INDIA: Smuggling Everything From Cough Syrup to Sex

Published on IPS, by Ranjita Biswas, May 09, 2011.

MURSHIDABAD, West Bengal, India, May 8, 2011 (IPS) – Sakina Bibi is a sex worker in the red light area of Kalabagan in Murshidabad, a border district in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal where everything from cattle to electronic goods, from rice and sugar to cough syrup, and women, are being smuggled.

Sakina Bibi (not her real name) is a Bangladeshi citizen who managed to cross over with the help of a “lineman”, one of many who run a lucrative business smuggling people into India.

“I used to smuggle saris from India,” said Sakina, who was abandoned by her husband and had to care for two children. She lost her earnings to sentries of the Border Security Force (BSF) who harassed her often, she said. To pay her debts, she turned to selling sexual favours.  

Livelihood is a constant struggle in Murshidabad, a district that borders Bangladesh. The Indo- Bangladesh border runs over 4,000 kilometres, more than half of which lies with West Bengal.

In 1994, the Indian government started building the border fence – a decision reached in 1986 – to curb smuggling and human trafficking. But over many stretches, the river gets in the way, and only some concrete posts serve as border markers.

In reality, the fence is a mere geographical line that tries but fails to divide people who are culturally and socially alike, though politically separated after 1947 when the Indian sub-continent split into two, India and Pakistan. Bangladesh was later carved out of East Pakistan … //

… Local NGOs who work on child rights like Suprava Panchashila Mahila Uddyog Samity in Berhampore, its district headquarters, say smugglers often use women and children as conduits. Suprava director Shoma Bhowmick says, “While it’s a year-long activity, during monsoon it’s easier for smugglers. Hence you’ll see children being absent from class more during the monsoon months.

“A common excuse is, of course, inability to come to school due to the weather. The fact is that as the river water rises, the boatmen find it easier to come up to the banks and help women and children to take along the smuggled goods,” she added.

Women are unlikely to be searched at the BSF gates because of the absence of women soldiers. Only in 2009 were women allowed into the force and deployed in Punjab along the border with Pakistan, and West Bengal. Still, few battalions in the border areas have women soldiers at the moment.

A woman hiding Phensedyl in the folds of a sari can pass off as pregnant. Children, when caught, are often let off. As a BSF officer told IPS, “If I throw this kid into a jail, even a shelter home, his life will be spoiled forever and his education stopped. So we let go.”

Smuggling rackets often take advantage of such lenient views. An eyewitness told IPS, “When evening sets in they simply throw the bottles (of Phensedyl) across the fence which is not very high, around 2.5 metres. The contact person on the other side just has to collect them.”

An officer of a battalion manning the border said, “There’s huge pressure on us to stop smuggling. We wonder why something can’t be done at the source. For example, Phensedyl is supplied from Kolkata, nearby Karimpur, Nadia district, etc. which is well known. We are short staffed and this border is not like any other. Here a human element is involved.” END. (full text).

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