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Interview with Shafiq Khan: Working To Rescue Girls Trafficked As “Brides”

April 22, 2012

Our previous post was on ‘Bride Trafficking’ — an indigenous form of ‘Sex Trafficking’ in India that occurs in the guise of  fake marriages, and is fast spreading in those regions of India where gender-ratios are the lowest, and men cannot find women to marry.  In this post,  journalist Alam Bains interviews Shafiq R. Khan, founder of the NGO Empower People, that’s working to rescue and rehabilitate girls who’ve been victims of ‘Bride Trafficking.’

1.      What is Bride trafficking?

When girls are deceived in the name of marriage and then sold to others, such girls come under the definition of bride trafficking. The whole thing gives an impression  of a normal marriage; but such girls re-trafficked and sold in the name of marriage again and again. This type of trafficking is called Bride Trafficking. It is a new word to define an inhuman custom which is being practiced for centuries. Bride buying is an old custom of world, especially India where a man has the privilege of buying a girl in the name of marriage. China and Korea are well aware of this phenomenon.

 2.      In which parts of the country is it more prevalent and why?

India is a major source, transit and destination for bride trafficking. Some girls are being trafficked to other countries as well like Arab countries, Canada, Australia, USA and UK from Andhra Pradesh, Haryana-Punjab and Rajasthan. Ironically Haryana-Punjab and Rajasthan are major destinations for Girls who are being trafficked from eastern and southern states. 90 percent cases of bride trafficking are domestic while 10% are international.

According to our analysis extending over a period of six years, it is found that highest percentage (23%) of bride trafficking take place from West Bengal. Assam is the next state from where 17% of girls have been lured into the trap. Undivided Bihar is next to Assam from where 13% of girls are trafficked.

This type of marriages are not considered socially respectable in source area and more often regarded as “thug vivah‘ (fake marriage) or Gurjara maduve (gujjar marriage).

Bride Trafficking is now an organized crime and traffickers are professional criminals who are working for money. Poverty and other justification behind trafficking is nothing but a ‘myth’ created by those who want to keep their eyes closed from such an inhuman social crime.

 3.      What are the myths about bride traficking?

 The issue of Bride Trafficking is full of misconceptions. Mainstream media and academia see this as a result of declining sex ratio in north India. It is true that declining sex-ratio is a pushing factor for this but not a lone factor. We have eighty years old known history of this practice in India.

Before Partition there used to be a Jind House at some distance from the Ambala railway station, adjacent to it was an “Adda” where women were offered for sale. People from various parts of this region, especially from the Malwa belt of the undivided Punjab, used to flock to the place to buy women or “brides”.  Dehra Dun was another centre where poor women were put on sale. The traffickers who were known as ‘burdafrosh’ (a Persian term for slave traders) used book orders for girls by visiting villages of the undivided Punjab.

Trafficked Girls are referred to as “Paro’ (outsider) or “Molki’ (lit. purchased) and “Jugaad” (lit. arrangement). 

 4.      What is the position of Indian legal system on the phenomena? Can an affected woman seek justice and if so, under which laws ?

Unfortunately, there are no meaningful laws to tackle this; ITPA (Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act) is a special law for prostitution, not for all forms of trafficking. It is confused and self-contradictory too. Bonded labor act 1976 and Juvenile Justice Act can’t tackle this type of case. Indian Penal Code section 366 is an only way to tackle this, but it has no provision for rehabilitation or reintegration of victim girls.

Only two NGOs are working on the issue one is EMPOWER PEOPLE and the other is Shakti-vahini.  But Shakti-vahini is working on some other issues as well, since bride trafficking is not an issue which could raise funds and, of course, no one can sustain without funds.

 5.      Why is there such less awareness about bride trafficking in India?

Since victims are girls and they are from pitiable social backgrounds. Not only bride trafficking, but other issues related to these girls like ‘genital-singe’ and ‘witch killings’ are also ignored by media and elite civil society.

I would like to add one more thing that our NGOs  are fund oriented and they are not working for any specific issue that is why most of NGOs are working on those issue which can easily funded by any foreign agencies or any social groups. If you remember, the issue of honor killing was talk of the town a year ago but now it has vanished from the memory of the ‘civil societies’. We have no research, not a single data on honor killings. We are trying to make this (bride trafficking) a social issue. 

 6.      Please tell us a little bit about your organisation EMPOWER PEOPLE and why did you decide to take up the cause of bride trafficking?

 EMPOWER PEOPLE was born in 2006 with an aim to work for victims of bride trafficking. When I was in March against Female Feticide in Haryana, I met a trafficked woman and decided to work on this issue. Now, Empower People is working as an umbrella organization for 20 CBOs across the country.    

 7.      How does your organisation deal with the problem of bride trafficking and what are the techniques and methods you follow during rescue and rehabilitation?

