The Price Of Being A Woman: Slavery In Modern India


By Justin Huggler 

04 April 2006 
The Independent


http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asia/article355334.ece

The desire for sons has created a severe shortage of
marriageable young women. As their value rises,
unscrupulous men are trading them around the
subcontinent and beyond as if they were a mere
commodity 


Tripla's parents sold her for 170 to a man who had
come looking for a wife. He took her away with him,
hundreds of miles across India, to the villages
outside Delhi. It was the last time she would see her
home. For six months, she lived with him in the
village, although there was never any formal marriage.
Then, two weeks ago, her husband, Ajmer Singh, ordered
her to sleep with his brother, who could not find a
wife. When Tripla refused, he took her into the fields
and beheaded her with a sickle. 

When Rishi Kant, an Indian human rights campaigner,
tracked down Tripla's parents in the state of
Jharkhand and told them the news, her mother broke
down in tears. "But what could we do?" she asked him.
"We are facing so much poverty we had no choice but to
sell her."

Tripla was a victim of the common practice in India of
aborting baby girls because parents only want boys.
Although she was born and lived into early adulthood,
it was the abortions that caused her death. In the
villages of Haryana, just outside Delhi, abortions of
baby girls have become so common that the shortage of
women is severe. Unable to find wives locally, the men
have resorted to buying women from the poorer parts of
India. Just 25 miles from the glitzy new shopping
malls and apartment complexes of Delhi is a slave
market for women.

Last week, an Indian doctor became the first to be
jailed for telling a woman the sex of her unborn baby.
India is trying to stamp out the practice of female
foeticide. But in the villages of Haryana, the damage
has already been done. Indian parents want boys
because girls are seen as a heavy financial burden:
the parents have to provide an expensive dowry for
their weddings, while sons will bring money into the
family when they marry, and have better job prospects.

But in Haryana, so many female foetuses have been
aborted that there aren't enough women for the men to
marry. The result is a thriving market in women, known
in local slang as baros, who have been bought from
poorer parts of India. Anyone in the villages can tell
you the going rates. The price ranges from 3,000
rupees (40) to 30,000 rupees for a particularly
beautiful woman. Skin colour and age are important
pricing criteria. So is whether the woman is a virgin.

When the police arrested Tripla's husband, he could
not provide a marriage certificate. Generally, there
is no real marriage. The women are sexual "brides"
only. Sometimes, brothers who cannot afford more share
one woman between them. Often, men who think they have
got a good deal on a particularly beautiful bride will
sell her at a profit.

Munnia was sold when she was only 17. Considered
particularly beautiful, she was resold three times in
the space of a few weeks. Like Tripla, she came from
Jharkhand, but she was lucky: she escaped. Today she
is in a government shelter for women. As she tells her
story, she breaks down in tears several times.

"My father sold me to a man called Dharma," she says.
"I don't know if he paid for me or not. I came to
Delhi with my mother on the train, and then Dharma
took me to his village. He used to beat me very badly.
He used to hit me until I allowed him to sleep with
me. Usually it went on for half an hour."

She was with Dharma just 20 days before he sold her.
Her route criss-crossed northern India: Dharam took
her to his home in Rajasthan, before selling her to a
man in Haryana. "He told me: 'I have sold you to a man
for 30,000 rupees'," she says. "But when we got there
I realised that man wanted to sell me on as well. Then
I ran away."

She found a social worker who helped her escape. In
that she was fortunate: few of the women who run away
from the villages where she was make it out alive.
Government medical tests found she had been raped by
two men. She was only 17 at the time, and the age of
consent in India is 18.

"My father told me Dharma would marry me, but the
marriage never took place," she says, blinking in the
sun. She is deeply traumatised by her experiences; all
the time she speaks, her hands play nervously with her
shawl. When we ask if she wants to go home, she says:
"I don't know anything. I have no will and no hope in
this world."

She is the lucky one, all the same. In the villages
she escaped from, hundreds of women are trapped in
similar slave marriages. The village of Ghasera is a
world away from nearby Delhi. It is still walled, like
a fortress from centuries ago, and you enter through a
narrow gateway. The roads are dirt and the houses
ramshackle huts: It is hard to believe you're just an
hour and a half's drive from the bright new India that
is being courted as an ally by the US and attracting
investors from across the world. More than 100 brides
have been imported to this village alone, according to
locals.

The people are hostile and crowd round strangers
suspiciously. Even the police don't risk coming in to
these villages unarmed. Villagers have attacked police
who tried to rescue the brides, and set their cars on
fire.

Anwari Katun was sold for 130 and brought here from
Jharkhand. The house she is living in now is thick
with flies, so many they make patterns in the air as
they swarm. A small girl is asleep in the corner,
flies crawling over her face.

