As the crimson rays of sun usher the earth to a new day; men, women and children step into the lush-green tea plantations in Assam to begin their early-morning plucking sessions. Trimmed tea bushes and sweet chirping of birds make for a picturesque setting. But, this serenity is a facade that hides the ugliness of exploitation. Each day, a child goes missing from these quaint tea gardens.
Child exploitation in Assam:
The economically backward areas across North-East are a hotbed of illiteracy, domestic abuse, alcoholism and ill health. Severely neglected children residing in these areas are victims of trafficking; and the perpetrators coerce these vulnerable children with the promise of good money and a better life in big cities. Sometimes, even family member join hands with the agents.
At a tender age, Badaik’s father trafficked her for rupees 500. Presently, aged 16, she is among the lucky few who manage to find their way back. She was sold to a family in the neighboring state of Arunachal Pradesh. There, she grew up toiling as a maid.
Life of hardships:
Recounting her years with the family, Badaik says that in the beginning it was just playing around the house. Then, slowly she was taught to peel vegetables, sweep floors and ultimately had to work for 17 hours at a stretch. As she began growing up, her ‘’madam’’ fixed her wage at rupees 100, which was purportedly deposited in a bank and only used in cases of extreme need, like sickness.
Her journey back home was triggered by the chance meeting with another trafficked teenager, who helped Badaik trace her lost hometown. After several phone calls made from a borrowed phone, she found an uncle who was eager to help her. However, on sharing this news with her employers, she was verbally abused and locked away in a room.
Her journey back home was arduous, and involved traversing borders and the bylanes frequented by child traffickers.
Back home, the caring arms of her mother welcomed her, while her father stood in a corner. Badaik is slowly reconnecting with her family and hometown.
The tea industry in Assam, one of the largest tea producers in the world is infamous for harboring slave labor. In the face of this growing crisis, NGOs and state governments are working to end human trafficking and provide rehabilitation to survivors. Let us all, individuals and organizations alike, combine forces to eradicate these social ills.