from Understanding Trafficking
Infochange News & Features, June 2009
nuances of human trafficking
By Rina Mukherji
Understanding Trafficking stresses the
difference between women who migrate and join the sex
trade and women who are trafficked into the sex trade
estimates human trafficking of women and young girls to
be a $1 billion global industry that continues to grow
year after year. It is a trade that feeds on the
miseries of the world’s poor, and the ravages wrought by
death and destruction.
is wrong to classify all women who make it to the
world’s oldest profession as victims of trafficking.
That’s what filmmaker and journalist Ananya
Chatterjee-Chakraborti’s film Understanding Trafficking
seeks to convey.
the metaphor of Sita (of the Ramayana) who stepped out
of her bounds and got whisked away by the forces of
evil, the filmmaker attempts to go beyond the figures to
understand the social milieu that causes women from
Nepal, India and Bangladesh to be trafficked across
international borders in eastern India.
filmmaker stresses the important distinction between
migration and trafficking. Focusing on the former, she
points out that migration by both rich and poor for
better prospects has always existed and will always
exist. Nations must recognise this and formulate an
appropriate policy to deal with it. Lack of such a
policy in Nepal has opened the floodgates of corruption
in that country, while sending countless women migrants
to their doom.
hilly, landlocked country of Nepal has very little land
available for agriculture. Indeed, agriculture in these
parts can never be supported through small landholdings.
Women are keen to migrate and must do so to support
their families. However, the absence of a clear-cut
policy forces them into the clutches of unscrupulous
traffickers out to make a fast buck. Consequently, there
are between 200,000 and 250,000 Nepalese women in Indian
brothels, and a sizeable number catering to the tourism
industry in Kathmandu. The existence of a very long
border, much of which is in rural, sparsely populated
Bihar, is a godsend for both migrants and traffickers.
Once a woman enters the sex trade, there is no looking
back. But their entry into the trade is not their worst
experience. Raids to “rescue” the women are the worst.
When the police raid a brothel, the women are hounded
out in various stages of undress. They are then bundled
onto the first plane to Nepal; from there on, flashbulbs
and the media follow them. Scant regard is paid to what
the women want. One rescued woman tells us: “When we
landed in Kathmandu there were flashbulbs all over. We
did not want people here to know what we had been
through in India. Our families are here, you see. But
rather than pay heed to our concerns, the media had our
faces on every newspaper in town.”
initiatives of women’s organisations in Nepal that have
set up watch and have started registering migrating
women as they cross the border has been filmed well. As
has a similar exercise in West Bengal, undertaken
through panchayats and the local police, which has been
in operation for over a year.
Understanding Trafficking exposes the routes through
which trafficking takes place. The research and
interviews with women in Nepal and India are
well-handled. So is the training being imparted to these
“fallen women” in sports like football and the arts to
help rehabilitate them into the mainstream.
same cannot be said of Bangladesh.
causes many Bangladeshi women into the sex trade when
they cross the border into India in search of work. Once
they enter the profession they are able to return only
if they are “rescued” under an Indo-Bangladeshi
story in India is not very different from those of
countless others who are lured into the sex trade when
they venture out to earn a living. There are, in fact,
certain communities like the Beria that think nothing of
exploiting their daughters for a steady income. Little
girls are exposed to the basics of dealing with clients
and then gradually groomed to attend to their needs. The
film highlights the plight of Beria girls and their
struggle to leave this traditional occupation behind.
One Beria girl sought the help of her friends and the
West Bengal Commission for Women and was subsequently
rescued from Sonagachi, Kolkata’s red light district.
for a few minor lapses that leave the viewer unsure of
what the filmmaker is trying to say -- like the opening
sequences that deal with the migration of well-heeled
educated women who wish to migrate in search of better
opportunities -- the film is thorough and arguably the
first to stress the need to allow migration and migrants
whilst, at the same time, pulling out all the stops to
prevent human trafficking.
(Rina Mukherji is a Kolkata-based journalist)
Infochange News & Features, June 2009
A peek into untold misery
One of the highlights of the film is the wonderful
rehabilitation programme for trafficking victims. A
review by Shoma A Chatterji
Who is a good woman? Who is a bad woman? What measuring
rod do we use to categorize a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ woman?
Who creates this measuring rod? Why? Was Sita a ‘bad’
woman because she crossed the Lakshman Rekha to offer
alms to Ravana who came in a beggar’s disguise to her
hut in the forest? These metaphorical questions get
raised repeatedly in Ananya Chatterjee-Chakraborti’s
Understanding Trafficking which recently premiered in
the city. From the time since Sita crossed the rigid
Lakshman Rekha, all Indian women till today, are
conditioned by the invisible Lakshman Rekha, censoring
their own spaces of resistance, growth, mobility and
social roles. They are either stopped from crossing all
the Lakshman Rekhas that govern their lives, or they are
ostracized by their families, societies, institutions
and places of work if they dare to cross any of them.
