Real Life Stories: People Trafficking in India (Impact and Dialogue Foundation)

The latest in our series of partner interviews is with Pallabi Ghosh. Liluye’s staff writer, Sylvia Nalubega, interviewed Pallabi to find out more about her and her organization’s work. Pallabi is an activist from the Impact and Dialogue Foundation, and below she shares her insights and work on sex trafficking.

How did you first get involved in being part of this work? In other words, what motivated you, or still drives you, to work on the issue of trafficking? Can you share a personal story?
I used to see a lot of sex workers in West Bengal which actually happens to have the biggest red light district with approximately 25,000 sex workers. West Bengal is also an impoverished state and is so prone to climate related disasters such as floods. Before my interaction with them, I used to think that these smartly dressed women [from West Bengal] in saris were going for other types of work. It was then that I started engaging in conversations with them that they informed me that they were sex workers. This surprised me because they didn’t necessarily have the stereotypical outlook such as having heavy makeup or clothes that expose the skin more. My reading and research on sex work led me to trafficking; to be more specific, sex trafficking which happens to be a multi-million industry.

From my observations, it seemed like the women and girls were willingly doing it for economic survival. However, I got to understand that most of them were actually lured by traffickers (mostly men) under the pretext of giving them jobs. Luring them was easy, and still is, due to the high rates of poverty coupled with other factors such as illiteracy, violence at home, limited access to social services, among other reasons. One woman shared that she was unknowingly lured into sex work by a man she had just met on the train on her way to the city to look for work. By the time she realized that she was there for sex work, she was threatened that she had been recorded entering that place (where sex work takes place) and that the recording would be shared publicly. Fearing the shame, she had no choice but to accept to start sex work in that place. Many women and girls choose to stay in sex trafficking because the perpetrators tell them that their bodies are no longer “clean,” hence no one will want them for marriage. I then realized the crucial importance of creating awareness on trafficking to ensure that women were not lured again. Moreover, it is high time to engage the different sectors that work on poverty alleviation, abolishing of child marriage, education of girls and women, gender inequality, women’s empowerment, redress for violence against all genders to holistically address trafficking.

What are the specific mission and goals of your organization?
My organization (the Impact and Dialogue Foundation) started in 2020. However, I have been a full-time activist for over nine years and I have rescued approximately 5,000 women and children from trafficking. I started the organization to have greater impact while working within a structure. My mission is not only about rescuing survivors but empowering both the survivors and those prone to trafficking.

My plan is to reach every corner of the country to educate and empower people, such as those working in tea gardens, so that they are not lured into the cities for “better jobs.” I want to specifically work with people in the rural communities because they are most vulnerable due to lack of access to social services like health, education, finance, and hence they are easier to lure into trafficking. Most organizations focus on women and girls in the destination areas [places where the trafficked people are taken] but not much attention is given to those in the source areas [places where traffickers usually go to to lure people into it], especially the rural districts. Prevention is key to dealing with sex trafficking. I believe that if I empower 3,000 people in preventive actions such as awareness of trafficking and addressing violence at home, I am sure 2,000 more can avoid being trafficked.

How are you collaborating with duty bearers*, key decision makers, and communities in your work?
I am collaborating with schools, community health workers, doctors in big hospitals, police officers, truck and taxi drivers, as well as railway station managers. Engaging people in transportation is important because they knowingly or unknowingly carry women and girls who have been trafficked. With these different sector players, I do awareness on trafficking and have conversations and dialogues with them on the same. Please note that very few people are aware of trafficking. In India, about 80% are largely unaware of this issue.

“In India, about 80% are largely unaware
of this issue [trafficking].”

Share with us some of the things you are doing to support survivors of trafficking, or to prevent those who are vulnerable from going through it?
For survivors, I do post-trauma counseling to restore their whole being to wholeness. Many of them receive limited psycho-social support from family members, who in most cases want to marry them off as soon as possible, leaving the survivors with their trauma. The counseling helps them to get back on their feet to care for themselves.

In addition, our organization performs raids as an activity conducted in partnership with the police to rescue trafficked persons from a particular place. This is done after receiving and verifying information of the trafficking incident.

For prevention, we form anti-trafficking clubs in schools and establish village monitoring committees to create awareness and monitor children’s movements, especially on their way to school.

I am also planning to collaborate with the Human Rights Law Network to provide free legal services to survivors of sex trafficking.

Recently you, in partnership with Liluye and Victor Lyons from Sessionwise, took part in their PTSD training. Could you explain a bit to us about your experience with this training and how you think you’ll be using it in your work?
The step by step sessions that Victor took me through were empowering for me as I also realized that I had mild PTSD due to my work in rescuing women and children. So far, I have held sessions with 11 of the survivors and they have been greatly supported in their emotional well-being. I am looking into translating the exercises into the local language so that I can support more people. I also plan to work with volunteers and health workers to administer the training to the mothers who come for health services. It is crucial to engage health workers because they reach mothers directly and can also talk to them about violence and abuse at home against children. Violence and abuse at home is one of the major reasons why children are being lured into trafficking, because they are promised “better” opportunities elsewhere and as a result, easily accept them to avoid the abuse. Hence parents are key players in reducing trafficking.

What kind of change do you want to see as a result of your work among the survivors of sex trafficking, or those who are most vulnerable to it?
I want to ensure that the number of people being lured into sex trafficking decreases, even if it’s gradual. I believe that reduction will be realized through prevention.

I also want people to talk about it. It shouldn’t be taboo anymore. Because people don’t talk about it, there is no action being taken and there is no change. I want people to talk about it loud and clear. If a person has been trafficked, the person should not fear telling the government that one has suffered this injustice. The narrative should also be put on the perpetrators and not only on the survivors.

I also desire to see a change in the judicial system for compensating survivors. The change should be in the processes being simplified for survivors, and a wider range of provisions being made for them to tell their story, such as using videos instead of face to face as this is traumatizing for many. However, this is only possible in Bombay as courts in other areas don’t have the video facilities.

Is there any other thing that you can share with us?
Trafficking happens as a chain of events, such as early and forced marriages, violence, abuse, high dowries, and other reasons. This calls for integrated efforts in addressing it. World agencies like the UN (United Nations), and countries, in general, need to give more attention to trafficking.

Where to send funding for your work?
To fund the work for the Impact and Dialogue Foundation, please email Pallabi directly: pallabighosh90.Isr@gmail.com.

We can also receive support by developing and disseminating awareness posters online, research, and holding discussions. We are happy to physically host volunteers who would like to provide their technical support, too. Please email Pallabi directly: pallabighosh90.Isr@gmail.com.

To find out more about the Impact and Dialogue Foundation:
Visit Impact and Dialogue Foundation on the web: https://impactdialogue.org
Visit Impact and Dialogue Foundation on Facebook: Impact and Dialogue Foundation

To learn more about Pallabi’s background and work with the Impact and Dialogue Foundation, read this article:
This Human Rights Activist Has Rescued Over 5000 Trafficked Victims To Help Them Lead Life With Dignity (The Logical Indian.com)

For more information about Victor Lyon’s PSTD training (SessionWise), or to support his international training program, please visit: SessionWise.org.

For more information about Liluye or to inquire about becoming a partner, please visit www.liluye.org/contact. Or, if you are interested in donating to Liluye, please visit: www.liluye.org/donate.

*Duty bearers are people or sectors that are responsible for a particular service provision.

Pallabi was interviewed by Liluye Staff Writer, Sylvia Nalubega, who also writes on her blog, Sanyu Centre for Arts and Rights. Her personal message to everyone is, “We live beyond ourselves by sharing our story to hopefully impact a person.”

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