 We are working in destination and source area for prevention, rescue and then rehabilitation. We believe that, if society is responsible for any problem then society, itself, can resolve the problem. Our belief-system reflects in our character, extended society is our funder, worker and volunteer. Most of rescue done by our organization was conducted by public participation and which can be termed mass rescue operation. Even we believe in, and successfully doing community based rehabilitation for those victims.

 8.      Please tell us about your current projects, especially the “WALK AGAINST BRIDE TRAFFICKING”.

Now we are working on sustainable rehabilitation and skill development of trafficked girls. Rescue and other crisis intervention centers are smoothly functioning in Haryana and Punjab where we are working on trafficking and honor based crimes.

Walk against bride trafficking is a programme to create a people’s network against bride trafficking and violence against women from source area to destination area of trafficking. It is not simply an awareness programme but it is an innovative fund raising idea and an opportunity to sensitize and engage male members of the society. Recently, we have completed first phase of the “March against bride trafficking” where we covered 4500 Km from Assam to West Bengal. During this march, we have seen some unforgettable moments. It was really unbelievable, when I was speaking on prostitution, sex work, rape and trafficking in mosques and other religious places, the religious leaders also came forward. They actively participated in the march. Some vaidik pathshala and Arya Samaj also took keen interest in the issue.  We will start a campaign with religious leaders as soon as possible.   

 9.      What is the documentary “DRAUPADI’S DESECENDANTS” about and what is the message being sent out throught it?

 Draupadi’s Desendents was funded by PSBT and directed by Oindrilla Hazra. It was an attempt to cover all aspects of bride trafficking. It is first film where we can find such ethnic-track of bride buying and trafficking. It also covered Honor based crimes. The Haryana police are using this documentary as IEC material in police training and police gender sensitization workshops.

 10.  What changes would you like to see in India in the context of atrocities against women?

 Our society in India is hell for women, not only female feticide, trafficking or honor crime but  rape, pornography, bride burning, witch-killing; every crime is being justified in a way or the other.  Hunger, poverty and other universal problems are also associated with women. So we have to work on everything but, at least, crimes should not be justified by any absurd logic.

11.  What are the future plans for EMPOWER PEOPLE?

 We are planning to launch an embroidery house in August 2012, where survivors of Bride trafficking will be helped in their sustainable rehabilitation. Now, we are focusing on this project. Approximately 25 survivors  are being trained who will take the charge of Empower people. 

 12.  How can the youth join the cause or your organisation, if they are passionate about eradicating this social evil?

 Easily, anyone can join us by visiting our website where they can fill a form, under a string “Join our network” and we will guide you further.  Please use our web address

Alam Bains is a  journalist with Youth Ki awaaz and News Not Making News.  She is also the director of India’s largest youth conference, to be held in June, called International Youth Forum for Policy, Change and Development.  She is currently pursuing her Masters in Sociology from the Delhi School Of Economics. She is passionate about women’s rights and wants to work for a more gender just and gender equal nation.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. emery permalink
    April 23, 2012 10:44 pm

    its no different than the Nazis putting the Jews on trains to take them to the camps. the only reason the UN isn’t trying to stop it is that this is more covert. the Indian home is a mini concentration camp where the husband is the commandant, the in-laws are the SS guards the traffickers are the trains that bring the victims, and of course the women are the Jews. some days i think the best thing to do is to give these women guns and knives so they can fight there way out just like the The Bielski partisans did in occupied Europe.

    • Lisa Kowalski permalink
      April 27, 2012 11:09 am

      Great idea, how else will these women find empowerment!

  2. emery permalink
    April 27, 2012 11:25 pm

    i checked gun ownership is legal in India (but highly regulated) so this plan might actually be feasible.

  3. May 24, 2012 2:05 pm

    Moreover, ‘many of the agencies working with “trafficking victims” in fact illegally detain sex workers after they have been rounded up in police raids. I have met sex workers who have been held against their will for up to three months in so-called shelters.’ Andrew tells me that many shelters are set up specifically for ‘protection cases’ – ‘young girls taken by NGOs from villages in order to hide them from traffickers’. So, in order to prevent young girls from being taken away from their families, NGOs take them away from their families… ‘Usually, they teach them things like sewing and in that way offer ready-trained workers for the garment industry, where women are indeed exploited and paid paltry wages.’ Also, ‘there are plenty of US-backed DIY-NGOs in Cambodia who want to save young girls, offering them bible study dressed up as literacy classes.’ This is a missionary position indeed.

    • June 7, 2012 6:37 am

      @las artes. That’s true. I have also been very concerned about the state of women’s shelters in India. Not just the ones for trafficking, but the general shelters too where women in situations of domestic violence, dowry violence etc. live. They are like prisons. Many of them are filthy and very depressing. The set up is such that it is like life-time incarceration — they do wage labor for minimal wages, and usually making bags, clothes, cards etc. that are sold at very high prices because apparently it’s helping women in distress. But there’s no effort made to set these women up so that they can live independent lives and not be dependent on the shelters for ever. In fact it’s almost like the women become a source of funding for the ngos and so there is no incentive for the ngos to actually enable these women to become independent!

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