What exactly does human trafficking mean, and how does it affect communities in India? Human trafficking implies the unlawful movement or acquisition by improper means, such as of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, with an intention to exploit them [i]. It has emerged as one of the growing organised crime in the world right now [ii]. Human trafficking, particularly in women and children, has captured a serious attention in India as well (Banerjee 2003; Gupta 2003; Sen and Nair 2004) [iii]. Despite the different measures taken by the state, the crime has become more organized, well set and expanded to different other forms as well [iv]. Trafficking has widely spread in such a way that today almost every part of the country is affected by this crime. Even though human trafficking for sexual slavery has been a matter of serious concern to the country, of late, there has been an increasing tendency of trafficking children and women for forced labor and bondage (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC, 2013).
Sex labor and bonded labor comprise the vast majority of trafficking in India though begging industry and organ harvesting have also noted [v]. It is the denial of socio-economic and human rights that end up in loss of control over life and, for that reason, trafficking and exploitation. “Trafficking in human beings is not an episodic phenomenon affecting a few individuals, but is of structural nature, with extensive implications on the social, economic, and organizational fabric of our societies [vi]”. A variety of reasons such as deepening poverty, deteriorating living conditions, constant unemployment, human deprivation, and hopelessness promote the human trafficking [vii]. Households living in poverty have nothing to protect them other than selling away their only asset that is the labor of the family. If the geographical neighborhood does not offer the opportunity to contribute this labor, he or she is sent far-off as migrants. At this particular stage, since their low bargaining threat their security, they become vulnerable to trafficking. The research shows that there has been an increasing trend of children being trafficked from the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Assam, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh for the purpose of domestic labor (Sen and Nair 2004; Sarkar 2011).
However, the anti-trafficking campaigns in the country as well as outside inadvertently alter the focus from the forced labor migrants who are severely exploited to the ‘duped’ female migrants ferried into underground prostitution [viii]. The display of sexual slavery stories repeated in the public sphere creates a national panic over the mobility of the people across borders [ix]. It also helps the nation states worldwide to hide its role in the causes of labor trafficking and to stop further migration. The created nervousness generates a collective backing for an increase in militarising the migration control needed to detain the victims and return the subjects to the territory. By creating fear over mobility, especially, of women and children, the media and other stakeholders work in tandem with state surveillance to halt migration instead of creating a safe avenue for migrants to find resources for support.
Here, Jharkhand Anti Trafficking Network (JATN) and its anti-trafficking campaigns diverge from the existing trend. Unlike the widespread approach of stop migration to prevent trafficking, this network promotes the approach of safe migration to help prevent human trafficking and raise the issue of trafficking as violence against women and girls in the public domain. JATN is a state-level joint network of 14 grassroots NGOs working in the different parts of Jharkhand. Srijan Foundation, where I work as AIF Fellow, leads this network. My project at Srijan Foundation seeks to study the interrelationship of anti-trafficking initiatives and human rights in the Indian context. The investigation is to be done by examining the legal and advocacy interventions of JATN in Jharkhand, through the legal ethnography of JATN’s legal archive and the state legal archive.
Jharkhand is said to be among the top sources for unsafe migration and human trafficking in India. Victims are typically young women and adolescent girls from tribal areas who are illiterate and impoverished. Besides, deep-rooted gender conditioning, extreme poverty, systematic alienation of people from their natural resources and the state’s geographic condition is making trafficking easier and worse. The state’s physical proximity to international borders, namely with Bangladesh and Nepal, along with domestic metropolitan cities such as Kolkata, Delhi and Mumbai, also make Jharkhand an epicenter for human trafficking and migration. Women and youth from the tribal, scheduled caste and ethnic minority communities of the state identified and lured by the unscrupulous agents (who are often close relatives and neighbors) to domestic work in metropolitan cities. These groups are mostly unaware of the possible working conditions and wages and find them trapped into exploitative labor arrangements once trafficked.
JATN presently works in 13 trafficking prone districts of Jharkhand, namely: Giridih, Godda, Gumla, Dumka, Chatra, Deoghar, Koderma, Khunti, Hazaribagh, West Singhbhum, Simdega, Lohardagga and Ranchi. It covers 19 blocks, 79 Panchayats, and 257 villages. JATN strives to build the capacity of community and grassroots organisations to empower marginalised and vulnerable sections of society in exercising their rights and realizing their entitlements. It provides capacity-building support, promotes information dissemination, and models development and technical support to individuals, NGOs, and civil society. JATN members also focus on strategic planning for interventions developing safe and secure movement.
[i] Sarkar, S. (2014). “Rethinking Human Trafficking in India: Nature, Extent, and Identification of Survivors.” The Round Table 103 (5), 483-495
[ii] Shelley, L. (2010). Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective. Cambridge University Press.
[iii] Banerjee, U. D. (2003). “Globalization and Its Links to Migration and Trafficking: The Crisis in India, Nepal and Bangladesh.” Canadian Woman Studies 22 (3-4), 124;
Gupta, G. R. (2003). Review of Literature for Action Research on Trafficking in Women and Children. Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi;
Sen, S., and IPS, P. N. (2006). “A Report on Trafficking in Women and Children in India 2002-2003.” Methodology 33, 39.
[iv] Sarkar, S. (2014). Rethinking human trafficking in India: Nature, extent and identification of survivors. The Round Table 103 (5), 483-495
[v] Huda, S. (2006). “Sex Trafficking in South Asia.” International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics 94 (3), 374-381.
[vi] Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament, Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and Combating the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Child Pornography, at 2, COM (2000) 854 final (Jan. 22, 2001).
[vii] Salah, R. (2004). “Child Trafficking: A Challenge to Child Protection in Africa.” Fourth African Regional Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, Enugu, March.
[viii] Nathan, D. (2005). “Oversexed.” Nation 281 (6), 27-30.
[ix] Schaeffer-Grabiel, F. (2010). “Sex Trafficking as the ‘New Slave Trade’?” Sexualities 13 (2), 153-160.