The scale of the crisis may be much higher than feared, local leaders say.
Lapido has spoken with rights activists including one who rescued 22 trafficked girls, 19 of them from rural Kandhamal.
Rituparna Mohanti of Orissa-based NGO, Sanjeevani, rescued the children, including a nine-year-old, from a brothel run under the guise of a non-governmental organisation in Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa.
She claimed that the orphanage-cum-marriage bureau registered under the name of Basanti Trust was keeping 19 girls from Kandhamal, mostly Christians brought there on the false promise of free schooling.
Her raid was broadcast live on private news channels but no mention was made that the majority of the girls were trafficked in the aftermath of deadly anti-Christian violence in the region
Mohanti told Lapido: ‘Most of these girls were molested and were evidently being prepared for prostitution.
'We did not find any books or notebooks in the orphanage which means the children were not being given education. There were, however, a few pictures of nude girls under a pillow and pornographic films shot by one of the people running the centre.'
Mohanti also alleges that poor girls were brought from various districts of Orissa to the orphanage, where many of them were offered to customers. Fake marriage certificates were also given to young couples wanting to marry without the consent of their parents.
‘The bride would be asked to go into a room and change all her clothing, including the undergarments, and told it was a custom. Then the girl would be filmed with a hidden camera. This would then be uploaded and sold on the Internet,’ added Mohanti, who has received death threats for exposing the fraud.
Mohanti learned about the alleged sex racket after a staff member fled to her office for help.
The woman, B, who claimed she had herself been raped at the ‘charity’, later brought three Christian girls from Kandhamal to testify how they were allegedly sexually abused
The 19 girls from Kandhamal were brought to Bhubaneswar in December 2008, barely four months after the violence broke out in the thickly forested district.
The violence was sparked by the killing of a Hindu nationalist leader, Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, by Maoists on August 23, 2008.
Local right-wing Hindu groups blamed Christians for it, and the ensuing mayhem killed more than 100 people and burned more than 4,500 houses, over 250 churches and 13 educational institutions besides displacing over 50,000 people.
‘Many of those rendered homeless remain without a house and are sleeping under trees, as over 2,700 families are yet to rebuild their houses,’ said Ajay Singh, a human rights activist from the Catholic Archdiocese of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar who is originally from Kandhamal.
He said hundreds of Christians had fled the district, and it was difficult to know how many were missing to get an idea of the incidence of trafficking for sex and labour.
‘We fear the true figure of trafficked persons is alarmingly high,’ he added.
Mohanti’s rescue operation brought to light the third known incidence of trafficking from Kandhamal.
A further five girls, two of them under-18, had earlier been rescued from Manajodi village under Daringibadi block in Kandhamal while being allegedly trafficked to other states, Press Trust of India reported on April 10, 2010.
‘Members of the NGO had also rescued at least a dozen girls from the railway station in Berhampur [a city in neighbouring Ganjam district] on January 23, while they were being trafficked to Kerala [a state in southern India].’
Another activist, Saila Behera, told Lapido that hundreds of young children, especially girls, had been trafficked to Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Goa.
The Orissa chapter of UNICEF said they had not heard of the trafficking cases from Kandhamal, and refused to comment on this particular case.
Said Orissa Chief Shairose Mawji: ‘In Orissa, UNICEF is working with the State Government to ensure that the rights of every child are respected and fulfilled; these include the right to survival, to development, to protection from exploitation and abuse, and to participation in decisions that affect them. UNICEF places a special emphasis on reaching the most marginalised and socially-excluded communities.’
Of the 648,000 mostly Hinduised tribal people in Kandhamal, around 100,000 are Christian, from the Dalit (formerly known as ‘untouchables’) background.
A Bhubaneswar man charged with rape and trafficking of Kandhamal children was released from custody and bailed on June 21.