DELHI, INDIA – Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The future depends on what we do in the present.” And while the people of Baglai, Uttar Pradesh, might not be familiar with this quote, they are deeply aware of the grit and determination required to protect their community.
Baglai’s village council—called a gram panchayat—has been working closely with IJM’s partner Akhil Bharatiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan (ABSSS) on an innovative campaign to protect local children, women, and men from labor exploitation by forming the state’s first-ever “Panchayat Against Human Trafficking” in January 2022.
IJM has been working with ABSSS to provide aftercare for survivors of labor trafficking in Uttar Pradesh since 2021. Their grassroots experts have been especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. As human traffickers have tried to exploit families who lost their jobs, IJM and ABSSS have been seeking to raise awareness of labor crimes and how local leaders can enforce India’s strong anti-trafficking laws and keep communities safe.
To this end, throughout 2021, ABSSS initiated conversations with the gram panchayat of Baglai village and helped them understand the impact of human trafficking on their village. Their region is heavily impacted by droughts, which often pushes people to migrate for work or fall victim to traffickers. Local leaders then decided to establish the Panchayat Against Human Trafficking (PAHT), which will be a multi-phase campaign to educate and protect their community from exploitation. (See below for the formal objectives and outcomes of the PAHT.)
On January 26, 2022, the gram panchayat launched the first phase of their plan with a large awareness event on the risks of migration and the ways local workers had been manipulated. Community members shared accounts of deprivation they faced in other states, including a lack of education and healthcare. The village head also shared, “About 30% of families migrate every year for a span of 8-9 months, about 20% individuals migrate to work with various companies and factories, and many of these workers do not receive their due wages.”
With community input, ABSSS suggested forming a vigilance group within the panchayat to help keep track of labor recruiters who come to the village and workers who migrate away. After the community meeting, the gram panchayat also distributed educational materials and painted informative signs around the village.
The second phase of the PAHT campaign created two six-member teams—one to focus on vigilance and another to act as a People’s Welfare Committee, which will help villagers connect to government benefit programs. This PWC includes several survivors of bonded labor as members, who have firsthand experience of how these programs can create stability and reduce the need for risky migration.
The third phase will be the official inauguration of a PAHT and Migration Desk by district officials, including the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA), police, and Labor Department. This official desk at the district government level will help support ongoing anti-trafficking initiatives and monitor how the community fights back against trafficking over time.
Overall, the willingness of the gram panchayat to start this initiative against human trafficking is a remarkable achievement. With momentum and success in Baglai, ABSSS will seek to expand the PAHT program in other communities in the area to see even more communities protected.
Objectives of the Panchayat Against Human Trafficking:
- To prevent trafficking of women and children from being bonded through traffickers by social mobilization and involvement of gram panchayats.
- To generate awareness among local communities through awareness generation programs on human trafficking and bonded labor, generate public discourse through training programs, street plays, events, etc.
- To enlighten the community stakeholders on safe migration and unsafe migration.
- To maintain a record of migrating population by maintaining a migration register.
- To facilitate the rescue of victims by participating in the rescue process by a partner organization.
- To facilitate the reintegration of the victims into the family and the community.
- To provide basic needs of the rescued survivors by providing ration facilities, housing, medical treatment, and support for legal action against the perpetrators.
- Linking survivors with skill-development programs, rural livelihood development programs, self-help groups (SHGs), and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA).
- Involving survivor leaders, local panchayat leaders, community leaders, Asha Workers, Anganwadi Workers, primary school leaders, and primary health center staff to be part of Vigilance Committees.
- Awareness on safe migration, human trafficking, bonded labor, and human rights brought up in the community.
- Community Vigilance Committees formed to address trafficking and unsafe migration.
- Community engagement in the rehabilitation of survivors in the village post-rescue.
- Reduction in the cases of human trafficking and bonded labor.
- Awareness about Jai Bhim’s Helpline for Bonded Labor/ Migrant Labor