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NGOs come together to rescue migrant tribal victims of sexual harassment in Gujarat

Tribal mother and daughter, rescued by NGO
By Sudhir Katiyar*
One of the key issues faced by migrant tribal community in Gujarat is the safety of the women folk. The tribal workers live in an isolated setting at the farm houses located in remote locations with no connect with the outside world except through the employer farmer. Incidents of sexual harassment of female workers are routine including extreme events like rape.
In addition to the sexual harassment faced by the female workers, another issue faced by the migrant tribal community is enticement of female workers by the farmer community males. The Patel community that employs the workers has one of the lowest sex rations leading to an acute shortage of girls of marriageable age. A recent report estimated the sex ratio in Patel community to be as low as between 650-700 against an average of 909 for the state.
This phenomenon is illustrated by a recent incident in Jaitpur taluka of Rajkot district. Bhaki Ram from Pati taluka in Badwani district of Madhya Pradesh was working at a farm in village Bheda Pipariya of Jaitpur taluka of Rajkot district for three months with his wife Punabai and nine-year old daughter Renu.
On December 15 he went back to get his other siblings, who were staying back at home, enrolled in a school. When he came back, he found his wife and daughter missing. He reported the matter to the local police station on December 22 naming his ex-employer of Parab Vavri village in Bhesan taluka of Rajkot district where he had worked earlier as the likely person to have taken away his wife and daughter. He requested that the duo be produced to know if they went of their own free will. However, the police did not take any action for three weeks.
Then Bhaki Ram contacted a local organization, the Jagrit Dalit Adivasi Sangthan (JDAS) in his home district that in turn contacted Govabhai of the Majur Adhikar Manch (MAM), a state level union of informal workers in Gujarat. MAM has been working for last six months to establish a network of grassroots organizations working in source and destination areas to form a network that can provide support to migrant workers.
Govabhai put them in touch with the Saurashtra Dalit Sangthan (SDS), Junagadh. An eight-member team from JDAS reached Saurashtra and met Devenbhai of SDS. A joint delegation went to the police station Jaitpur on January 3 demanding that an FIR be filed. 
Under pressure from the team, police the produced the farmer and missing mother and daughter in the police station on January 4. While Punabai decided to stay back with the farmer, the nine-year old daughter chose to go with the father. She was accordingly handed over to the father.
The case illustrates that it is possible to create links between grassroots organizations working in source and destination areas to provide support to migrant workers. Many of the atrocities faced by the migrant tribal community arise from the reality that the employers know that the workers have no support in areas where they are employed. Actions like this will go a long way in changing this reality and reducing atrocities on migrant workers.
---
With the Centre for Labour Research and Action, Ahmedabad

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