Monday, January 11, 2016

Human Trafficking in India: A Religious, Social, Economic and Cultural perspective

Human Trafficking in India: A Religious, Social, Economic and Cultural perspective

Recently I was talking with one of my mentor about my doctoral project related with human trafficking. While mentioned to him about the tragic situation in the Indian context he opened my eyes to the following historical facts such as the religious, social, economic and cultural framework of exploitation that is in existence for thousands of years in India. There is an intrinsic religious, social, cultural and economic root to this evil. If we want to eradicate human trafficking and sexual exploitation in the Indian context, we need to educate and deal with the ground realities.

Imagine a woman comes to your home during a rainy cold day seeking shelter, according to the Hindu moral standard it is ok to rape her and give her the warmth. There is a religious sanction for committing rape. Sexual desire is personified in Hinduism as a deity and in tantric practices which allows the priest to have sex with the bride to initialize the ceremonies. Prostitution was considered as a lawful profession in some part of India for thousands of years. Sexual immorality is also practiced in the name of devadasi system. Polygamy was an acceptable practice until recent times. Forced prostitution is apparently evident through devadasi and jogini system in India. Sexual pleasure and its recognition are considered as a chief aim of human life. If one follow the Hindu religious values and morals it will demonize and dehumanize the family values, relationships, love, patriotism, social ethical foundations.    

Exploitation of women is evident by reading the following passage in Manusmrti 9:2-4 …. Men must make their women dependent day and night, and keep under their own control those who are attached to sensory objects. Her father guards her in childhood, her husband guards her in youth, and her sons guard her in old age. A woman is not fit for independence. The Rig Veda, 8:33:17 says the mind of woman cannot be disciplined because she has very little intelligence. The Smriti (Matsya Purana 70:40-60; cf. Mahabharata III:2:23) also talks about how to gain a woman’s chastity by worshiping the Siva and offering her to a Brahmin for his sexual pleasure for 13 months.    

When we talk about the social implications of human trafficking in India, the untouchable caste evil is the major issue. Western mindset glorifies the developed technological and mobile revolution of 1 billion users of cell phone in a single country, nuclear weapons and space mission, educated and professional youths etc. On the other side the corruption, bureaucracy, high illiteracy and lack of distribution of resources comes to our mind, but the reality is different from all of the above. The caste discrimination of the Dalits is still in the social systems and mistreatment of people happens to the extent of justifying modern day slavery. Recently there were reported cases, where a child in the school was severely beaten by the teacher for touching the plate of the upper caste children and a low- caste women was refused to work as a cook in the school for the children.

Lack of opportunities for education, poverty, lack of job and economic distress fuel this evil in the Indian context. It is easy for the trafficking person to trick a girl into devadasi system, commercial or religious prostitution when they are uneducated and comes from an economically deprived community. There is a vicious cycle of prostitution, injustice, discrimination, debt and slavery. According to Unesco, India currently has the largest population of illiterate adults in the world with over 287 million and this is 37% of the world’s total illiterate.

There are constant slogans we proclaim, be free, let the people who are free rescue the one in bondage, bring this darkness into light, raise the voice for freedom, freedom is being yourself without permission, freedom to walk away, dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery etc.

The Bible says: For freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 


Binu Peniel (C) 2016

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Tragic face of Human Trafficking in India

Extreme poverty, unemployment, lack of education, lack of awareness, internal and external migration are driving force behind Human trafficking in India. Indian girls are moved from their village to the mega cities like Bombay(Mumbai), Calcutta, Delhi, Chennai (Madras) etc for domestic labor and sexual exploitation. It is not only in the villages but in the Mega cities the domestic workers are exploited and abused physically and sexually. A recent Australian study found, half of 30 million people who are trafficked around the world are found in India. This is an alarming number. India with its religious, geographical, cultural, caste discrimination and language diversity makes it a fertile soil for modern day slavery and makes the escape path difficult. India is a source, destination and transit country for trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, child and forced labor.

