Meet Bikash Das – a passionate activist who wants to end human trafficking in West Bengal
Resting his head on his hands and looking calmly through the window of the visitor’s room of a partner organisation, he says, “I always find it satisfying when could help someone in need.” This is perhaps one of the driving factors that set Bikash Das’s journey from a volunteer at his village primary health clinic to become a full-time social worker and a fearless activist.
Bikash, who worked tirelessly with a trafficking survivor and local police and ensured the trafficker is caught and punished despite the life threats he received, hails from a remote village in West Bengal’s North 24 Praganas district. He is currently associated with Teghoria Institute for Social Movement (TISM) – a community-based grassroots organisation – and working with survivors of human trafficking in the region.
His priority right now is to help survivors of human trafficking get their due justice and claim their rights, and prevent other vulnerable girls and young women from falling prey to human trafficking – a menace that has gripped the entire North and South 24 Praganas districts of West Bengal. According to recent NCRB data, 3,579 cases (around 44%) out of the total 8,132 cases of human trafficking recorded in the country (from January to December 2016) were from West Bengal.
“Trafficking is one of the most serious issues that our region is facing today. Number of cases of girls and young women being trafficked are increasing alarmingly, and I think poverty and lack of awareness are the biggest reasons behind this trend. As a social worker, I have the responsibility to do my bit to prevent our girls being trafficked and help the survivors in getting justice,” says Bikash explaining why he chose to work on the issue.
“What makes me angry is the fact that traffickers often go scot free either because they weaken the case by being hand-in-gloves with the duty bearers, or by forcing victims to withdraw their cases by threatening and intimidating them and their family members,” he adds.
“That’s why I have decided that I will stand by the survivor if she is being intimidated or threatened, or her case is being weakened. And come what may, I will make all possible efforts to ensure that criminal is punished,” says Bikash, whose efforts and support to the survivor have recently witnessed the police arresting and sending to jail an international trafficker named Rafiqul Laskhar, who has been involved in several cases of trafficking in West Bengal and in other states.
Is he being intimidated? “Yes, of course. I got several threat calls by the trafficker and his associates asking me to stay out of the case. But I am not scared, I will continue to fight against these traffickers.”
He also states that this is the vision that other members of his organisation also share. “At TISM, we are all committed to our fight against human trafficking. We want this menace to stop, and those who are engaged in this illegal trade are punished.”
Bikash, who started helping people as a volunteer at his village health clinic when he was only 14 years old, gives credit to his high school teacher who inspired him to become a social worker.
“While I was in my intermediate, I used to teach some poor children regularly in my village. Few of my friends have also joined me in teaching children who cannot afford tuitions.”
“My teacher used to visit me and telling that I was doing a good job for the society. A few days after he retired from his service, he called me and handed me over 9 lakh rupees that he had saved through his service life, and asked me to start a coaching centre so that no poor children in his village is deprived of quality education.”
“That gave me meaning to what I was doing. We started a “morning school” which is still running and children from poor families in and around our village are getting education free of cost,” says Bikash recalling the major turning point in his life.
In 2009, when his mother passed away, Bikash wanted to get into something to run the family. The doctor, he used help at his village clinic, advised him to join a social organisation that works for the society and he subsequently joined TISM.
At TISM, his role has been facilitating and encouraging survivors of trafficking to pursue their battle for justice as well as claim their rights and entitlements.
“Be it their access to health services, claiming of victim compensation, or pursing their legal cases, survivors of trafficking, who are often from socio-economic backward section of the society, need support from grassroots organisations in their localities, and this is exactly we do as social workers,” Bikash says, adding that there are lot of challenges that come in their way too.
But he believes if he could help rebuild a few lives, and encourage few others to get united and launch a collective fight against this problem, things will change on ground for sure.
Bikash is also an active member of Partners for Anti Trafficking (PAT), a consortium of 8 community-based organisations working together to combat human trafficking in West Bengal.