Badaik’s Story: A First-Hand Account of Life as a Child Slave in NE India

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Badaik’s Story: A First-Hand Account of Life as a Child Slave in NE India

A picture-postcard setting – as the first orange hued rays of sunlight kisses the earth and day breaks over a lush-green tea plantation in lower Assam, a horde of men, women and children tread into trimmed rows of tea bushes for early-morning plucking session. The soft murmur of workers is occasionally broken by the mellifluous chirping of birds, and sometimes by the heady shout of leaders to “hurry up”.

Nevertheless, it’s an age-old trap; the serenity around the tea plantation is just a facade to hide the dreadful fault lines traversing beneath the garden, and other tea plantations throughout Assam.

Illiteracy and domestic abuse thrive in communities across North-East India, along with alcoholism and ill health – giving ample opportunities to traffickers to lure minor girls with the promise of good money and a better life in big cities. Each day, a child goes missing from the gardens and villages, especially in the economically backward areas. Sometimes, it’s the agents or even family members. They simply drive into a tea garden, pick a child and drive away. It has now become an accepted norm.

Child Labor in Assam

Badaik, 16, who was trafficked by her own father for 500 rupees is one lucky soul to have found her way back. At a tender age, Badaik’s father took her on a trip around the verdant tea gardens and left her “somewhere”, in front of a “nice house”. Standing there all alone, she saw her father turning his back on her. She grew up laboring as a maid in the neighboring state of Arunachal Pradesh, located roughly 50 km from her hometown in Assam.

Fortunately, she had a chance meeting with another maid, who happened to be another trafficked fellow teenager, and it’s her, who set Badaik on a journey back home. For that, she had to cross borders and stomp the bylanes used by child traffickers. The return journey to her lost hometown was no easy feat. She had to look for clues that would take her back to her home. She borrowed a mobile, and called several numbers until her luck struck and she found an uncle, who showed interest in saving her. Delighted to finally go back home, Badaik asked for help from her employer – who in return verbally abused her and locked her in a room.

Finally, when she walked into her New Purubari village, she leapt and wept till she was drenched in salty waters dripping down her eyes and face. “My uncle carried me, my mother hugged and wept while my father stood in a corner,” she said.

“I slapped him. How could he just leave me there and never come to check on me? I was not an orphan, but always felt like one.”

Once she got united with her mother and safely tucked in her old home, she confides, “I think I am 16 or maybe 17 now,” further adding, “I went when I was tiny and have come back all grown up. I had forgotten my family, my language, my home. I am slowly reconnecting.”

She was born in a tiny village named New Purubari in the heart of a tea garden in Biswanath district in Assam. But alas, she has little memory of her hometown!

The Hard Way of Living, Rather Surviving

She recalls, “At first, I remember doing nothing, just playing in the house,”

“Then I was shown how to peel garlic. A little later, how to sweep and mop, then wash the utensils and do laundry. It was all gradual but by the time I was eight, I could do it all.”

She used to work for 17 hours at a stretch and was not allowed to make any friends or go hanging around. When she started to grow up, her “Madam” fixed her monthly wage at 100 rupees.

“The madam said she was putting it in the bank and they used it when I was sick or needed something.”

For years, the tea industry in Assam, one of the world’s largest tea manufacturers has been plagued with accusations of slave labor and exploitative modes of work. Faced with such a growing crisis, various NGOs have joined state government’s initiatives to end human trafficking and provide proper rehabilitation facilities for the welfare of trafficked children. To tackle the growing menace of human trafficking, it’s about time we as individuals and organizations join the forces for a safer, freer world.

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