Despite a new CrPC section, victims of trafficking find it difficult to obtain compensation from the state. Some voluntary groups are trying to change that
In a black salwar-suit and matching headscarf, Ruksana (name changed) listens carefully from a corner of the hall. Members of her support group are talking about their suffering, struggles, aspirations and achievements. At her turn, she slowly opens up. Like that of many others, her story is one of deceit, despair and misery. Yet she sees hope. Ruksana was 21 when a youth befriended her in her village in the swampy South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal. Their friendship grew and she came to believe he would help her break out of poverty. He got her to board a train to Mumbai, promising her a good job and a happy life. When she reached there, she found herself in a brothel for which the youth was a pimp. It was on the outskirts of the big city, and even if she had gathered the courage to escape, she might have failed. By the time she was rescued in December 2016 by the Goranbose Gram Bikash Kendra, an anti-trafficking NGO based in West Bengal, and the Rescue Foundation, a Maharashtra NGO, she had suffered months of unspeakable physical and mental abuse.
Another participant in the group session, Nilufa (name changed), shares her story, not very different from Ruksana’s. She was pushed into prostitution at a brothel in Pune. When she was rescued in February 2013, she had been there two years, forced to serve many clients daily. Trouble is, victims of sex trafficking like Ruksana and Nilufa usually come from poor families in backward areas of the country. After being rescued, they return to homes where they are seen as a burden. Worse, the stigma of sex work hangs over them. Many of them contract sexually transmitted diseases, including the HIV virus, or develop full-fledged AIDS. Seeking treatment is difficult even in the cities; in villages, seeking affordable treatment means going to government hospitals in nearby towns. Word gets around and they are punished by cruel talk about their past, as if they weren’t victims but wrong-doers. “It’s not at all easy for me. I preferred to stay indoors for most of the days after returning home,” says Nilufa. “I had become a sort of extra burden to my parents, who were already hard-pressed to meet the daily needs of the family. I needed Rs 3,000-4,000 monthly for my tests and medication, but it was very difficult to organise.”
Apart from being survivors of sex trafficking, the duo has one more thing common – they are members of a trafficking survivors’ collective called Bandhan Mukti. Members of the group spread awareness about human trafficking in their communities and help survivors access their rights and entitlements under existing government schemes. One such scheme is the victim compensation scheme (VCS), implemented by state governments under provisions of Section 357A of the Code of Criminal Procedure to provide financial support to victims of crimes, especially sexual offences including rape, acid attacks, crime against children, human trafficking, etc. In 2016, the centre introduced the central victim compensation fund (CVCF) scheme, with an initial corpus of Rs 200 crore, to supplement the state VCFs. However, there has been an absurd disparity in compensation amount paid by state governments: the payouts range from as less as Rs 10,000 to the upper ranges of nearabout Rs 10 lakh. “People who are victimised and sold into sex trafficking or other forms of human trafficking belong to the socioeconomic underprivileged section. For them, this compensation makes a huge difference. Whether it is in terms of their treatment or for their rehabilitation, they need financial assistance more than anyone else,” says Roop Sen, a researcher and co-founder of Sanjog, a Kolkata-based technical resource organisation. The problem, he says, is that survivors hardly know that they have the right to get compensation for the crimes committed against them. And even if they know of it, they are hardly equipped to follow the complex process for obtaining compensation.