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The Story of Jalpaiguri

Last week Team India traveled to an area of West Bengal called Jalpaiguri (located about 3 hours outside Darjeeling) to open the THIRD Made By Survivors Jewelry Training and Production Center! We are honored to be partnering with Womens Interlink Foundation again and based on the success of the first jewelry center with WIF, in Kolkata, we anticipate great things ahead. 

In part one of a five part blog series about the opening of the new center, Asia Program Director Paul Suit, walks you through the background of why trafficking is such a problem in this area of India.

The Background

Located about 3 hours outside Darjeeling and near the borders of the Indian states of Sikkim, Bihar, Jharkhand and Assam, and the international borders of Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan, this area is a major transit, destination and source for trafficking.

According to the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) Annual Report on Trafficking in India, “Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling, which are located in the north of West Bengal, have long faced problems of unsafe out-migration by individuals bound for Kolkata and other metropolitan cities in search of livelihood opportunities. Kolkata for example, is generally considered as a major trafficking destination and center for brothel-based prostitution, along with Mumbai and Delhi. Trafficking of girls and women coming from the tea estates of these districts is prevalent.”

Destination: The areas major economy is tea plantations which are notorious for bonded, child and forced labor. Women and young children are ideal tea pickers due to the small size of their fingers and hands. This allows them to pick tea leaves easier and quicker and when you add in the marginalization that is common among these groups of people in India (and the surrounding countries), you can see why it’s so easy, and profitable, for traffickers to prey on people in this area. Women and girls are taken from other areas or countries and shipped to Jalpaiguri to work on the tea plantations for as little as 50 Rupees ($1) per day – if they are paid at all.

Source: Jalpaiguri is a very remote area with little to no infrastructure to support anything other than tea plantations and the occasional nature preserve. Schools are very basic and are usually government run which lack basic supplies and rarely pay their teachers (who often don’t show up for this reason). Due to these factors the opportunities for education and employment are almost nonexistent. This makes exploiting people all the more easier. The less educated a person is the more vulnerable they are to exploitation. The fewer employment opportunities there are the easier it is to pull a person into an exploitative situation. Many people are tricked into believing they are gaining a good job working for a tea plantation when in fact they are being enslaved without even realizing it.

Transit: Bordering three of the worlds most notorious countries for trafficking, Jalpaiguri finds itself in one of the most important transit areas in all of Southeast Asia. With little to no border security or control it is very easy to transport people in and out of India through this region. Jalpaiguri typically serves as a transit route for girls trafficked from Bhutan and Assam, with many of the girls ending up in brothels in major cities throughout India. Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling have an influx of children both from neighboring countries and neighboring Indian states

As you can see the need for both NGO and Government agencies to get to work and address these issues is vital. However, very few resources (either from NGO's or the Government) ever reach the area. 

Womens Interlink Foundation has been one of the few NGO's operating in the area and have been doing so for several years. Currently they manage three shelter homes as well as programs that provide training for border patrol agents and local law enforcement. WIF and Made By Survivors are raising funds for a new building that WIF is planning that will consolidate the current shelter homes and house over 100 girls as well as various income generation projects such as the jewelry program. To learn more about the Free Forever Campaign click here http://www.madebysurvivors.com/freeforever. You can also view a short video about the campaign here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRMDW98FDG0&feature=player_embedded

Part two of our blog series, "The Story of Jalpaiguri", will be published Thursday...here is a preview.....

It takes the overnight train about 10 hours to reach New Jalpaiguri (NJP) train station from Kolkata and it can be a tough journey. Train cars are often packed to capacity with families, businessmen and tourists all trying to get a decent nights sleep and be as fresh as possible upon arrival in the morning. This is rarely the case of course and most people arrive with very few hours (if any) of sleep under the belt. Bleary eyed, hungry and in need of a shower people stumble out of the train car and find their way through the bustling crowds to try and find their bus, taxi or if they're lucky, private car. 

Thanks and please share......

Paul Suit 

 

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