Meet Pallabi Ghosh, the woman who has rescued 10,000 people from traffickers

  • Activist Pallabi Ghosh has been rescuing children from traffickers for nearly a decade
  • According to the National Crime Record Bureau, 77,535 children were reported missing in 2021

Mansi Jaswal
Updated8 Mar 2023, 09:54 AM IST
Pallabi Ghosh, Founder/ Director- of Impact and Dialogue Foundation
Pallabi Ghosh, Founder/ Director- of Impact and Dialogue Foundation

Reema, 16, was married off forcibly in Assam and was sent to Haryana where she was kept in bondage for days. A few weeks later, Pallabi Ghosh received a phone call and rescued Reema after the network of sources informed her about Reema's location. Later, Reema was sent to a shelter home and was reunited with her family. At present, Reema is studying at a school in Assam and she aspires to be a teacher.

Ghosh, Founder/ Director- of Impact and Dialogue Foundation, has been rescuing children from traffickers for nearly a decade. Born and raised in Lumding, Assam, Ghosh came across her first case of trafficking when she was only 12. "I used to go to Bengal at my uncle's place every summer vacation. But when I was in Class 6th, I encountered the first case of trafficking of a young girl. A man, in his early 50s, roaming across the village, crying and saying that his daughter is missing. I was puzzled about how was it possible for a girl in the village to go missing. A few days later, one of the kids told me, "Koi bhaiya hai jo Yamaha leke aate hai...wo le gaye uske (One person comes in Yamaha and he took her away)".

Although Ghosh was very young to understand that incident and the meaning of trafficking, it was her curiosity that made her learn about the whole nexus of this dark world gradually. She says the incident left a deep impact on her and so she began researching trafficking in the northeast and West Bengal.

"In Assam, there was a police station near my house. I remember vividly that a police officer told me that the missing children are pushed into begging in streets, bus stops, and railway stations".

One day Ghosh noted that young kids in Assam were speaking fluent Hindi at Guwahati railway stations. "When I questioned those kids they told me they were from Rajasthan, Bihar, etc".

In 2012 Ghosh came to Delhi for graduation and joined the NSS cell of Delhi University. Ghosh also completed her master’s in gender studies in Chennai. She then joined NGOs working against trafficking. According to Ghosh, every day 2,000 children are trafficked in India.

Reasons of trafficking:

Ghosh blames poverty as the key reason for trafficking in India and added that illiteracy and unemployment are the other two factors behind the rise of trafficking in the country. "Migration (Intra and inter-country), floods, more kids in the house, and lack of love from families are other causes of trafficking in the country," she added. The activist said that girls are trafficked majorly for prostitution, forced marriage, and bride trafficking. And, for labour work, and factory work, the boys are always the target.

Ghosh shared an example where a girl named Sita was trafficked from Canning, West Bengal. She was lured into love by someone who gave her false hopes for a better life in Delhi. The person met Sita at Howrah station and offered her tea with which he mixed some substance. She had it and fell unconscious. When she regained her senses, Sita found herself in a brothel. Ghosh rescued Sita and eight other girls from the Delhi red light area in 2015. "She returned to her home after completing the legal formalities in Delhi. Sita married an engineer working in L&T and has a four-year-old child," Ghosh said.

Giving a new life to the survivors:

Hundreds of trafficked survivors are rehabilitated at shelter homes or are simply counseled. However, the stigmatization by the victim's community, society, family, relatives, schools, etc continues. Ghosh believes that counseling only the survivors will not improve their lives. To bring a radical change in the lives of survivors, counseling of community is pertinent. Ghosh said that for the last 6-7 years, she has been continuously working on the ground doing two things--"prevention and rehabilitation" of the survivors. "I do the mapping of the area, and try to figure out what livelihood survivors can be provided with. For instance, in Assam, I found that girls can do the stitching. I try to give the victims something so that they don't get trafficked again," she said. Ghosh says empowering the survivor is more important than simply reuniting them with their families.

Ghosh also conducts door-to-door campaigns in rural areas of Assam, Nagaland, and Arunachal Pradesh and aware people of trafficking. "In the last year, I have trained 75,000 women in Assam. I try to reach as many people such as rickshaw pullers, cab drivers, and auto drivers to rescue the victim of trafficking because they are in transit". Pallabi has rescued 10,000 people in the past 11 years from trafficking, along with law enforcement agencies.

Indian states affected by trafficking:

According to Pallabi, trafficking, forced marriage prostitution, child trafficking, and polyandry are thick on the ground in West Bengal. Haryana also has manifold cases of forced marriage, bride trafficking, and polyandry whereas Kashmir is affected by bride trafficking. Child trafficking has blighted the young generation of the northeast, and skin grafting is prevalent in Mumbai. Moreover, young boys are supplied in 5-star hotels in Goa for moral sex. Several young boys have been taken illicitly to a cracker factory in Shivkash, Tamil Nadu for cheap labour.

Pallabi says trafficking has no boundaries when it comes to age. She recalled that 56-year-old Devki was trafficked by a plastic toys seller from Silchar, Assam. He befriended her when she used to sit outside her home in the evening. Devki was rescued from a village in Siwani, Haryana, where she would have been married to a man aged 24 years! Devki's son was 26 himself! The man was mentally unstable, and his parents could not find a bride for him. So the man's family sold a cow and a piece of land for 30 thousand rupees each to buy a bride! Ghosh and her volunteers rescued Devki before the transaction could happen. Currently, Devki stays in Silchar with her husband and recently celebrated her elder son's marriage.

According to the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), 77,535 children (17,977 male, 59,544 female, and 14 transgender) were reported missing in 2021. The number of children missing has surged by 30.8% in 2021 from 59,262 in 2020.

A total of 2,189 cases of human trafficking were registered in 2021 as compared to 1,714 cases in the year 2020, showing an increase of 27.7%. A total of 6,533 victims have been reported to be trafficked of which 2,877 children and 3,656 adults were trafficked. Apart from this, 6,213 victims were rescued from the clutches of traffickers.

Ghosh's work is fraught with danger. She told Mint that she keeps getting threats from trafficking mafias. "Ek baari mujko Tees Hazari court mein chaku dikha diya gaya tha (I was shown a knife at Tees Hazari Court)," Ghosh said. Her real-life rescue work aired on Crime Patrol, Saavdhan India. She has also worked with 2014 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Kailash Satyarthi. Ghosh dealt with one case with Satyarthi where he came for a rescue operation.

Speaking about her source of income, Ghosh said she rescues trafficked victims from the money she earns as a consultant to many international organisations for her purpose. Ghosh pointed out that the NGO sector is the most underpaid sector in India. However, she said that whenever anyone volunteers, she pays them for their food and travel.

Pallabi started Impact and Dialogue Foundation in 2020 to prevent human trafficking at its source. The organisation focuses on northeast India where she reaches out to social welfare departments and panchayat (village council) leaders, raising awareness on issues of trafficking, gender-based violence, ill effects of social media, and stigma against trafficked survivors.

(Victims' names have been changed for privacy)

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First Published:8 Mar 2023, 09:54 AM IST
HomeNewsIndiaMeet Pallabi Ghosh, the woman who has rescued 10,000 people from traffickers

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