Thursday, May 26, 2011

Raiding a Brothel in my city, the City of Joy

Those who know me and my views are aware that I rarely see eye to eye with the famed New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristof. A twice-winner of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, as well as winner of various other awards, Kristof has impeccable credentials and is engaged in laudable social work. But his political arguments and world-views leave a lot to be desired, and can at best be described as 'wishy-washy' in a Charlie Brown-ish way.

Be that as it may, when Kristof sticks to reporting facts, he is a fabulous and intrepid journalist. His May 25, 2011, Op Ed in the New York Times ("Raiding a Brothel in India") is at once fascinating and horrifying.

Investigators with International Justice Mission (IJM), a Washington-based aid group that fights human trafficking, requested Kristof's presence as an eminent journalist, when they went undercover looking for prostituted children in my city, Kolkata, the famed City of Joy. IJM investigators had spotted a particular young girl, and were trying to gather more evidence in order to convince the Kolkata police to free the girl.

Kristof agreed (-I sincerely applaud his courage-). After an initial foray into the Sonagachhi area, the well-known Red-light district of the city of Kolkata, the IJM investigators and Kristof led Kolkata Police back and were able to rescue not one, but FIVE girls, including a teenager and two children, aged 5 and 10 years. The raid led to the arrest of one pimp and warrants against a couple of others.

The five fortunate girls were rescued, and would probably be appropriately rehabilitated - especially since they have received attention of foreign media. Unfortunately, however, I honestly don't know if this raid would have a lasting effect, or even the desired effect in this instance. There is no dearth of corruption in the ranks of the police, and the arrests may not even lead to an indictment. This sort of situation further complicates efforts against human trafficking, for which there is no easy solution to begin with. However, as Kristof indicates:

experience in several countries suggests that prosecuting pimps and brothel-owners makes a difference. A study in Cebu, Philippines, found that helping police and courts target child prostitution resulted in 87 arrests over four years — and a 79 percent reduction in the number of children in the sex trade.
There is hope. If the (newly-instated) Government for the State of West Bengal - with a woman Chief Minister at the helm - so desires, it has the ability to stamp out human trafficking and violence and other crimes against women and children. But will it?

Kristof observes:

Unicef has estimated that worldwide 1.8 million children enter the sex trade each year. Too many are in the United States, which should prosecute pimps much more aggressively, but the worst abuses take place in countries like Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Cambodia
Further, he brings up what is possibly the most horrifying aspect of this and a tight slap on the face of civilization and civilized society:
India probably has more modern slaves than any country in the world. It has millions of women and girls in its brothels, often held captive for their first few years until they grow resigned to their fate. China surely has more prostitutes, but they are typically working voluntarily. India’s brothels are also unusually violent, with ferocious beatings common and pimps sometimes even killing girls who are uncooperative. (Emphasis mine)
I don't know if Kristof realizes this, but this is not uncommon or unexpected - because the pimps have been brought up in the same misogyny-laden culture and traditions that gives men a sense of entitlement over women, and considers women as property and chattel, to be given away or used however. Until and unless a sea change is brought about in that mentality, until and unless we are able to impart sanity and rationality to the next generations, encouraging them to take responsibility for their own actions, the cycle of violence against women and children cannot be broken.

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