Archive for the ‘trafficking’ Category

The girls stolen from the streets of India

The death of a student who was gang-raped on a Delhi bus has prompted anguished soul-searching about the place of women in Indian society. The widespread killing of female foetuses and infants is well-documented, but less well-known is the trafficking of girls across the country to make up for the resulting shortages.

Rukhsana was sweeping the floor when police broke into the house.

Wide-eyed and thin, she stood in the middle of a room clutching a broom in her hand. Police officers towered above her, shouting questions: “How old are you? “How did you get here?”

“Fourteen,” she replied softly. “I was kidnapped.”

But just as she began to say more, an older woman broke through the circle of policemen. “She is lying,” she shouted. “She is 18, almost 19. I paid her parents money for her.”

As the police pushed the girl towards the exit, the woman asked them to wait. She leaped over towards the girl and reached for her earrings. “These are mine,” she said, taking them out.

A year ago, Rukhsana was a 13-year-old living with her parents and two younger siblings in a village near India’s border with Bangladesh.

“I used to love going to school and I loved playing with my little sister,” she remembers.

Her childhood ended when one day, on the way home from school, three men pushed her into a car.

“They showed me a knife and said they would cut me into pieces if I resisted,” she said.

After a terrifying three-day journey in cars, buses and on trains, they reached a house in the northern Indian state of Haryana where Rukhsana was sold to a family of four – a mother and her three sons.

For one year she was not allowed to go outside. She says she was humiliated, beaten and routinely raped by the eldest of the three sons – who called himself her “husband”.

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Why We Won’t Stop Buying Brides

The practice of bride buying is closely tied to many patriarchal conditions of sex selective abortions, dowry and gender discrimination. Are we ready to break all the moulds to really want to put an end to this?

A simple Google search on ‘bride buying India’ gives you a mix of results that indicate the human rights violating practice of bride buying in Northwestern states of India, matrimonial sites as well as links to designer bridal sarees and jewelry. This dichotomy itself explains a lot about how tradition and patriarchy are intertwined with the booming economy in our so-called modern Indian society.

The practice of bride buying is not very recluse from the society today. We know that it’s a vicious cycle and relationship between the gender bias within patriarchy and poverty in our country, although patriarchy does not have a stronger root or causality in poverty. Most of us know the stories and modus operandi to how it happens. The archaic system of patriarchy that propagate heavy dowries to be incurred for daughters’ marriages and desire for a long lineage, even to maintain the caste purity in the line, leads to a strong preference for the male child. Female babies are either killed in the foetus or killed or thrown in the garbage shortly after their birth. This issue was vehemently taken up and investigated from all angles in the launch episode of the social issues show, Satyameva Jayate, hosted by popular actor, Aamir Khan.

Decades of families and communities killing the girl child has resulted in an entire demographic of young girls and women missing in many villages in the Northern states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, which are some of the most key places. Hence, in sexual frustration and desperation and of course, the fear of their family being wiped out of the face of existence (which is what they attempted to save in the first place), they look for brides from poorer states on the Eastern parts of India. This time: caste, religion, ethnicity, color and even age, no bar.

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It is a country with a female president and where men revere female goddesses. And yet, India is far from a haven for women.

According to current estimates, Indian men outnumber women by nearly 40 million. That startling gender gap, activists say, is the result of gendercide.

Nearly 50,000 female fetuses are aborted every month and untold numbers of baby girls are abandoned or murdered.

“It’s the obliteration of a whole class, race, of human beings. It’s half the population of India,” said women’s rights activist Ruchira Gupta of Apne Aap Women Worldwide.

Why is there such deadly discrimination against girls? Part of the answer is money. Girls are a financial burden to their parents, who must pay expensive dowries to marry them off. The dowry is a cultural tradition and the single biggest reason Indians prefer boys.

When an Indian woman gives birth to a baby boy, it is an occasion for jubilation, said women’s rights activist Gita Aravamudan, author of the book, “Disappearing Daughters.”.

Mother Says She Was Tortured to Abort Twin Girls

Those seeking to maintain the status quo, meanwhile, have been aggressive.

Mitu Khurana, 34, a pediatrician and a mother trying to fight the system, said she’s faced death threats for the lawsuit she has filed against her husband and her husband’s family.

Khurana said her parents-in-law tricked her into eating a cake made with eggs, knowing that she was allergic to eggs. She had to go to the emergency room and at the hospital, where, Khurana said, an ultrasound determined that she was pregnant with twin girls. (Watch an interview with Mitu Khurana here.)