Ms Katun wants to tell her story, but the villagers
crowd into her house and stand by menacingly as she
tries to speak. Her fear is evident as they stand by.
Most prominent is an old woman who moves forward
threateningly when Ms Katun says she is not happy.
Cowed by the crowd she says: "I accept what happened
to me. I'm not happy but I accept it. This is a
woman's life. The only thing I want is that this
doesn't happen to my sisters, that they never get sold
like this."

With that, she sits in silence. Desperation is written
on her face, but she is afraid to say any more with
the villagers crowding around. Once they are here,
with no family and no friends the women are helpless.

Rishi Kant has spent the past four years rescuing
women like Ms Katun. A jovial man in designer
sunglasses, he once spent four nights in Delhi's
notorious Tihar jail when police carried out mass
arrests of protesters at a human rights rally. His
organisation, Shkati Vahini, has rescued more than 150
trafficked women. But he says he can do nothing for Ms
Katun at the moment. The government women's shelter in
Haryana state has places for only 25 women, and it is
full. When there is no space, he can do nothing: there
is nowhere else safe for the women to go. As soon as a
place opens up, he says, he will go back for Ms Katun.

To get the women out of the villages, he has to enlist
the help of the police. In villages such as Ghasera,
the police only raid in heavy numbers, and only in the
middle of the night, when they can take the villagers
by surprise. Otherwise, the heavily armed villagers
will resist by force. But the police are co-operative,
and do get the women out. Then the long process of
tracking down their parents, and trying to get them
home, if possible, begins.

Getting the women out of the villages is often not
easy. Recently, Mr Kant found a trafficked woman who
convinced him that the man who had brought her to
Haryana was running a business, and had several more
women. He and the police waited in the hope the woman
could lead them to the trafficker. But when they got
back the next day, it appeared he had become
suspicious. The woman had disappeared. Mr Kant
believes she was probably sold to another part of
India. He hasn't found any trace of her.

Many of the trafficked women in the villages are
minors. Shabila came to Ghasera from Assam, a thousand
miles away. She says she is 25, but she doesn't look a
day over 15. One of the women in the government
shelter, Havari, looks the same age. She is highly
disturbed and talks at one moment of having had a
baby, then denies it the next. She has hacked off all
her hair. There is no psychiatric counselling for the
women.

One of the women in Ghasera told us her sister had
been sold to the village along with her, then
kidnapped from it and exported to Oman. She was
desperate for help to get her out.

Some of the trafficked women become traffickers
themselves. Maryam, who was sold here from her native
Maharashtra in 1985, has just arranged the sale of
another woman, Roxana, to the village for 10,000
rupees. Although Ghasera is poor, it is better off
than many of the remote villages the women come from.
With their contacts there, the trafficked women can
easily entice others to come voluntarily. But once
they come, there is no way out. Some of the women
become reconciled to their lives. Afsana speaks openly
in front of her husband of her unhappiness over the
years here: she is not afraid of him. Although there
was no formal marriage, they have stayed together.

"I never thought I would come here. I never even
thought about where Haryana was," she says. "There are
several girls who do not want to stay, but what can
they do? They are in a helpless situation."

Her husband, Dawood, could not get a wife locally
because he has a damaged eye. He travelled to Bihar
and saw several women before choosing Afsana. He paid
40. He complains that there aren't enough women in
Haryana, but he does not see the link between aborting
female foetuses and the shortage of women.

In Asouti, a village a short drive away, you can find
the reason behind all the suffering of the slave
brides of Haryana. Lakhmi Devi had five abortions,
each because the child she was carrying was a girl.
She had already given birth to four daughters.

She is still tortured by guilt over the abortions. "It
is better for a mother to die than to kill her
daughters," she says. "I was under immense pressure
from my husband's family to provide him with a son. My
mother-in-law even demanded I get another woman to
sleep with my husband to give him a son." Eventually,
she gave birth to a boy, Praveen, and her agony was
over.

A recent study by Indian and Canadian researchers
found 500,000 girls are aborted every year in India.
Today Haryana has only 861 women for every 1,000 men.
Strict laws have been put in place to prevent the
practice. Abortion is legal in India but testing the
gender of a foetus is not. Anil Singh, a Haryana
doctor, was sentenced last week to two years in prison
for telling a woman she was carrying a girl and
offering an abortion.

But still, the abortions go on. To get round the
police, doctors have started using codes to tell the
people the sex of their baby: if the ultrasound report
is written in blue ink, it's a boy; if it's in red
ink, it's a girl. If the report is delivered on
Monday, it's a boy, if it's Friday, it's a girl.