Eighty-nine minutes is rather long for a serious
documentary on one of the ugliest realities of life like
trafficking. But Understanding Trafficking does not drag
because it embarks on a long journey of shocking
discoveries about the tragic reality of trafficking
where girls are made to cross the Lakshman Rekhas by
physical force, by diabolic manipulation, sometimes,
even by their parents and close ones to be sold like
cattle in the flesh markets of Nepal, Bangladesh and
India. Are these girls ‘bad’? Or are they ‘good’?
Chatterjee-Chakraborti’s film drives us to redefine the
implications of what ‘good’ or ‘bad’ mean for these
tragic victims. The film tracks the trade across Nepal,
Bangladesh and West Bengal in India, through interviews
with NGO workers, victims of trafficking, victims who
have been rescued and rehabilitated, some pimps and
agents who pretend to be social activists and some women
who head official organizations working to stop
trafficking and rescue innocent victims from this
“Ever since I began to make films, in 1991, I have
wanted to make a film on trafficking. I would like to
extend this project both geographically and deeper in
its present form. The project was part of competition
floated by IAWRT (International Association for Women in
Radio and Television) over three years ago. I won that
competition along with two other international film
makers. It was funded by FOKUS, which stand for women
and child welfare, Norway,” says Ananya about how this
film got made. “I called it Understanding Trafficking
because it was a process not just to show a few victims,
but to understand the process and the politics of
trafficking and migration,” she adds.
The film opens with some graphics and then focusses on a
Farah Gherda, a young girl studying in St. Xavier’s
College, Kolkata, planning to go abroad to pursue her
interests in professional photography. She has the
backing of her parents to seek fresh pastures. She is
distanced from the Lakshman Rekha. Or may be, she is not
even aware of its existence. But she is one of the lucky
few among the millions of little girls who do not have
choices to make. The film tries to underline the
differences between sex work and trafficking, migration
and trafficking, etc. One of the highlights of the film
is a wonderful rehabilitation programme for trafficking
victims ventured into by Jabala, an NGO that works on
prevention and rehabilitation of trafficking victims.
They regularly organise football camps for the girls.
Responding to what made her go back to the mythological
allusions to the Lakshman Rekha, Ananya says, “Usually
trafficking victims are handled with a welfare approach.
This means that a perception of women as weak and
vulnerable who need protection and therefore, should not
venture out is reinforced. There is always an effort to
ensure that women do not migrate for work, as they might
get trafficked. This results in limiting the women from
exploiting her full potential. If a girl does get
trafficked, it becomes extremely difficult for her to
reintegrate herself into the mainstream because the
tendency is always to blame her for crossing the line.
But as a feminist, I feel there should be no such
man-made boundaries to define or confine women. I also
feel that it is the duty of every citizen to help her
get reintegrated even if she gets trafficked. She should
be free to pursue her dreams and aspirations. The
graphics are done by Anirban Ghosh. I used Sita’s story
because religious texts can make a deep impacts in
shaping social values and psyches.”
from Understanding Trafficking
EXPRESS FEATURES SERVICE
Posted: Thursday , Apr 30, 2009 at 0306 hrs IST
Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti’s latest project,
Understanding Trafficking, is in keeping with her
feministic world view
When did feminism become a bad word? When exactly did
women start distrusting the school of thought that
brought a semblance of equality to our society? Probably
when complacency with gender issues set in, feels
filmmaker-activist Ananya Chatterjee Chakraborti. “I
think a lot of women are okay with the status quo. We
feel that because there is apparent equality in the
society, we needn’t ruffle feathers,” says Chakraborti
who screened her latest documentary, Understanding
Trafficking last Monday at the Max Mueller Bhavan.
Chakraborti, as evident, has no qualms about being
called a feminist. In fact, she celebrates the tag. “I’m
proud to be a feminist, I have no shame in calling
myself one,” she declares. Which is probably why most of
her films are brazenly feministic. Case in point being
her latest project, Understanding Trafficking, an
exploration of woman trafficking in the sub-continent.
The film is not just a cautionary tale about the plight
of women who have been removed from comforts of their
sanctuaries. “Women have for centuries been discouraged
to cross the line, to remain indoors, and within limits.
So what happens if a woman does cross the line? By
circumstances, through need, or just by a desire to dare
the magical line?” asks Chakraborti.
Chakraborti’s earlier works talked about varied issues
like the role and status of women in the Uttarakhand
movement (Uttaradhikar) and training of women to counter
sexual harassment in the workplace (The Politics of
Silence). But Woman trafficking is an issue that seems
to have made a deep impact. “I can make at least three
more films on the issue. We all presume that most
trafficked women end up being prostitutes, but there are
many who end up as domestic servants too. I want to talk
about these women,” says Chakraborti.
The fact that her film will only reach a select few
through special screenings such as the one in Max
Mueller Bhavan irks Chakraborti. “We should have a
permanent slot in television channels for films that
talk about such issues,” she sums up.