Rima Das Pradhan-Blach, Daughter of Das Studio
Rima Das Pradhan-Blach, International Affairs and Legal Consultant, joins Adwiti Subba Haffner in an inspiring interview as she talks about her intellectually demanding and at times dangerous profession. Her refreshingly bold approach towards life has helped her reach great heights and I am proud to let you know that she is from Darjeeling! Read the interview and get INSPIRED!
Das Studio is a well known landmark and anybody who has visited Darjeeling will immediately recognize its large windows showcasing Darjeeling photography amongst other wares, but what we are about to find out is that Das Studio, the family run business, also raised a daughter who now holds a high level international leadership position in an advisory capacity helping to create legal systems for nations coming out of conflict.
August 2011, Rima Das Pradhan –Blanch is in Iraq, she is donning her PPE – Personal Protection equipment. She slides into her bullet proof vest, dons on her helmet, and as she picks up her anti fire retardant gloves from the counter in front of the mirror, she catches herself in the bathroom mirror and for a fleeting moment her mind rests in her childhood home in Darjeeling.
DAS STUDIO in bright letters flash across her mind, the crisp morning air and the tunes that she played in her piano. She starts humming “Moonlight Sonata” and she glances at her day’s work. Designing and managing the Iraqi Higher Judicial Council – Court Administration Project.
She has come a long way from the Loreto Convent days. She is now hobnobbing with top political figures of the world. She works alongside Nobel Peace prize winners and the Chief Justice of Iraq would not work on a project without her. Go to www.Linkedin.com and type Rima das Pradhan-Blach her resume is mind boggling. She restores, restructures and creates entire judicial systems for nations out of conflict. She has over 20 years experience in research, technical advisory services, policy development as well as project implementation in primarily fragile and conflict affected states. She is an expert in Public policy development and implementation. Public Financial management. Civil service reform. Justice sector reform. Peace and state building in countries in transition and many more. And yes! She is from Darjeeling. When asked about how she feels to be surrounded by not just National level, but International level political figures, she laughs and replies with almost an air of nonchalant humility “ I am just little Rima ,you know…with the biggest balls ever! And if you throw me out of a helicopter I will make things happen!”
Her reply to “how does it feel like to be the only woman, or did you face any gender discrimination? “Will definitely surprise you, it has something to do with her Darjeeling upbringing. Read on…
Adwiti: What an interesting profession you have picked. You are an International Affairs Legal consultant. Very impressive. You have a very diverse range of experience, which is typical of individuals at your level working in an advisory capacity. Could you please elaborate a little more about your profession in general?
Rima: What my friends call me, is that I am a state builder. This would be the most succinct way to explain what I do in a phrase. I mainly work in countries that are coming out of conflict, for example Timor Leste. Timor Leste used to be Portuguese till 1975 and then it came under Indonesia. Timor Leste was war ravaged in every sense of the word.
I worked with the Nobel Peace Prize winner José Ramos-Horta. We had to do a whole lot of scenario planning , it was being administered by the Transitional Administration, established by the UN and I went there from almost day one focusing on how and what we needed to do to set up the judicial system.
Adwiti: So what you do is really formulate the legal structure entirely from scratch and you have to understand the cultural, social and political history of the nation before you create a whole new legal system for them. It’s almost like custom building a judicial system for a nation.
Rima: Yes, exactly. Similarly in Iraq, with the Ba’ath Party (Saddam Hussein’s party) we had to re-establish the judicial system from scratch, all the judges had to be vetted and because of all the sanctions, Iraq was like in a time warp for thirty years. Imagine creating a new legal system there!
They had been completely shut off and sheltered from the rest of the world, so we had to bring them up to speed. In fact I started working there from 2005 and the Chief Justice of Iraq wrote to the World Bank saying the only projects she has worked on are the ones Rima has worked on.
Adwiti: Impressive! What drove you to this field? What lead you to this very unique and demanding profession?
Rima: (Laughs …) you know I have always been a do gooder. Remember how your father (Nayan Prakash Subba) established the Youth Symphony Orchestra in Darjeeling I used to go and volunteer and teach the kids there, that was fulfilling to me. That’s the sort of thing that actually drove me…an internal sense of wanting to do good in the world.
So my first job was coordinating the 65 National Women’s Organization in preparation for the U.N. Conference for Women in Beijing at the Global framework for empowering women. I became very interested in Law then.
My first degree was in Resource and Environmental Management but because I was part of the UN negotiations over three weeks, working with Governments from particularly developing countries and helping them get their concerns across, I then actually decided to go back to school and did 3 years of law right after that.
Circa 1998 globally, development policy was giving priority to good governance, and there was a bunch of lawyers and judges and prosecutors from Australia who wanted to volunteer their time and support countries coming out of conflict or in transition to strengthen the legal and judicial system.
They wanted to do well but did not know how to operationalize it. Just at that time Suharto came down from Indonesia and Komnas HAM, the Human Rights Commission in Indonesia came to Australia and asked for help. So I went with some judges and lawyers on a five year strategy program, and studied and sifted through the legal and judicial program after the dictatorship and basically ascertained how to have a judiciary after a post dictatorship.
