Jajnaseni: Trafficking and Safe Migration
It’s been ten years since the network of six organisations in the state of Odisha in north-East India came together to address movement of women out of state in various forms. Jajnaseni network was born in 2002 to address trafficking of women in other states of India and to promote safe migration. Bishakha Bhanja and Sneha Mishra shared with us the journey of Jajnaseni and the challenges and accomplishments.
How did Jajnaseni came into being? Can you please introduce us the network briefly?
Bishakha: I knew Centre for World Solidarity(CWS) an organization in Odisha that supports women’s movements. At that time CWS was supporting a women activists’ network ( Nari Shakti) where I am also a member. Through our work with women we found high rate of movement of women outside the state in the name of marriage. So with the support of CWS we studied the patterns of women’s movement from one place to another, outside the state of Odisha, in different forms, not necessarily just migration.
We found three different categories in movement of women. First, lots of girls from Odisha get married out of Odisha, particularly to the northern states of India where there is low sex ratio, for example states like Haryana and UP. We wondered why so many girls are marrying in UP where the language and culture are different. The consistent pattern we found is that families of the girls in Odisha are very poor. They do not have money for dowry to marry off their daughters. So whoever comes with proposal to marry without dowry they are more than happy to sent their daughters away. Some “grooms” even offer money and take care of the marriage expenses. Girls once they are married, and sometimes they are not even married, find themselves often in difficult situation when they arrive home, including forced labour and sexual exploitation.
The second pattern we found was the movement of particularly tribal girls as domestic helps in big cities of India like Mumbai and Delhi.
The third pattern was the self migration of women. Due to lack of work in Odisha, women were migrating to places where they can find work, mainly landing up in brick factories or construction works. At work, often women found themselves in trafficking like situation where they were not paid wages but just given a weekly “ration”. Even when they wanted to leave, they were not able to or allowed to leave.
Sneha: There were lots of horrible cases that we had found back in 2002. I had visited a place called Jambu Island in Kendrapada district where I met around 30 returnees who managed to escape from their married life, majority were married off to Uttar Pradesh, another provincial state in India. As Bishkha mentioned, the status of families of these women were very poor and with multiple daughters to marry. So, in these kind of intra state marriages, parents did not have to worry about expenses of wedding nor dowry (which is a practice although its illegal in India). The parents found it easy to get their daughters married off to people and places they were not aware of. Many of the girls did not even tell me the name of the places they were married to. I remember a father that cried a lot and requested me to rescue his daughter but he could not tell me the place where his daughter was married off to. The only address he could manage was that they had to get down at Mathura railway station and then two hours road journey from there.
I still remember a young girl of around 17/18 years narrating her plight. She was the eldest in the family with 4 girls. Her father was a fisherman and the grandparents lived with them. The father was not in a position to spend money for the marriages of the daughters and got her married to a person from Mathura helped by a middleman in the village. After the wedding she was put in a train and when she reached Balasore, she was told the person she was married to was not her husband but it was another older man. When she reached home, she found the mother-in-law as the only female member of the family with 8 male members. She had to work in the huge field during the day and in the evening provide sexual services to almost all male members of the family. When she pleaded with her mother-in-law, the mother-in-law said that she also did not know who fathered her own sons. It seemed to be the practice there. She stopped eating and asked them to send her back. One day while working in the field she managed to escape.
Another woman said her in-laws forced her to have sex with other men in the village and they tortured her, including her husband, until she agreed. There were also cases, mostly in Nayagarh and Balasore where women returned to their villages to lure other girls. So there were lots of such cases we found at that time.
Bishakha: In 2002, I met Bandana whom I have known for a long time. Bandana was already working on trafficking issues by then. We requested her if she could help in providing conceptual clarity on trafficking for organizations that were interested to work on this issue. A workshop on conceptual clarity on trafficking from human rights perspective and not solely as a crime control mechanism was organised. We were very clear on what we wanted to do. Personally, I was very convinced that trafficking was not only sexual exploitation of women as was commonly understood but there were other realities of trafficking for various purposes.
Funded by CWS, six organizations came together to work on various forms of migrations and trafficking situation and Jajnaseni network was born. CWS is still the only donor for Jajnaseni. From the beginning, we were clear that our work will be based on human rights perspective, and our focus will be women’s issues that would link to trafficking. For example trafficking as a form of violence against women, livelihood for women to prevent trafficking, development of women to prevent trafficking were some of our areas. Similarly, we promoted safe migration for women, safe working conditions rather than curbing women’s movement.
Who are the current members of the network and where do they work?
Bishkha: Current members of Janaseni are Aaina, Foundation of Rural Construction, PRAMILA, PRAGATI and Ganya Unnayan Committee. Mahila Bikash is not with our network anymore.
Sneha: Our NGO members work in five districts of Odisha. All these districts have typical features of trafficking. Two districts, Nayagarh & Kendrapada, have seen trafficking in the form of marriages mostly. Sundergarh district is the source for young girls migrating as domestic help and were often found in exploitative situation. The other two districts are known for migration of its population. Specifically the district where Aaina works, Ganjam, almost 40% people have migrated. Ganjam is the southernmost coastal district of Odisha with typical costal and tribal belt together. Coincidentally this district also has the highest HIV infected population and is the highest populated district.
