By Matters India Reporter
Guwahati, August 18, 2019: The Indian media has reported cases of human trafficking of girls and boys from northeastern India. Incidents of racial attacks on people from the region are reported from other parts of India, including New Delhi, national capital.
The Church in northeastern India has brought these matters to the attention of labor commission as well Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Office for Labour about.
In response, the CBCI Office for Labour organized a two-day reflection on issues such as migration, human trafficking, child labor, issues of domestic workers and the present situation of tea garden workers in collaboration with the Labour Commission Northeast India, on August 16 – 17 at North East Diocese Social Forum Kharguly, Guwahati.
It was a call to respond instantly and intensely by the church in Northeast. The alarming rise in migration and human trafficking impelled the church in North East to respond without counting the cost.
Archbishop John Moolachira of Guwahati, chairman of North East Labour Commission, in his message urged participants on strictly implementing the practice of paying the minimum wage to the domestic workers.
The prelate also expressed his concern over the youth who are migrating without prior knowledge, information and relevant legal documents and are becoming victims of human trafficking and other evils. He has assured all his support towards this cause.
Father Jaison Vadassery, secretary to CBCI Office for Labour, informed the group on the various steps taken by the office to assist the migrants and the prospective migrants on safe migration.
The immediate one is to register them in the web portal created by the office, www.wifmdm.com for safe and structured migration with the help of its facilitation centers in different states in India.
He expressed the urgent need of strengthening the diocesan Labour Commissions who would be able to guide the prospective migrants.
Jesuit Father Melvil Pereira, superior of Kohima Region, to the participants, “We are called to keep our eyes and ears close to the ground in search of ‘signs of the times’, so that we respond appropriately. The Church has a golden opportunity to serve the lowly, witness to the Gospel and have a lasting impact.”
Rose Paite, general councilor for social work of the Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians and Prema Chowallur of the Sisters of the Cross of Chavanod, shared the view that Church leaders at the source of trafficking and at the destination should network to check the social problem.
“The Church in Northeast can play a pro-active role to ensure support to Community Based Organisations to fight for the rights of tea garden workers,” said Stephan Ekka, director of Promotion and Advancement of Justice, Harmony and Rights of Adivasis, while addressing the vulnerability of tea garden workers and the wage structure.
The life of tea gardeners is disheartening and they have only a hand to mouth living. They are migrants who have no land on their own. They live at the mercy of the employers. Their children too are into the same work as they cannot afford to send them to school. Some dioceses like Tezpur are taking effort to help the people to have their own tea gardens. Tea which tastes so good has exploitative lives behind.
Dolly Kikon, a senior lecturer in the Anthropology and Development studies in University of Melbourne, Australia, spoke of the culture of migration in northeast-a state of leaving one’s own land.
Sharing her thought provoking experiences of interacting with tribal youth in hotels and restaurants of major cities in India, she challenged the Church to reflect on the type of skill trainings for youth.
She discussed elaborately the pros and corns of youth working after the training on hospitality and spa.
“How do the employers exploit them during their apprenticeship and ultimately, where do they land up?” she asked. “Evaluate, examine and reassess our activities,” was her message to the church in Northeast.
Sister Rani Punnaserril, a lawyer, stressed the need for creating awareness on pre-departure orientation to the youth before they travel to overseas as well as interstate.
The member of the Sisters of the Holy Cross (Menzingen) narrated various cases of repatriation and rescue done by CBCI Labour Office. Travelling with legal documents will help the semi-skilled and low skilled laborers from different traps and problems.
Prior to the seminar the Office for Labour team visited the tea garden in Oreng, Tezpur in Assam, to have an interaction with the tea garden workers.
They noticed that the workers have no social life outside their garden. They have no money for entertainment or travel. They live with the minimum and do not long for greater things as it is not feasible for them.
Only two children from the village have completed bachelors’ courses. Children help the parents when they become able to work.
Sister Theresa Joseph, secretary to Commission for Labour North East, expressed her anxiety over the magnitude of the issue of human trafficking happening in North East.
The Missionary Sisters of Mary Help of Christians said the youth easily fall prey to the false promises and luring job advertisements and end up in the hands of human traffickers. Many girls are taken for domestic work in the institutes and homes but they are not paid the minimum wages. In many places they are treated badly with no human dignity and respect.
The secretaries of Labour Commission from the region’s eight dioceses jointly said it was time the Church people left their comfort zones and listened to the helpless cry of migrants and victims of human trafficking living on the peripheries.
More than 40 participants from these dioceses participated in the seminar that has equipped them with various information on human trafficking, migration and the know-how of pre–departure to overseas and interstate.
The Church in the North East is determined to tackle these issues and save the people from trafficking. The awareness programs will kick off soon.