When I recently visited Mainpat and Sitapur regions of Sarguja, Chhattisgarh for scaling-up SAI’s agro forestry model I did not know that I would encounter another dimension of poverty – human trafficking.
The local people informed me that many young girls from this region are being transported and put into sex slavery. Upon further research I came across UNDOC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) report which highlights that this part of Chhattisgarh is becoming a trafficking hub. The report reveals that the supply racket has become a thriving business for the many touts in contact with the Manjhi, Manjwar and Urao tribes of some 30 odd village panchayats, including 18 situated on the top of the Mainpat hills in Sarguja.
The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2016 India highlights that the touts use false promises of employment, and then subject women and girls to sex trafficking. In addition to traditional red light districts, women and children increasingly endure sex trafficking in small hotels and private residences. The report further highlights that though Section 370 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) prohibits slavery, servitude and most forms of sex trafficking, and prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties; the incidences of touts violating the law are rampant.
During my visit Mr. Amrit Kindo of Manjhi tribe in Guturma Panchayat at Sitapur, Sarguja informed that the terrain is very difficult to sustain any kinds of livelihoods. The area is also very remote from district headquarter. The local touts take benefits of this situation and lure tribal under false promises of employment and take their young girls for sex trafficking. Mr. Kindo was earlier field staff of ‘Aasha’ NGO and successfully tackled many such trafficking cases. Aggrieved, the local touts conspired to eliminate him, he however survived.
Mr. Kindo suggested that mere prosecution of traffickers and rehabilitation of victims will not solve the problems. The crux of the problem is rural poverty and lack of any source of income. He questioned that if the poor tribal households get income to meet the basic needs then why they will send their sisters and daughters outside to work and fall prey to touts?
As mentioned, the area is remote and isolated with difficult terrain and undulated topography. Sustaining any agriculture based activity will be a challenge. SAI-Sustainable Agro has taken up this challenge together with its local NGO partners ‘Aasha’ and ‘GVYKS’ and Department of Forests, Government of Chhattisgarh under ‘Hariyali Prasar Yojna’. SAI would be converting these barren lands into beautiful agro-forestry model to sustain rural livelihoods. In 2017, the team plans to establish the model with approximately 1000 tribal families, which will gradually be scaled up to 10,000 families annually. SAI team has successfully piloted the model in Kapu region of Raigarh district in 2016.
It is estimated that under agro forestry while traditional seasonal crops would provide an annual income of Rs.30,000 (US$500) or more, harvesting of matured plants would provide Rs.1 lakhs (US$1500) or more every 4th years as SAI already has buy-back arrangements with Pulp & Paper Industry. Together with seasonal income and regular awareness by partner NGOs it is envisaged that SAI will be able to bring these families above international poverty line and curb the menace of human trafficking. It has successfully done so in Odisha and would be doing the same in this belt of Chhattisgarh.
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