What is the current scenario of human trafficking in Odisha? What changes do you see in the decade of Jajnaseni network?
Bishakha: The most important development is that the issue has been taken up a lot and is talked about a lot. The pattern of trafficking remains the same, but people are more aware – the government and the community are aware. Awareness on trafficking situation has increased. For example, all persons that go as domestic workers are not trafficked but they know they could find themselves in similar kind of situation.
There is still a lot that needs to be done in migration situation of women. When people migrate, it’s only the males of the household that are registered, not the accompanying females. So we do not know the exact data of migrating women or what happens to them.
There are a lot of discussions and interactions with government in cohesive manner. But the government strategy to address trafficking has however been to curb women’s movement. For example, they sometimes prevent people to leave the state by banning the sale of railway tickets. The government has shown much enthusiasm to “prevent” trafficking and you can see presence of police in railway stations “rescuing” women travelling alone and sending them to shelter homes even though the women are leaving voluntarily and have knowledge of where they are going and why.
The government has established Anti Human Trafficking Units in all six districts to prevent potential trafficking situation. This is an integrated mechanism with Women and Child Development, Home Development and Crime Control.
With multitude of infrastructure and institutions in place, reporting of trafficking has certainly been high but this does not mean that there has been increase or decrease in trafficking itself. Odisha is still a source state for inter-state trafficking. I have not seen any increase or decrease in trafficking but vigilance of the over enthusiastic government has certainly increased.
A good development over the years is inclusion of trafficking as a crime in criminal law. The definition of trafficking has broadened to include trafficking for forced labour and other forms of exploitation from the narrowly understood purpose for sex trafficking only. With this new amendment, we are hopeful that reporting on trafficking will improve.
What is the most important contribution of Jajnaseni network to anti-trafficking work at the state and national level?
Bishakha: Jajnaseni from its inception has been promoting for a human rights perspective in addressing trafficking as a human development issue and not a crime control mechanism. We advocated for registration of marriage to tackle trafficking in forms of marriage and lobbied for land for trafficking survivors. The government has agreed, in principle, on a land scheme for groups that are vulnerable to trafficking, as poverty is one of the causes.
Sneha: Jajnaseni’s advocacy with the administration and awareness raising activities has definitely brought some changes. But unless and until continuing situation of poverty is not dealt with, the problem will continue. Some of the women that returned were found to have opted for the same situation again as they were at least given food and cloth at end of the day. We have been advocating with the government to identify the vulnerable families and also to support the returnees with land which can be an asset to them.
To address trafficking in forms of marriages, we requested villagers to seek identity proof of prospective grooms. We supported Self Help Groups, provided them with registers and asked the leaders to register the marriage in the village at the time when Compulsory Marriage Registration Act was not enacted. Now there is a Compulsory Marriage Registration Act and definitely a lot of Jajnaseni advocacy has gone into this.
Getting the government to recognise the existence and prevalence of the phenomenon of trafficking in women in various forms was an achievement. Way back in nineties when we spoke out about trafficking of women we were ridiculed by the same government! Now we are lobbying to get the vulnerable groups, including returnee women to get access to land.
What is the current focus of Jajnaseni?
Bishakha: Safe migration – every woman has the right to migrate safely and have rights to safe working environment and entitlement as a worker. Our current focus is on safe migration and rights of migrant workers.
How do you promote safe migration in this diverse pattern of trafficking and movement of people and in the face of prohibitive policies of the government?
Sneha: As a network we have been active in creating awareness at the community level. We organise grass root level protection mechanisms by conducting meetings with PRI (Panchayati Raj Institution- the lowest administrative Institution in the community) members, women self help groups (SHG) members and other stakeholders like Village Development Committees, youth associations etc. We produce information communication materials such as posters, booklet, street play etc. SHGs take loan from government and get into small scale business. In Odisha, this is now promoted by the government. The government is also conducting a number of skill development training for women.
Whatever the form may be, there is a very thin line between migration and trafficking and thus when migration takes place we request people to be aware of certain things which will help make their migration safer. For example we urge them to register with the government before migrating to other places as labourers, to obtain at least minimum information about support agencies and help lines provided to them etc. In case of marriage, women are specifically requested to seek identity proof of the groom and his family.
We lobby for the government to extend the migration registration at the community level and to ensure protection of young girls migrating with their families. We also link up with organisations that advocate for the rights of children and their education at the migration destinations. The bottom line is, women have a right to migrate but their safety and security should be ensured by the government.
In what way would Jajnaseni like to collaborate with GAATW-IS? How can we strengthen Jajnaseni’s work?
Bishakha: With GAATW we look towards more conceptual clarity on changing dynamics of trafficking, the changing perspectives and contexts. We also look to GAATW for capacity building and sharing information on development at the international level on the issue. I look at the ebulletin ever month as a source of information. As members, we also have responsibility in sharing our work and good practices, but this has not been possible for us without a dedicated paid staff.