Meanwhile the trafficked women keep coming, from
across India, to fill the places of the unborn women. 

Tripla's parents sold her for 170 to a man who had
come looking for a wife. He took her away with him,
hundreds of miles across India, to the villages
outside Delhi. It was the last time she would see her
home. For six months, she lived with him in the
village, although there was never any formal marriage.
Then, two weeks ago, her husband, Ajmer Singh, ordered
her to sleep with his brother, who could not find a
wife. When Tripla refused, he took her into the fields
and beheaded her with a sickle. 

When Rishi Kant, an Indian human rights campaigner,
tracked down Tripla's parents in the state of
Jharkhand and told them the news, her mother broke
down in tears. "But what could we do?" she asked him.
"We are facing so much poverty we had no choice but to
sell her."

Tripla was a victim of the common practice in India of
aborting baby girls because parents only want boys.
Although she was born and lived into early adulthood,
it was the abortions that caused her death. In the
villages of Haryana, just outside Delhi, abortions of
baby girls have become so common that the shortage of
women is severe. Unable to find wives locally, the men
have resorted to buying women from the poorer parts of
India. Just 25 miles from the glitzy new shopping
malls and apartment complexes of Delhi is a slave
market for women.

Last week, an Indian doctor became the first to be
jailed for telling a woman the sex of her unborn baby.
India is trying to stamp out the practice of female
foeticide. But in the villages of Haryana, the damage
has already been done. Indian parents want boys
because girls are seen as a heavy financial burden:
the parents have to provide an expensive dowry for
their weddings, while sons will bring money into the
family when they marry, and have better job prospects.

But in Haryana, so many female foetuses have been
aborted that there aren't enough women for the men to
marry. The result is a thriving market in women, known
in local slang as baros, who have been bought from
poorer parts of India. Anyone in the villages can tell
you the going rates. The price ranges from 3,000
rupees (40) to 30,000 rupees for a particularly
beautiful woman. Skin colour and age are important
pricing criteria. So is whether the woman is a virgin.

When the police arrested Tripla's husband, he could
not provide a marriage certificate. Generally, there
is no real marriage. The women are sexual "brides"
only. Sometimes, brothers who cannot afford more share
one woman between them. Often, men who think they have
got a good deal on a particularly beautiful bride will
sell her at a profit.

Munnia was sold when she was only 17. Considered
particularly beautiful, she was resold three times in
the space of a few weeks. Like Tripla, she came from
Jharkhand, but she was lucky: she escaped. Today she
is in a government shelter for women. As she tells her
story, she breaks down in tears several times.

"My father sold me to a man called Dharma," she says.
"I don't know if he paid for me or not. I came to
Delhi with my mother on the train, and then Dharma
took me to his village. He used to beat me very badly.
He used to hit me until I allowed him to sleep with
me. Usually it went on for half an hour."

She was with Dharma just 20 days before he sold her.
Her route criss-crossed northern India: Dharam took
her to his home in Rajasthan, before selling her to a
man in Haryana. "He told me: 'I have sold you to a man
for 30,000 rupees'," she says. "But when we got there
I realised that man wanted to sell me on as well. Then
I ran away."

She found a social worker who helped her escape. In
that she was fortunate: few of the women who run away
from the villages where she was make it out alive.
Government medical tests found she had been raped by
two men. She was only 17 at the time, and the age of
consent in India is 18.

"My father told me Dharma would marry me, but the
marriage never took place," she says, blinking in the
sun. She is deeply traumatised by her experiences; all
the time she speaks, her hands play nervously with her
shawl. When we ask if she wants to go home, she says:
"I don't know anything. I have no will and no hope in
this world."

She is the lucky one, all the same. In the villages
she escaped from, hundreds of women are trapped in
similar slave marriages. The village of Ghasera is a
world away from nearby Delhi. It is still walled, like
a fortress from centuries ago, and you enter through a
narrow gateway. The roads are dirt and the houses
ramshackle huts: It is hard to believe you're just an
hour and a half's drive from the bright new India that
is being courted as an ally by the US and attracting
investors from across the world. More than 100 brides
have been imported to this village alone, according to
locals.

The people are hostile and crowd round strangers
suspiciously. Even the police don't risk coming in to
these villages unarmed. Villagers have attacked police
who tried to rescue the brides, and set their cars on
fire.

Anwari Katun was sold for 130 and brought here from
Jharkhand. The house she is living in now is thick
with flies, so many they make patterns in the air as
they swarm. A small girl is asleep in the corner,
flies crawling over her face.

