What makes Jharkhand the hunting ground of India’s human traffickers and why, despite key arrests, is it still business as usual for those who trade in humans?

A bout 50 km south of Ranchi, in Khunti district, a narrow dirt road leads to Ganloya village.

(Clockwise from above) A trafficking survivor at her home in Gumla district, where she has become an outcast.

A bout 50 km south of Ranchi, in Khunti district, a narrow dirt road leads
to Ganloya village.
(Clockwise from above) A trafficking survivor at her home in Gumla
district, where she has become an outcast.

Makeshift shops selling tobacco and mobile recharge cards are interspersed
with thatched huts and tamarind trees in the hamlet of Panna Lal Mahto,
allegedly one of India’s biggest human traffickers.

Despite the scorching heat, girls play barefoot in a clearing by a rice
field. Nearby, a group of men sitting on a

charpoy drink hadiya or rice beer. Of late, the village has been nicknamed
Chora Ganloya — village of thieves — because of the growing number of young
men turning to crime, primarily the trafficking of girls to ‘placement
agencies’ in Delhi and the National Capital Region.

Khunti is one of five districts that form the Jharkhand belt — the others
are Gumla, Simdega, Lohardaga and Latehar. The Jharkhand belt supplies
domestic help to thousands of homes in Delhi and satellite towns such as
Noida, Gurgaon and Faridabad.

Unlike the state’s industrially developed districts, think Ranchi, Dhanbad
or Bokaro, endemic poverty marks these districts, with more than 35% of the
tribal population living below the poverty line. These pockets are also the
Naxal war zones of Jharkhand.

These factors make it prime hunting ground for traffickers such as
42-year-old Mahto, who had amassed assets worth over Rs 65 crore in Delhi
and Jharkhand, having allegedly trafficked about 3,000 girls and women by
the time of his arrest last October, the result of a joint operation by the
Delhi police Crime Branch and the Jharkhand Anti-Human Trafficking Unit

“Most of these placement agencies are organised crime syndicates and they
regularly indulge in trafficking of women and children. The business of
placement agencies has been fuelled by huge demand of maids from eastern
tribal states in the National Capital Region of Delhi,” noted the United
Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) India Country Assessment Report,

About 4,000 children have gone missing in Jharkhand over the past 10 years.
Of these, 1,000 are yet to be traced, according to the CID. Approximately
42,000 girls have been trafficked from Jharkhand to metropolitan cities, as
per the NGO coalition Action against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of
Children (ATSEC), making it a major hub of human trafficking in India.


Anubhuti Nag*, a tribal girl who will turn 18 next month, was among the
first few girls in Patsera, a Naxal-affected village of about 100 families
in Gumla district, to make the trip to Delhi.

Within two weeks of her arriving in the city, a man named Mukesh Kumar, a
Jharkhand native in his late 40s running a placement agency, hired her for
Rs 5,000 per month. Anubhuti’s job was to receive potential recruits at the
railway station, bring them to the office of the agency, keep a check on
about 50 girls placed across the city by the agency, and accompany the new
recruits on their maiden visits to the homes of their employers.

Gradually, Mukesh spotted a potential trafficker in Anubhuti and offered
her Rs 10,000 for each girl she could get from her village to Delhi. One
afternoon, Anubhuti discovered that the bag containing all her ID documents
was missing. She confronted Mukesh.

“Don’t pay me, but please return my documents. I want to go home,” she
reportedly said. When he wouldn’t listen, she became angry and slapped him.
Enraged, Mukesh and two aides raped her, she says. The following week,
Anubhuti was rescued in a joint operation by the Jharkhand and Delhi
police, but the rape was not recorded or investigated, on her request.

Back in their villages, girls like Anubhuti find themselves out of place as
the government does not run any programmes for their rehabilitation.
Wearing branded jeans and a T-shirt, with a smartphone in her hand, she
looks starkly different from the rest of Patsera’s inhabitants. She is more
confident, speaks fluent Hindi with a smattering of English words such as
‘park’, ‘society’, ‘hello’ and ‘bye’.