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A friend recently sent me a web link to the work of artist-activist Fazal Sheikh, in particular his works on women in India. His books, available to view at his website, feature portraits and stories of females, from babies to the aged, who have been aborted, abandoned, abused, and in some instances, murdered.

Last week, while browsing through titles at a bookstore near my hotel, I saw a flier for a gallery exhibit of Fazal’s work – Ladli ‘Beloved Daughter’ that was being shown at Kriti Gallery here in Varanasi.

I knew of his work with widowed women living out their lives in Vrindavan, but was not aware of the extent of his work with all of India’s daughters, until seeing his Ladli exhibit at Kriti Gallery. The portraits and accompanying stories of the Beloved Daughter series tell of the systematic rejection and ritual abuse occurring in India, a reality that some prefer to ignore or deny that it exists.

In speaking with Navneet of Kriti Gallery, I learned that none of the galleries in Delhi are willing to host Ladli. Some, including an editor of one of India’s major news sources who came to the opening of the show at Kriti, outright reject and therefore denigrate the women and their stories, refusing to believe this India still exists. Some guests were angry that Navneet was hosting Fazal’s work, but others, like a group of high school age girls, were moved to tears by it. And this is what the portraits and stories do. Stir us to outrage, to sadness, and ideally, to action.

Krishna’s Story
from the online edition of Ladli:

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In India, apparently, not much. According to a recent article in the Times of India, her worth is a tenth of the price of a buffalo in the northern state of Punjab where women are growing scarce due to rampant female foeticide.

FATEHGARH SAHIB: It is the matter of great shame that in Punjab a woman can be ‘purchased’ merely for Rs 3,000 while a buffalo is sold for Rs 30,000, said Punjab health minister Laxmi Kanta Chawala. She was addressing a seminar ‘Doctors for Daughters’ organized here on Sunday by the Punjab Chapter of Indian Medical Council. She said after 1947, the Punjabis had killed more daughters than the number of people killed during the partition.

Punjab health secretary Tilak Raj Sarangal said the situation was so grim that it was like social emergency which had started showing grim effects on the society. He said this situation had given rise to the concept of ‘Modern Daropadi’, where brothers were sharing one wife in a given household.

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‘Buying’ woman is easier than buffalo

History of Bias from Hindustan Times November 19, 2007 edition

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A few years ago I saw the film Matrubhoomi: A Nation Without Women. A deeply disturbing Indian film said to be futuristic in nature, from the sound of the attached article, it looks like the future has arrived. Girls are becoming an endangered gender in India. While dowry is still demanded in most marriages, things are changing in some parts of India where there are not enough women of marrying age. The result? Girls are being bought, sold, kidnapped, and trafficked. Unbelievably,“…even local elections have candidates promising brides in return for votes.”

An excerpt from the November 11th edition of Hindustan Times:


Where have all the girls gone?

In the prosperous districts of Haryana and Punjab — where son preference has resulted in a skewed sex ratio — girls from economically weaker backgrounds in Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and West Bengal are being openly bought in droves for ‘marriages’ that are more often than not without the consent of the girl. The legal status of such wedlock, of course, remains questionable. According to data compiled by Shaktivahini, a Faridabad-based NGO that takes up anti-trafficking issues, there are up to 50,000 paros in Haryana alone, including a huge proportion of minors. Faced with a crisis, even local elections have candidates promising brides in return for votes.

Census 2001 shows that the child sex ratio in Haryana and Punjab stands at 820 and 793 per 1,000 boys respectively. But according to the latest health survey by the Punjab government, villages like Sansarwal in Patiala have touched an alarming 438 girls per 1,000 boys.

Ergo, girls are fast turning into a vanishing tribe. A recent United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) report warns that female deficit in the marriageable age (20-49) is set to touch 25 million by the year 2030.

The impact, however, is already being felt here. Says Dr Madhav Mohan Godbole, the director of Balgrah, a rehabilitation centre in Rai, Sonepat, “Villagers come to us and plead for brides. They say if we can’t fix them up, they will be forced to buy girls.” Faced with a crisis, even local elections have candidates promising brides in return for votes. Ram Prasad of Seoti village in Sonepat, concedes, “frequent trips are being made from all over Haryana to hunt for girls in Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand and even Maharashtra.”

In a typical ‘buying’ scenario, someone with ‘contacts’ in source states facilitates such arrangements in return for kharcha-paani, explains Rishikant of Shativahini. The ‘going rate’ ranges from Rs 6,000 –10,000, depending on the age and virginity. Forced by poverty, many a time the paros also have to ‘accept’ polyandry.

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