Kashmir valley has been witnessing a surge in the demand of the labor force not belonging to the state. Apart from the rising demand for domestic helps in Kashmir, many poor girls especially from West Bengal are said to be brought to the state and married to men in valley. What appears a normal legal practice on surface may actually come out as typical cases of human trafficking and human rights violations of poor and hapless people.
One of the emerging trends in the Valley’s economy or more particularly the labor force, is that local agencies and agents are involved in running enterprises that provide domestic helps to families in Kashmir. The local agents in turn acquire the domestic workforce from agents outside Kashmir. The services are provided against a handsome payment and after signing a legally binding contract between the two parties. The real sufferer in the deal is the domestic help, who in alien to the state and has no idea about how his or her life being mortgaged for uncertain period of time, irrespective of what is mentioned in the contract. Due to the high demand, this workforce is re-supplied after they finish the first assignment, mostly against their will. The usual practice in Kashmir is local agents receives all the money in advance which include the salary of the worker as well as the agent’s commission. The domestic help does not receive any money during the time he or she works in a home. After completing the time at one place as mentioned in contract, these hapless people are coerced to work at another place against their will. All this time the agent keeps all the documents including the identity cards of the domestic help with him. It’s anybody’s guess as how susceptible a person can be in an alien land whose important documents and the money he has earned are held by the agent. This is not all; the money is seldom paid to the person who actually works in homes directly. It is paid to the agent outside who has supplied the workforce to the local agent. Sometimes the chain of agents and touts is so long, the money received by the domestic help is peanuts compared to the work they have done.
There also have been instances when some domestic helps left the valley leaving all their hard earned money with the agents. There have also been reports emerging that this workforce supplied as domestic helps are physically and sexually assaulted in Kashmir.
An almost parallel case is that of young girls being brought-in from outside to marry local Kashmiri men. There’s no bar for two consenting adults to tie nuptial knot irrespective of their place of birth, and where they have been living. But the way the practice is said to be carried out through agents and touts who get paid for introducing the girls in Kashmir or bringing them here, makes it an unethical and shoddy affair. Once brought-in to this alien land most girls from poor families of other states find no exit in case their marriage goes bad or they simply want to go back to their original places. Holding a person against his or her will coupled with physical and psychological torture actually is archetype of practicing human slavery and constitutes a serious crime.
Mostly the persons who are brought-in from outside as domestic helps and brides for local Kashmiri men do not know where to get help from. These people who belong to the underprivileged class most often give in before encountering insurmountable hardships. In this scenario, the local police and law enforcing agencies would need to crack down on any unethical and illegal human trafficking and practice of holding any person against their will in the State. There might be laws already in place to curb such a practice, but the need is to implement them so as to discourage elements involved in human trafficking under the garb of doing business and marrying off poor girls. Authorities and police cannot expect these poor and uneducated victims to come to them to lodge complaints before they take any action.
Onus also rests on local human rights bodies to take cognizance of HR violation of the workforce provided in Kashmir. State Women’s Commission could also make it mandatory for men to register themselves with the commission who marry poor girls from outside. This way the commission can keep track of the women and the condition they live in coming years. The commission can also intervene in case their marriages go wrong and also check if they are being harassed or exploited in any form.
We have been witnessing seminars and events held in Kashmir on concerns like human trafficking and crimes against underprivileged. All these concerns having inflicted our society may have gone unnoticed.
High Court (JK) judge Justice M K Hanjura recently during a daylong judicial colloquium on 'Prevention of Human Trafficking', said “human trafficking was a crime against humanity and is the third largest organized crime after drugs and the arms trade across the globe”.
Justice Hanjura said, “The crime (human trafficking) involves an act of recruiting, transporting, transforming, harboring or receiving a person through the use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them”. What is happening to domestic helps and brides who hail from other states may well fall in one of the acts stated by the judge.