Ms Katun wants to tell her story, but the villagers
crowd into her house and stand by menacingly as she
tries to speak. Her fear is evident as they stand by.
Most prominent is an old woman who moves forward
threateningly when Ms Katun says she is not happy.
Cowed by the crowd she says: "I accept what happened
to me. I'm not happy but I accept it. This is a
woman's life. The only thing I want is that this
doesn't happen to my sisters, that they never get sold
like this."
With that, she sits in silence. Desperation is written
on her face, but she is afraid to say any more with
the villagers crowding around. Once they are here,
with no family and no friends the women are helpless.

Rishi Kant has spent the past four years rescuing
women like Ms Katun. A jovial man in designer
sunglasses, he once spent four nights in Delhi's
notorious Tihar jail when police carried out mass
arrests of protesters at a human rights rally. His
organisation, Shkati Vahini, has rescued more than 150
trafficked women. But he says he can do nothing for Ms
Katun at the moment. The government women's shelter in
Haryana state has places for only 25 women, and it is
full. When there is no space, he can do nothing: there
is nowhere else safe for the women to go. As soon as a
place opens up, he says, he will go back for Ms Katun.

To get the women out of the villages, he has to enlist
the help of the police. In villages such as Ghasera,
the police only raid in heavy numbers, and only in the
middle of the night, when they can take the villagers
by surprise. Otherwise, the heavily armed villagers
will resist by force. But the police are co-operative,
and do get the women out. Then the long process of
tracking down their parents, and trying to get them
home, if possible, begins.

Getting the women out of the villages is often not
easy. Recently, Mr Kant found a trafficked woman who
convinced him that the man who had brought her to
Haryana was running a business, and had several more
women. He and the police waited in the hope the woman
could lead them to the trafficker. But when they got
back the next day, it appeared he had become
suspicious. The woman had disappeared. Mr Kant
believes she was probably sold to another part of
India. He hasn't found any trace of her.

Many of the trafficked women in the villages are
minors. Shabila came to Ghasera from Assam, a thousand
miles away. She says she is 25, but she doesn't look a
day over 15. One of the women in the government
shelter, Havari, looks the same age. She is highly
disturbed and talks at one moment of having had a
baby, then denies it the next. She has hacked off all
her hair. There is no psychiatric counselling for the
women.

One of the women in Ghasera told us her sister had
been sold to the village along with her, then
kidnapped from it and exported to Oman. She was
desperate for help to get her out.

Some of the trafficked women become traffickers
themselves. Maryam, who was sold here from her native
Maharashtra in 1985, has just arranged the sale of
another woman, Roxana, to the village for 10,000
rupees. Although Ghasera is poor, it is better off
than many of the remote villages the women come from.
With their contacts there, the trafficked women can
easily entice others to come voluntarily. But once
they come, there is no way out. Some of the women
become reconciled to their lives. Afsana speaks openly
in front of her husband of her unhappiness over the
years here: she is not afraid of him. Although there
was no formal marriage, they have stayed together.

"I never thought I would come here. I never even
thought about where Haryana was," she says. "There are
several girls who do not want to stay, but what can
they do? They are in a helpless situation."

Her husband, Dawood, could not get a wife locally
because he has a damaged eye. He travelled to Bihar
and saw several women before choosing Afsana. He paid
40. He complains that there aren't enough women in
Haryana, but he does not see the link between aborting
female foetuses and the shortage of women.

In Asouti, a village a short drive away, you can find
the reason behind all the suffering of the slave
brides of Haryana. Lakhmi Devi had five abortions,
each because the child she was carrying was a girl.
She had already given birth to four daughters.

She is still tortured by guilt over the abortions. "It
is better for a mother to die than to kill her
daughters," she says. "I was under immense pressure
from my husband's family to provide him with a son. My
mother-in-law even demanded I get another woman to
sleep with my husband to give him a son." Eventually,
she gave birth to a boy, Praveen, and her agony was
over.

A recent study by Indian and Canadian researchers
found 500,000 girls are aborted every year in India.
Today Haryana has only 861 women for every 1,000 men.
Strict laws have been put in place to prevent the
practice. Abortion is legal in India but testing the
gender of a foetus is not. Anil Singh, a Haryana
doctor, was sentenced last week to two years in prison
for telling a woman she was carrying a girl and
offering an abortion.

But still, the abortions go on. To get round the
police, doctors have started using codes to tell the
people the sex of their baby: if the ultrasound report
is written in blue ink, it's a boy; if it's in red
ink, it's a girl. If the report is delivered on
Monday, it's a boy, if it's Friday, it's a girl.

Meanwhile the trafficked women keep coming, from
across India, to fill the places of the unborn women. 

 2006 Independent News and Media Limited 








Back

Back To Islam Awareness Homepage

Latest News about Islam and Muslims






Contact IslamAwareness@gmail.com for further information