Closed tea gardens propel women trafficking

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Kurseong, Apr 10 (UNI) The falling tea business, closure of tea gardens, poverty, hunger and malnutrition have propelled human trafficking from North Bengal.

Tea industry workers, sex workers, NGOs and even state government officials have accepted that a large number of people, mostly young girls between 14-22, are being trafficked for flesh trade and the girls have willingly gone.

To gauge the situation, the National Media Coalition had organised a workshop recently bringing together all the players of the field under one platform and it was apparent that the situation was alarming.

''Since the last eight years a condition of absolute lawlessness is prevailing in the operations of Tea plantations in manufacturing and trading of tea. The fallout of market driven open liberalized economy acutely impacted the lives of more than 3 million people,'' said Mr Chitta Dey, Convenor, Co-ordination committee of Tea Plantation Workers.

From the management side, some of allegations of Mr Dey were accepted. Mr Bhaskar Chaliha, Secretary of the Doors Branch of the Indian Tea Association(ITA) said the industry as a whole was facing loss.

''There were no new plantation since 1960s and the industry was making loss repeatedly. Hence there were some problems of lock outs.

But whenever possible the tea managements are interfering,'' he said.

But not many agree. Darjeeling Bishop Fr Ambalaa, representing the Churches of North India(CNI) said that a large number of girls were being trafficked from the region and the tea management had not been doing enough.

Though contributing 23 per cent to the country's total tea output, West Bengal also presents a grim scenario of large-scale starvation deaths owing to closed tea gardens. With tea garden owners leaving their workers to fend for themselves, more than 2,500 people, mostly women and children, have died in the past five years mainly due to malnutrition, said Mr Chitta Dey.

Durbaar, the NGO working amongst the sex workers of Khalpara of Siliguri, confirmed the arrival of girls in the red light areas of the town.

''We should not say the numbers but they are coming and many are going to other parts of the country. Most of them have actually gone elsewhere for better money,'' said Maya Das, herself a sex worker but working with Durbar to give the sex workers some respectability.

Many of these young girls had come from closed tea gardens like Khatalguri, Damdin, Rajjhora and Lankapara, being forced to take up prostitution for survival, she said.

With 14 tea gardens out of 277, all located in North Bengal under lock-out, more than 14,000 workers have been affected, not to talk about over 70,000 people directly connected with the industry.

The tea workers and the NGOs working there blamed the central and state governments for not doing enough to mitigate the hardship of workers of the closed tea gardens and their families who ''are barely surviving on things unfit for human consumption''.

The state government has taken a seven-point programme to mitigate the problem of the jobless tea workers, ranging from providing ex-gratia to preventing starvation to supplying cheap foodgrain under the Antyodaya scheme.

UNI MT PL SY KP1155

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