang hold the victim, moving him from place to place to avoid detection, and still another gang collects the ransom, which is shared.

Most families pay up, especially if the victim is a boy. Police say it is very rarely that girls are kidnapped for ransom.

The Patna High Court, while hearing a PIL on kidnappings, sought figures from district judges. Statistics showed that over 1,800 kidnapping cases were lodged in 2006 and 1,697 in 2005. This year, the figure stands at 143. But these figures, officials admit, are only a fraction of what’s happening on the ground. Most cases go unreported.

When Gaurav Kumar alias Golu (10) of Patna’s DAV School was kidnapped in 2005, there were large-scale protests.

According to police, he was picked up by a small gang while returning from school and handed over to a second gang and, finally, to a gang operating both in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh led by one Guddu Rai.

“Police took a lot of time to recover the boy since more than one gang was involved in the kidnapping,” said a police officer involved in the search operation.

Golu was lucky. Since 2001, 44 children have been killed by their captors.

It is feared that many children who remain untraced may have been killed. “Gangs bury bodies in river beds, making it extremely difficult to trace them,” said a police officer.

While abduction-for-ransom is now an industry, the state police neither have a special cell to crack down on gangs or trace missing children. A Missing Persons Cell under the CID is virtually defunct.

But Director General of Police Asish Ranjan Sinha maintains “the entire police force is engaged in cracking down on organised gangs. Nobody is being spared. There has been a marked change in the safety and security atmosphere of the state as a result of police action.”

But that gives no hope to Saraswati Devi whose son disappeared over a year ago. She says that when she approached a Danapur police official, he told her: “This case is not mine. Your son has run away. What can I do? Can you spend money?”

Advocate M P Gupta, who moved the High Court on the kidnapping of children, says the police get into the act only when it’s a high-profile case. “Police act with determination only in cases that are high profile and generate a media outcry. As for other cases, they just sit over it,” he said.

As for children who go missing after being handed over to labour agents — most end up at dhabas, construction sites in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi — virtually nothing is done. Cases are rarely filed.

Sakunia Devi has waited five years now for her son Dusay Kumar to return. After her husband died, he gave up studies and came in contact with a contractor who promised him a job in Punjab. Within a few months, he sent home a money order of Rs 1,000.

But after that, no one heard from him Other boys from the village said he had run away.

After the Nithari incident, Bhoomika Bihar, an non-governmental organisation working to prevent trafficking in girls, received a number of complaints of Bihari boys missing from the states they had gone to work in.

A survey of 15 panchayats in Araria and Katihar districts had this result: 194 boys, all minors, missing. Of these, 109 had been taken away for jobs, the rest had run away.

“Labour contractors exploit the acute poverty in the region. They pay money to parents and take away the children, promising jobs outside the state,” says Arun Singh of Bhoomika Bihar.

That missing children is not high on the priority list of the state government is evident from the fact that there are no figures for the number of labourers, adults or minors, migrating from Bihar.



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