The rape and murder of a Karbi Girl in Assam’s Nagaon District draws our attention to the grave issue of child labour, a broken justice system and the exploitation of indigenous communities

by- Europa Doley

On 23rd April 2021, a man and his son were arrested after police discovered the burnt body of their 12 year old domestic help outside their residence in Nagaon district of Assam. The minor girl belonged to the Karbi community and hailed from Kudam Ronghang village in West Karbi Along district of the state. According to news reports, the Assam State Commission for Protection of Child Rights (ASCPCR) informed that the girl was pregnant before she was burnt to death and the neighbour’s of the accused also complained that the victim was regularly abused by her employers. According to the New Indian Express, the state’s director general of police, Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta informed the public that apart from killing her, she was also underaged to be working as a domestic help and hence, the two accused were taken to police custody immediately. 

According to a recent study on child labour and child rights in Assam, out of 60 child labourers, 28.3% work as domestic labourers in Guwahati, Assam. Although the mentioned study focuses only on the urban city, the situation is mostly the same in other smaller towns or cities across the state. It is rather a tragic case of exploitation of indegenous communities by the upper caste and upper class families of the state. The brutal murder and rape of the minor Karbi girl exposes the problem of child labour that is rampant in this part of Assam. Karbi Anglong comprises chiefly of people belonging to the Karbi community, living in poor conditions with little or no financial stability. The villagers because of the lack of resources to educate and feed their children are forced to send them to the well off families living in the adjacent urban areas in Nagaon or other parts of Assam. The employers, mainly encompassing the upper caste Assamese families adopt these children in the promise of providing them better education but in reality, keep them as domestic labourers, where they are treated inhumanely and restricted from having any contact with their actual family members. As per the studies conducted and reported by the Karbi Human Rights Watch (KHRW), there are around 5000 Karbi young and underaged girls working as domestic helps in many adjoining districts of Karbi Anglong Autonomous Territorial Council.

I have known a lot of cases like rape, physical torture, molestation by the host families in Nagaon. Karbi children aged five to 14 are targets of child slavery and labour in Nagaon houses. Once the children are taken by the employer, always lured in the name of education and giving them a luxurious life, they are never allowed to go back to their parents. Some children’s surnames have also been changed by the employer/host families” said Abhijit Kro, the former president of Nagaon District Karbi Students Association. (As reported by EastMojo)

The issues faced by the Karbi communities are often neglected or ignored by the high officials concerned in the district because as complained by the locals, it is mostly considered to be a backward area and not enough attention is paid when such cases are filed by the parents of the young children and as a result there’s a lot of hesitancy within the people when it comes to formally lodging a complaint. Many activists and leaders of different Karbi organisations complained about the booming business of child trafficking in and around the borders connecting the districts of Karbi Anglong and Nagaon. The main reason for such incidents is the absence of proper border checking by the administration in these areas. However, top police officials reject such claims. 

Karbi Anglong is administered by the Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council and as per the Census data of 2011, less than half of the population of the district are literate. In West Karbi Anglong, people are doubly disadvantaged with low levels of human resources, education and productivity levels.There is very little scope for the locals living here to grow both economically and socially. The main reason behind the lack of proper infrastructures in Karbi Anglong is the lack of good governance. For decades, people belonging to the upper class and upper caste societies have been exploiting the indegenous communities living in these ‘backward’ areas for their personal benefits, such as allowing illegal mining in their lands, trading their indegenous herbal plants to the private companies/agents, encouraging women to brew alcohol for ‘business’ and many others. Therefore, it is not a surprising fact that these ‘well-off’ families keep many young tribal children as domestic servants and consider them as uncivilized. There is not much of a difference between them and the colonizers who inhabited the country many years back. Tribals are still regarded as ‘backward’ and Assam with several tribal/ethnic communities are not new to the atrocities or backlash against these communities by the upper caste Assamese people.

Hence, it has become important to focus on the future of the naturally rich region of Karbi Anglong. With the involvement of the various youth groups/social activists working towards its development by addressing the social and environmental issues. 

While this recent horrific incident is very distressing, it is not for the first time that such an incident has been reported. There have been several reports of Karbi children being abused as domestic labourers in households of Assamese upper caste families in Nagaon and other districts but the justice system has failed to deliver any strong verdict against such heinous crimes. Moreover the poor conditions of the families of the victims do not allow them to pursue the legal cases due to the lengthy and expensive procedure.

Image Source : Protest by Karbi Students Association 

Picture credits – Ajay Rongchehon

Many Karbi youth activists argue that the social dynamics of the justice system is to be blamed here as the system has placed a dominant voice in power and there is visibly less representation of the community in the system itself. Thus, due to the lack of pressure on the system that is highly based on the intersection of the class and social hierarchy, the people who exploit Karbi children continue to do so for a longer run.

It is absolutely important for the young girl to get justice and severe exemplary punishment be meted out to the culprits. But the trafficking of minors and the illegal practice of child labour is unlikely to stop here. At this point, it becomes crucial to have a deep look at the causes of such practice still being continued even after it has been declared illegal. Thus, it is necessary to take action against all those families using young children as domestic servants. As a society, we must introspect amongst ourselves on this insidious practice and the double standards involved.

Europa is an art enthusiast, an occasional reader, a musicophile and in her head, she’s living in the 60’s in a faraway land mostly chilling with Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan. Currently, doing her Master’s in Gender Studies from Ambedkar University Delhi and she is engrossed in the issues faced by marginalised communities. Presently she is interning at