Monday, February 11, 2008

Child Slavery in India

From The Times of India: Hostage horror for Bengal girls in Bihar 11 Feb 2008, 0240 hrs IST,Caesar Mandal,TNN KAKDWIP: Girls from Bengal, some as young as 10, are being held hostage and auctioned off in Bihar. A TOI investigation has revealed that they are locked up, starved, beaten and forced to dance sleazy numbers in front of violent, gun-toting crowds. One such group of youngsters from Kakdwip, 100 km from Kolkata, has been rescued after three weeks of captivity in Gopalganj, Bihar. But they are the lucky ones. Every year, over 500 girls taken to Bihar from this area are never seen again. TOI had done an exposé of the horrific racket on May 5 last year, but this time, we have gone deeper into the hellish world these helpless girls are trapped in. The girls and boys rescued from Bihar's Gopalganj were first sold for Rs 1 lakh by a local tout and then resold for Rs 2 lakh to an agent in Bihar without their knowledge. They were held at gunpoint and every little slip drew a vicious assault. The Kakdwip group had nine members - five girls and four boys. The youngest was 10 and the majority aged 14-16. Their leader, Prasenjit Haldar, got a contract to perform at a show in Mathurapur on January 21. After the event, a local tout - Somnath Dandapat - lured them to Sodepur in Kolkata with the promise of a bigger show and more money. But once in Sodepur, the group was handed over to Asim Mukherjee, another middleman. The next evening, they were made to board a Tata Sumo around 7.30 pm and told their venue was a three-hour drive away. But it turned out to be a much longer one. Panic set in when Somnath and Asim forced them to hand over their mobiles. The dancers were trapped. The vehicle sped out of the state. Early next morning, they reached Gopalganj and were taken to a heavily fortified house guarded by gunmen. All nine were herded into a small room and locked up. When one of the girls tried to speak, she was severely beaten up. "We did not know where we were. We were terrified. They threatened to kill us if we refused to follow instructions," said 10-year-old Monami. On January 24, the group was packed into a car and taken to perform at a wedding. The tired and terrified youngsters were forced to dance in three sessions without food or water. "We had no choice. They were carrying guns and would slap us whenever we asked for a break," said Kaushiki. On January 25, the group was split, with six of them taken to a wedding at Mirganj. On the way back, Monami's cousin Samar jumped out of the jeep and ran to a phone booth. He managed to call his brother Panchanan at Kakdwip and tell him where they were being held hostage before the gunmen captured him. Samar was beaten till he bled, but the call saved the hapless youngsters. (Victims' names have been changed) Related story: An endless cycle of slavery 11 Feb 2008, 0244 hrs IST,Caesar Mandal,TNN

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