January 28, 2011 : The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received updated information concerning the case of human rights defenders working with Guria receiving threats for their work against human trafficking. Guria is a human rights organisation working against child prostitution and human trafficking in Varanasi city of Uttar Pradesh state. This is not the first occasion where the staff members of Guria have received threats and intimidation. On each occasion, they have complained to the local authorities, including the local police. However, it appears that the police, after accepting bribes from the criminals engaged in human trafficking, are taking no action to protect the human rights activists. Instead, they are allegedly aiding the criminals by their passive stance upon the complaints. In the most recent incident, the criminals have attempted to completely destroy an education centre, where the rescued children and other victims of human trafficking are given free education. The police, despite a formal complaint, have done nothing so far in this case.
Guria Swayam Sevi Sansthan is a registered human rights organisation working against human trafficking and forced prostitution in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. Guria has been documenting cases on women and child trafficking in India and the AHRC in the past has issued urgent appeals regarding these cases which are available at UA-190-2005, UP-131-2005, UP-035-2006, UP-036-2007, AHRC-UAU-005-2008 and AHRC-UAU-050-2008.
Guria, as an organization, since the last 16 years has been running a tuition center at the old Gram Panchayat Bhavan (Community Center) located at the Shivdaspur red-light area. Guria’s motive is to educate the women and young children who are victims of human trafficking so that they can live a life with dignity. During the course of its work, Guria has rescued about 60 girls from the enslavement of the brothel owners and human traffickers from the Shivdaspur red-light area with the help of police and other volunteers. Due to this reason, the brothel owners, pimps and human traffickers are antagonistic towards Guria’s work.
On 25 March 2010 at about 4pm, Mr. Neeraj, son of Ms. Puja, Mr. Omprakash son of Mr. Dharmraj Patel, Mr. Kalpnath alias Bidi, Mr. Subhash alias Lakkad son of Jhari, Mr. Bablu son of Jhari, Mr. Ashok son of Girija, Mr. Jani alias Omprakash son of Mr. Lalchand who are all residents of Shivdaspur under the jurisdiction of Manduadih Police Station at Varanasi along with other unknown thugs broke into the tuition center run by Guria. They then shouted at the staff members using abusive language and threatened the students, warning them to stay away from the centre. They threatened the staff members who were present at the centre, and shouted that that they will break their legs and hands if anyone returns to the centre to teaching the children and women. They left after locking the centre using a lock they had brought along.
As the thugs left, they threatened the staff members that they must inform Mr. Ajeet Singh, the President of Guria Swayam Sevi Sansthan, that he must not enter the Shivdaspur red-light area should he wish to live. The staff members immediately filed a written complaint with the Station House Officer of the Manduadih Police Station, Varanasi. They sent a copy of the complaint to the Deputy Inspector General of police (DIG), Varanasi on the same day requesting the DIG to register a case against the thugs concerning the incident. Despite the two complaints, the police have refused to take any action and to-date no case has been registered.
Once again on 29 March 2010 at about 1pm, the staff members of Guria, Ms. Santwana Manju, Mr. Umashankar, Mr. Gopal Pandey and Mr. Khurshid found that the main door of the tuition center has been removed by force. They found that someone had broken into the centre and had removed all the documents kept at the centre and woolen clothes worth approximately Rs. 3,000.00 kept at the centre for the children to use during winter, toys and reading materials worth Rs. 9000.00. Again, Guria filed a written complaint at the Manduadih Police Station. A copy of the same was sent to the DIG, Varanasi, requesting the officer to register a case and to ensure that such incidents do not happen again and further to investigate the complaint and take actions against the suspects. However, once again no action has been taken on this complaint.
When the police failed to take action on both complaints Guria began to believe that the police are accepting bribes from the criminals. It has to be noted that in the past, concerning the incidents mentioned in the previous Urgent Appeals, the local police have informed the State Government as well as the Central Government that they have taken adequate actions against the suspects. However, in reality there were no visible actions taken by the police on any of the complaints.
Again, on 5 April 2010 at about 6pm, Mr. Neeraj son of Ms. Puja, Mr. Omprakash son of Dharmraj Patel, Mr. Kalpnath alias Bidi, Mr. Subhash alias Lakkad son of Jhari, Mr. Bablu son of Jhari, Mr. Ashok son of Girija, Mr. Jani alias Omprakash son of Mr. Lalchand accompanied by seven or eight women and the Village Head of Shivdaspur, Mr. Pappu Pradhan came to the Guria tuition center. The centre had students at the time. The village head entered the centre shouting language and the staff members present at the centre as well as the children who were present at the centre. He threatened everyone at the centre and shouted that Guria’s work must stop immediately. At this juncture, Umashankar, a senior staff member of Guria requested the village head not to use such filthy language before the students. Hearing this the thugs who accompanied the village head along with the village head started beating the staff members.
Abhay, Ram Bahal, Suryabhan, Gopal Pandey and Umashankar, all of whom work for Guria, were hurt in the assault. The village head tore off the Kurta (an Indian shirt) Umashankar was wearing and snatched away Rs.937.00 from his pocket. All the staff members were assaulted and dragged out from the centre. When the thugs left, they took several articles from the centre, including sitting mats, toys and a light box. While the thugs left, once again they threatened that if the President of Guria enters the red-light area, he would be murdered.
Once again a complaint was filed at the local police station. As usual no action is taken. Once again a copy of the complaint was sent to the DIG, Varanasi. After few days the Assistant City Magistrate – 1 (ACM-1), Varanasi visited the centre.
The Shivdaspur Gram Panchayat then passed a resolution according permission to Guria to continue their tuition centre in the same place. A contract was signed between Gram Pradhan and Ajeet on 19 April 2010 permitting Guria to continue occupying the space to run the centre. However no legal action has been taken against the complaints filed concerning the incidents dated 25 March 2010, 29 March 2010 and 05 April 2010.
On 22 November 2010 at about 5pm, once again the tuition centre was locked, this time, with a new door and lock. The articles kept inside the centre were thrown out from the centre and were lying scattered on the ground outside the centre. Upon inquiry, no neighbour was willing to inform who did this to the centre.
Ajeet met the DIG, Varanasi on 7 December 2010 and narrated the series of incidents to the officer and requested him to take action upon the complaints so far. Ajeet informed the officer that now not only his life is at risk, but also the lives of his staff members and the entire work Guria had done so far in the locality and further the safety of the rescued women and children and the other victims who depend upon the centre. The DIG ordered an investigation into the incidents. But beyond the order, nothing happened. Ajeet then wrote to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Lucknow requesting help. No action followed.