In September 2008, four young women from the region of Manipur, north east of India, managed to escape from recruiters, who indentured them into forced labour. These women were just among the batch of 150 young women believed to have been trafficked to Singapore.
Two of the four women, Jasmine Gonmei and Jeanimei Gangmei were promised jobs as domestic workers in Singapore. But instead of bringing them to their assigned households, they were taken to Malaysia. As soon as they arrived, the recruiters seized their passports and forced them to work, without compensation or even decent food and shelter. They were also locked up as soon as the work was finished for the day.
Gonmei was also physically abused, as she attempted to resist the demands of the recruiters. The recruiters further argued that the services of Gonmei and her fellow women were payments for the money the recruiters invested in processing travel documents and purchasing a plane ticket.
Since the 1949 merger agreement which formed India, Manipur has been among the centres of insurgency. As most of its inhabitants feel closer cultural affiliation with North Asia, some communities continue to share a vision of an independent Manipur. But because of the violence in the region, communities have been marred in poverty and underdevelopment, or conditions which encourage labour migration. Both Gonmei and Gangmei indeed meant to make ends meet for their families, given the limited opportunities in Manipur.
“Manipur today makes people prone to believing in the prospect of a better life in another place. More awareness needs to be built around the fact that trafficking not only leads to sex work but forced labour,” Sobita Mangsatabam of the Women Action for Development told Imphal Free Press.
Local trafficking is also rampant in Manipur, with recruiters targeting young women, promising them jobs in factories in the more developed parts of India. Last month, police authorities in Nagaland intercepted a bus load of minors bound for Chennai.
Although Gonmei and Gangmei, as well as 18 other women in a private shelter are free from their abusive recruiters, they are still raising funds for their safe exit. Moreover, they remain haunted by their experiences. As Mangsatabam described, “They are still feeling hopeless as they have no passports, visas, and financial strength though they want to reach home safely and be reunited with their families. They have been living in depression ranging from psychological trauma, fear and hopelessness.”
E-mail correspondence with Sobita Mangsatabam.
Ahanthem, Chitra. (2008). “'We are safe now but want to go home,' say girls stranded in Malaysia.” (Copy text).
Nagarealm News. (2008). “Dimapur police rescues 17 Manipuri girls.” URL: http://nagarealm.com/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=6328