Facets of human trafficking in Manipur

Ajailiu Niumai 
Human trafficking is not only a modern day slavery but is a pathway to the total destruction of humanity. It is a situation where the trafficked victims are caged like birds and animals for making surplus gain in the capitalist market. Human trafficking not only bruises the body and mind of the victims, but it almost destroys them completely. The concept of human trafficking deals with an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harbouring or receiving a person through coercion, deception or abuse of vulnerability for the purpose of exploitation. Anyone can fall victim to human trafficking.
The phenomenon of human trafficking is contingent with globalisation as it is a truly global occurrence with 127 countries as sources and 135 countries being the destination of the trafficked victims according to the United Nations (UNODC 2014). As unorganized illegal activity, human trafficking is the third most lucratic business after arms and drugs. When I lived in USA in 2013-14 (although I have been visiting various Universities across USA since 2006 onwards), I learnt that human trafficking has been rampant and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) finds it difficult to catch the traffickers. To my surprise, trafficking of girls and women seem to proliferate in mega cities like New York, Washington DC, California and Chicago. Similarly, human trafficking is rampant in Europe and the Middle East. When I delivered a special lecture on invitation on the topic “Human Trafficking about North East India” in December 2018 in the Department of Sociology, University of Tel Aviv, many scholars mentioned that trafficking is rampant in Israel too.
A student in University of Tel Aviv from Nagaland discussed with me about his intention of conducting research among 3000  Nepalese care givers in Israel. I realised that Nepalese have been trafficked in various Middle Eastern countries by job recruiting agencies. It reminded me of the incident in February 2019, where around 179 Nepalese Nationals were rescued in Imphal and Moreh while they were in transit to Myanmar and their destinations include the Middle East and West Asia. Smuggling of girls and women including boys and men to other States and abroad and then leaving them to their own devices are viewed as illegal. Any type of migration for labour through an agent is defined as coercive in international debate. In our everyday life, the difference is largely semantic. Girls, women and men migrated to other States and abroad for education, employment (labour) and marriage often fall prey to traffickers and the perpetrators of crimes end up victimising the trafficked victims. The conviction rate for the crimes committed by traffickers are low.
The most vulnerable people in the context of human trafficking are those minority tribes and communities with little social and legal protection. Majority of the trafficked victims are girls and women. Human trafficking in Manipur is different from the human trafficking in any other States. Since the past few years, Manipur emerged as a source and transit for human trafficking. The Department of Social Welfare, Government of Manipur reveals that hundreds of trafficked victims especially tribal girls and women including men from the hill districts of Manipur have been rescued. The trafficked survivor’s traumatic experiences are often silenced and disregarded with shame and stigma. Therefore, I attempted to examine the unspoken narratives of trafficked survivors from Manipur in order to examine their intersectional experiences.
Origin of interest in human trafficking
My research on human trafficking grew out of an accidental conversation with Mariam at Tulihal International Airport, Imphal, Manipur in June 2008. I was travelling to Hyderabad, where I work and live, after spending the summer holiday with my family in Manipur. Mariam said that her sister Jessica is traveling to Singapore to work as a housemaid for Indian diaspora household. Mariam seemed worried since Jessica had never travelled outside the country or flown before. Besides, Mariam and Jessica did not know anybody in Singapore. Jessica was going to an unknown country without any family members. This was the first time I had heard of a girl from a particular tribe going abroad to work as housemaid, and it made me wonder if Jessica was being trafficked by job recruiting agency. Since I am involved occasionally in the repatriation of trafficked girls and women among the North East Indian community in Hyderabad, this incident caught my attention.
Doing fieldwork in unconventional situation
Doing fieldwork in human trafficking in Manipur is a high risk research where reliable data is not available easily. The critical challenge for the researcher is when the trafficked survivors and their family members are reluctant to share their stories openly. I conducted my empirical fieldwork in 2009 and continued it in 2013 in Manipur. To understand new trends of human trafficking, fieldwork was carried out again from 2017 to 2019. I conducted interviews with rescued survivors who had been trafficked to the metropolitan cities in India and abroad. I also conducted individual interviews with the State Child Protection Committee members, and Police Officers to get their perspectives on this critical issue and referred the local newspapers and websites to collect further information on tribal girls who had been trafficked within India and overseas.
Voluntary migration that leads to trafficking and exploitation
I found that an important structural instability in Manipur is the ever-changing nature of technology that leads to a cat and mouse game between the law enforcement authorities and the criminals leading to many gaps that are exploited by the traffickers. A few crucial aspects that emerge from my research are the voluntary participation of the trafficked victims, who trust false promises, in the trafficking rackets; parents and relatives being loath to admit that their children and female relatives have been trafficked because of social stigma and shame.
(To be contd)