Santhi* was 11 years old when she was sold to a domestic worker from a remote village in the North Eastern Part of India. She was sold for 120$. She was made to work 14 to 16 hours per day, doing all the household duties, including cleaning and baby-sitting, she was given limited food but not any wages. She was often being told that she is good for nothing. She was told that she is living in a better place and she is looking good and she gained weight. Even though some of it is the normal growth of an 11 year old. In India, weight gain is also considered as health gain. She is exploited not only physically but sexually by one of the members in the household. She said I quote: "I have been beaten up and sexually exploited. I was not allowed to call home or to visit my parents."

The cities of Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata are the largest destinations for internal migrants in India. The cities of Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata are all among the world’s top ten most populous urban areas, and India has 25 of the 100 fastest-growing cities worldwide. This fuels the human trafficking situation unimaginable in a country like India with more than 1.25 billion people. This is also an external issue in relationship with women trafficked to Middle East, Europe and other parts of the world. India is also a destination for human trafficking from Nepal and Bangladesh. This is mainly for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation and forced domestic labor.

The social stigma connected with seeking counseling help is also a difficult process in India for the victims. The mental disorders like PTSD, depression, anxiety attacks are evident while working with the victims of modern day slavery. The smugglers promise better life, job as a domestic servants, offer to work in the film industry, work in the factories, pleasure trip and promises of marriage etc. to attract the vulnerable victims. 

A number of years ago, an anonymous person penned these haunting words in an essay titled, “Listen Christian:” “I was hungry, and you formed a humanities club to discuss my hunger. Thank you. I was imprisoned, and you crept off quietly and prayed for my release. I was naked, and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was homeless, and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of the Love of God. I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me. “You seem so holy, so close to God. But I’m still very hungry, and lonely, and cold. So where have your prayers gone? What does it profit a person to page through this book of prayers when the rest of the world is crying for help?” Yes 30 million or more people are suffering today as we speak. Let our eyes be opened and be an answer for their prayers.

There are millions of children at rick of sex trafficked in India and an average age of entry into prostitution is around 12 years. The recruitment happens in the train, school, temples, work place and even at homes. 90% sex workers daughters join or fall into prostitution as a profession. The question is what will be our response...?

*Name is changed for identity protection



Human trafficking and human discrimination starts in India at the birth of the female child. Recently I came to know about a report that parents abandon their female child and they are sold to other people. They grow eventually and become a victim of gender and labor discrimination. In most of the cases the law and other support of legal adoption is not exercised. Gender discrimination based on sex is pervasive across the world and this resulted in treating the female child inferior to the extent of which the girl children are growing up not understanding their human right.

Marco Alfano a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Economics, at the University College London posted in his blog in the World Bank website stating about Southeast Asia; he says parental gender preferences have been found to influence fertility levels. The parents want a certain number of sons and once they reach certain number of male children their fertility decisions are influenced.  When asked about their ideal number of children many Indian mothers state that they would like 2.8 children of which 1.4 should be boys, 1.0 girls and 0.4 of either gender. These attitudes are also reflected in reproductive choices: 54% of families in the sample stop childbearing after having had a boy and only 46% after a girl.

This is happening because of the dowry system and its influence in India. The 1980’s research estimates that dowries can be up to two thirds of the bride’s family assets and 4 out of 5 families paid or received dowry. The dowry system has been cited as one of the major reasons for female infanticide and sex-selective abortion as many families who live in poverty in India cannot afford to raise the funds for a suitable dowry. The unpaid dowry also can result in a forceful divorce, lack of existence of peace and lack of relationship in the family which include the extended family system.  

The national crisis continues in many part of India. According to an ABC News reported by Palash Kumar in 2006 Ten Million girls have been killed by their parents in India in the past 20 years. Every day 7,000 fewer girls are born in the country according to UNICEF.  Girl children are seen as a liability by many Indians. Former national minister Chowdhury said newborn girls have been killed in India by pouring sand or tobacco juice into their nostrils. In some cases the infants are buried alive in a pot.

Economic and education empowerment is the key it is the next side of the coin of gender discrimination and exploitation of women. India is a source and destination for trafficked women and girls into prostitution and bonded labor. The complexities of women empowerment is also embedded in class, caste, and religious identities. From a patriarchal or male-centric model of development to a female-centric model of development is needed for emerging superpower like India as an example for the world future developmental model. No country in the world can put its female population behind the curtain, no matter what kind of ideology, philosophy, theology or religion practiced.Nations that will not respect its women will never become great now, nor in the future.