Wednesday, March 14, 2007

In child smuggler’s words, villagers called him ‘God’

KOLKATA, March 13 : Police ki ankhon me mein child smuggler, lekin gaonwale mujhe bhagwan samajthe the. Dada, mein bacche smuggle karta tha, ismein bahut paisa hai (Police may call me a trafficker, but I was god to the villagers. I used to traffick children. It gives good money),” says Tushar Bashar (name changed), once a child trafficker in Sandeshkhali, South 24 Parganas.

According to locals and police, he smuggled at least 50 children out of the villages in Sandeshkhali. Business was good for Tushar, a well-built man with thin moustache, till he sold one of his own relatives to the child trafficking racket and later came to know that the girl had landed into a brothel
in Delhi.
“I was full of remorse. I was repentant. I had brought the girl from my poor maternal uncle’s home with the promise that she would find a good house and paid a decent salary in Delhi. But once out of Kolkata, the agents who had taken her away could not provide any information about the girl for months and not a penny reached my uncle. Finally, I learnt that she was in a brothel. I had to leave my house as my uncle and other relatives kept visiting me and insisted on getting the girl back. This is my new address that my relatives do not know. They have lost track of me. I have also changed track to settle for other things,” says Bashar. He now works as a security guard with a well-known group in Kolkata.
Talking to The Indian Express, he narrated how the racket works at the grassroot level in villages like Sandeshkhali.
“I could speak well and convince people. Once you earn the confidence of a couple of homes in a particular village, the urge to send children to places like Delhi and Mumbai is like a tide,”
he says.
“There are so many children and so many mouths to feed. We were hailed as gods by the villagers, as they thought we could provide their children with jobs. Parents depend on the income of their children. It used this to our benefit. We told them that the children would find work as domestic helps in good households of Delhi and Mumbai.
They will earn substantial money. But they were sold,” says Bashar, sitting with his wife in the lawn of his house, in Sandeshkhali village.
According to Bashar, the agents in the districts and in Kolkata have people in villages who work for them.
They often also have tie-ups with agencies in Delhi, Mumbai and other big cities which provide domestic help services.
The children are moved to railway stations and transit lodges in Kolkata in groups of 10 and 20. They are taken to bigger cities by the agents through trains and buses, tells Bashar.
Once in Delhi or Mumbai, they are sorted according to their age and looks. The good-looking and young children are sold into sex trade. The others are sent to brothels or to households.
“A good-looking young girl fetched me anything between Rs 4000 to Rs 6000,” says Bashar. The chain upwards is intricate and is not disclosed to those below, Bashar adds.
“The parents are promised Rs 1000 to 1500 per month, but in most cases the payment is only for the first or second month. The standard story then is that the child has escaped from where he was employed and hence could not be contacted.” There were over 70 such agents in Sandeshkhali block when he was into the racket about a year ago, Bashar says.
He also ackowledges the involvement of both local police and local politicians. “Regular share was given to the police as well as the local village panchayat members of political parties. I used to work as a trafficker under a former village panchayat vice-chairman who belongs to the CPI(M). A good network in the villages and the financial condition of the families in the neighbouring villages was essential to run the racket,” says Bashar.
Members of an NGO, Save the Children, which is working for rehabilitation of the rescued trafficked children say that at least nine traffickers have been persuaded to get back to the mainstream in the past two years in Sandeshkhali.



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