Gaythri recounts the scenes she witnessed during a weekend in Delhi, India. A very personal and disturbing reminder of how real and rampant the slave trade is today, she now actively takes on the cause of combating human trafficking.
The car stopped at a traffic junction not far from the International Airport. It was dark, the streets were pitch black and the dim lights at this junction revealed a group of children huddled on the ground. There were at least six of them; the oldest looked like he was about five and there was a baby lying on the ground, a coloured cloth separating it from the dirt. The kids looked like they were happily engrossed with one another.
Not far away, several adults – some squatting on the ground, some leaning against the street lights – kept a close watch. More cars arrived at the junction and these children sprang into action. They ran up to the cars, knocked on the windows, gave pitiful looks, begged and pleaded. One girl picked up the baby, lifting it as high as she could to the passengers in the cars – hoping to gain their pity, their money. The baby looked lethargic, barely moving, fragile.
Drivers ignored these children, passengers looked away from the window, uncomfortable. The lights finally changed colour and the cars sped away as the children looked on, some still trailing behind.
It is the next morning. This passenger is being driven to another state on a sightseeing tour. The driver advises her to keep the windows closed and car doors locked. He stops at a state border and gets off the car to pay the toll. A woman comes up to the window, her palms cupped. She looks at the passenger in the car, taking her cupped palms to her lips repeatedly. The passenger understands the gesture but looks away, suddenly feeling claustrophobic in that car. She focuses her attention on the car seat, eyes riveted at the dials in the car radio, trying hard to ignore the world outside.
The woman outside slams her palms against the car window, making the passenger lurch in shock. She drags her hands and rubs them downward against the glass window, giving a clear view of the inside of her palms. They are bloody, diseased. She has stumps for fingers. The passenger swallows in disgust, looking at the stained marks that these fingers are leaving on the previously clear window. There is pus everywhere. Her fellow passenger quietly whispers, “lepers”.
The passenger looks around at the other cars parked alongside hers. There are more of them, knocking on windows, begging, gesturing. Working.
The journey continues until they stop at a railway crossing. A troupe of young girls stand at attention. They look no older than eight. Several boys pick up some sticks and start beating on tin cans of various sizes, making music. Girls form a line, facing the cars. They dance. They are energetic; they smile and sing to the beat of the handmade drums. At intervals, they lift their skirts up. They are naked underneath. They do this with precision, lifting at the right beat, swaying their juvenile hips for their audience.
The train screams as it crosses the tracks. It is loud, distracting. The music stops. The boys disappear. The girls walk around the cars, knocking on the doors. They head straight to the “autos”, three-wheeled vehicles without doors. They are lifted into these vehicles. They sit on the laps of men, smile at them while being touched, fondled, pinched, massaged. After a minute of pleasure, the men lift them down, place a coin on their open palm and continue on their journey. The barrier lifts, the vehicles cross the tracks and the girls count their earnings.
Modern-day slavery is all around us. They stare us in the face but we look away in discomfort. We are told not to encourage beggars approaching us. We are told that the money we give goes elsewhere. We know that there are rich inhumane individuals and syndicates behind what we see. We tell ourselves that the problem is too big and overwhelming, and that it is something for persons more powerful to tackle. We assume that it will go away if we don’t talk about it, if we ignore it. We assume that someone else will solve it.
It is not going anywhere. Men, women and children are exploited every minute of every day. Unscrupulous human beings gain and profit from this. Indifferent human beings enable this.
Note: The author saw these with her own eyes during her visit back in 2007. She has travelled around the region and has seen more. At the moment, she passionately leads LexisNexis’ efforts to counter human trafficking in this region and needs all the help she can get. She can be contacted at [email protected]
She regrets not having acted earlier, and hopes you won’t wait for someone else to take action – because you can. Discussions are underway on Twitter via #LNxHT.
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