The villagers call them ‘Dilli return’ girls. There are few prospects for
them here. Anubhuti supports her family of five on her savings of Rs
25,000. She hasn’t thought about what she, or they, will do once that is

Alakh Singh, member of the district child welfare committee, a
quasi-judicial body, says that in addition to the financial insecurity,
Anubhuti and others like her find it difficult to readjust to village life.
This makes them vulnerable to re-trafficking, he adds.


The signs of distress are visible in the numerous child care institutions
that have mushroomed across the state. And in the fact that many families
do not come to claim daughters that have been rescued. Anjali Munda*, 15, a
tribal from a village in Khunti and a trafficking survivor, has lost hope
of ever being reunited with her parents. They were contacted by the police
three months ago, but have stayed away.

At her Sahyog Village (Sahyog is Hindi for assistance) facility alone,
there are more than a dozen survivors in the same predicament. “Some
parents are not willing to take them back. Others don’t have the resources
to support them,” says Altaf Khan of Sahyog Village.

As with most survivors, for Anjali too, the first point of contact in her
‘life-changing’ journey was an acquaintance based in the Capital — a
friend’s cousin who worked in a jeans-manufacturing unit in Delhi. “He
asked me if I wanted to see the city. One day I left with him without
telling anyone. I think this is why my parents are angry with me and do not
come to get me,” she says.

Weekly markets and village fairs, local buses, and crossroads in Ranchi
city where villagers gather in search of work are points of contact for
traffickers and potential victims.

“These chowks are also now becoming recruitment centres for agents who lure
women and girls to Delhi for work,” noted a report on human trafficking in
Jharkhand prepared by Shakti Vahini (Vehicle of Strength), an NGO working
against organised crime.

While some leave without telling their families, there are parents who send
their children off with ‘agents’ in the hope that they will find employment
in a big city.

Even those that are placed in jobs as promised end up isolated and
dependent, forced to work as domestic help in slave-like conditions. Most
are never paid.

ATSEC found that only 25% of the women who leave the Jharkhand belt with
agents remain in contact with their families. “Usually, parents stop
hearing from their children and the agents stop taking their calls,” says
Rishi Kant of Shakti Vahini.

Approaching police is a taboo in Naxalaffected villages, so many cases
remain unreported. The women just disappear, and there is no one equipped
to look for them.


In Gumla’s villages, the writing is literally on the wall. Messages warning
people about human trafficking are scribbled on the exterior walls of
houses and read, “Saavdhan. Kahin aapke bacche maanav

vyaapar ka shikaar toh nahin (Beware. May your child not fall prey to those
who trade in humans).”

Although the state government has taken some initiative to combat
trafficking, establishing district child protection forces and special
juvenile police units, implementation and enforcement are poor.

The result is that the trade continues unabated, even as Panna Lal Mahto
and 75 others are lodged in Khunti prison, facing charges of trafficking.

“It’s like a flood. You stop the flow from one side, and it finds another
way,” said Aradhna Singh, sub-inspector with the AHTU in Khunti, one of 225
such units set up across the country by the union home ministry in 2011-12.
“According to our information, Mahto’s aides remain very active.”

Earlier this month, Mahto’s nephew, Manan*, a minor, was arrested at Ranchi
railway station with three girls. None of the arrests seems to have
deterred the rest of the trafficking network. The crackdown has just
prompted them to modify their operations.

“Recruiting minor traffickers is a new trend,” Singh says. “It is difficult
to prove their criminality in such cases. Even if it is proved, they will
be tried under the Juvenile Justice Act and not the Indian Penal Code.”

Many traffickers now opt for Ranchi-Delhi Rajdhani train to evade the task
forces that now watch the Jharkhand Sampark Kranti Express, dubbed the
Slavery Express. “On the Rajdhani, you don’t raise suspicion. Who would
expect a trafficker to travel in the second class coach of an
air-conditioned superfast train?” says Baidnath Kumar, program officer at
Diya Seva Sansthan, a grassroot organisation in Ranchi.

The market has changed too. “Some of the victims are sent to Haryana where
there is a demand of brides… Jharkhand women and children have been also in
high demand to work as bonded labour in Haryana and Punjab,” according to
the UNODC report.

Will Jharkhand ever tackle its trafficking menace? Mahto offered a worrying
perspective during his arrest. “I have given jobs to far more people than
the state government has,” he reportedly said.

(* Names changed to protect identities)