During my research on another topic for this series I came across an article titled "Help Wanted: Hiring, Human trafficking and Modern Day Slavery in the Global Economy Regional Report - Indian Workers in Domestic Textile Production and Middle East-Based Manufacturing Infrastructure, and Construction" by Verité. Verité, a non-profit that works to “ensure that people around the world work under safe, fair, and legal conditions” , outlined how poor Indian children and adults enter forced labor through a variety of means in this article. While both genders are susceptible to trafficking, women and girls are vulnerable to being trafficked not once, but twice: first for labor then for sex. Appalled and shocked, I realized, yet again, how important Anchal’s work is for providing alternative employment and design training.
FIRST FOR LABOR:
Many commercial sex workers enter the trade from being recruited for textile work through a labor broker for large textile manufacturing companies. Under an exploitative recruitment tactic called the “Sumangali Scheme” labor brokers identify young women and girls from poor rural areas as potential textile workers. “Sumangali” in Tamil means “happily married woman”. This tantalizing word sparks hope and dreams in the mind of the young women and their families. The scheme is sold by labor brokers (who sometimes double as sex traffickers) as a win-win-win situation: it “provide[s] an opportunity to employ young women [in] gainful employment, . . . parents [would receive] a sizable sum at the end of [a] 3-year [contract] that could be used towards the marriage of their daughter, and the mills got workers willing to work in the mills continuously as ‘apprentices,’ mostly for no/little statutory benefits and for wages lower than male counterparts” . Even though the payment of dowries was outlawed in India in 1961, the practice, deeply embedded in the culture, continues and is possibly on the rise. According the article “Dowry wars: The big issue that has India divided” by Andrew Buncombe in The Independent on March 2nd 2011, “up to 25,000 Indian women are killed every year because of the inability or refusal of their families to make such payments to the family of grooms.”
THEN FOR SEX:
Essentially sold into slavery for the dream of marriage, perpetuated by an oppressive, gendered system of norms and values, these women and girls are made even more vulnerable to sex trafficking. Verité describes this relationship below:
“[T]he system of sex trafficking of girls involved in the Sumangali scheme is strong and resilient, with entrenched networks among supervisors, other factory workers, company managers, staff at company housing, and other labor suppliers. The Sumangali scheme lends itself especially well to the sex trade, with young girls aged 15-20 living and working under the constant supervision of managers and hostel owners, with no freedom of movement and very little ability to communicate freely with family or friends. These girls are systematically threatened and forced into the trade. According to ASK-Verite’s sources, sex traffickers charge between INR 2,500-5,000 (USD 54-109) per girl per day (charges are reduced in half for a client to spend a half day with the girl). The sex trafficker interviewed further reported that his earnings from this source were more than his formal employment. The main customers – according to this trafficker – are visitors from buyers, company owners, managers, and supervisors. The suppliers have such extensive contacts and networks that no action, legal or otherwise, is taken against them. . .local authorities are “paid their bit” to “keep their eyes and ears closed” to this phenomenon.”
This relationship between forced labor in the textile industry and sex trafficking highlights the essential role that Anchal is playing to help mitigate and alleviate these pressures. By working with commercial sex workers and with the medium of textiles, Anchal’s work to empower women with design skills, provide meaningful employment, and to foster a community of sisterhood, is essentially relevant. I hope this article makes the importance of our work undeniably clear and motivates you all to get involved, either through purchasing one of our amazingly beautiful products or becoming an advocate.
Till next time…
-Lizzy (guest blogger)
Images provided by Shalusharma, Craftworks