That’s where it all started.
I mean I don’t just work with the Judicial Department, I also work with Public Financial management, managing a country’s budget.
Adwiti: Is it fair to say it is rare to find women at your level- more so from our part of the world?
Rima: Oh Absolutely! In fact in most of the delegations I am the only woman.
Adwiti: How has it been to be the only woman….how did you get there? You worked as a lead or senior consultant for different countries like Nepal, Afghanistan and Iraq. How did you navigate through the cultural sensitivities?
Rima: To be the only woman…frankly it hasn’t really mattered to me. The most important thing is…….are the things that we learn from Darjeeling… those are the skills that really make a difference. I am very upfront, I am very respectful and I know how to make things happen without being arrogant or aggressive, in fact at times the National Commission were all men. For example while working in Afghanistan and this may sound a little off but because I don’t come across as a typical western advisor, they immediately feel at ease. So even in Afghanistan I always use the Darjeeling or Nepal (mother is from Nepal) card out and we have that immediate connection and they are not intimidated or that they do not have a preconceived notion that of being patronized.
I remember having to set up a meeting with the Minister of Religious Affairs and he was only going to give me 10 minutes, but we started talking about Darjeeling and I had him for an hour and a half and this was about women’s rights!! They were talking about the Friday prayer messages, how can we work together with the Imams on certain type of messaging relating to the Quran and how to include women in the prayer service.
Adwiti: You mostly work in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Nepal. How do you create this atmosphere of respect for yourself in a very male dominated culture?
Rima: For me it is a lot about giving them the space to be heard and then facilitate their ideas to happen. Simple rule of thumb: I don’t worry about how they are looking at me, or what gender I am. I am not conscious of that. I simply deliver. And they trust.
So, for example the Minister of National Planning Commission said to me “You have single handedly changed the way the government works with the International community and how the international committee works with the government. In two and a half years”
Adwiti: What do you enjoy most about the work?
Rima: The National Planning Commission has given me two nicknames The Iron Lady and the Head Mistress.
The experiences are varied but the last experience in Somaliland was very heartwarming, since Somaliland is very insular, they don’t even touch women, but because I have worked so hard for them, they forget that I am any gender. They would touch my face and hug me and were generally very affectionate!
Adwiti: I am actually really curious about your work in Nepal? Senior Consultant UNDP/Center for Constitutional Dialogue. How was it? What changes did Rima make?
Rima : It was a time when the Nepali Judiciary was making some serious land mark decisions, particularly about impunity against the soldiers working on U.N. Security Council resolution, rape as a war crime and so on. So I was working with the national Judicial Academy and the Chief Justice on a range of issues.. One of the things with the International Committee (this was four or five years ago) found out that all the Judiciary was corrupt and justice had to be institutionalized. It became very sexy to implement alternative community justice mechanisms and alternative dispute resolution and mediation.
I had to do some intense studies and was appalled that there was so little money for building up the justice sector particularly after 2007. So much was going towards building up the community structures for conflict resolution. But then there are figures like high incidences of gang rapes and war crimes which were decided by community measures and not being enforced and did not necessarily protect the woman. So in one of the conferences in Copenhagen where everybody was allowed alternative dispute resolution, I made sure they knew that they were undermining the state and they were not doing a favor to vulnerable groups like women and girls. Investment in the state is a necessity; otherwise you are messing things up. So based on that the International community started investing in State institutions again.
When I went to Nepal the most interesting turnaround was that the relatives who thought I was a complete rebel when I was young, invited me to every youth function to speak and to inspire them. This was quite remarkable!
Adwiti: You grew up in Darjeeling… Das Studio of course is a landmark for all of us from Darjeeling; so many memories are attached to the studio…photographs, buying our romance cards, listening to the latest music… How was it growing up in the Das studio, In Darjeeling? What do you remember fondly of this place?
Rima: People like Taba (uncle, father’s older brother) and Aama (Aunt, wife of father’s older brother); I think we were very fortunate to be exposed to a world of travelers. I think one of the main things that my family was absolutely committed to was helping us learn about the world. Taba, used to subscribe to all the magazines from the world, such as National Geographic, Time, to name a few… just so we were exposed to an international arena and we were a reading family.
And so it was incredibly lucky to have that sort of broad minded thinking and you know I was the first girl to sit at the table. Aama and my mother waited until everyone finished or ate on the floor but because of me everything started changing.
Adwiti: What do you remember mostly of your home?
Rima: Taba and Aama and Saili (nanny)…and all the books, the music and the piano. Taba bought me the piano when I was in grade one. They just let me flourish despite you know me being the only girl in the family.
Adwiti: Do you miss Darjeeling.
Rima: Oh YES!! Of course I miss Darjeeling.
Adwiti: What do you miss about Darjeeling?
Rima: Generally waking up at four in the morning and walking around the mall and walking past that haunted house, watching the sun rise quietly and then fervently playing the piano.
Adwiti: You have worked in countries that are mostly going through political or civil unrest. Have you had any dangerous encounters?
Rima: Many times. In Afghanistan, my husband, Fleming actually literally saved my life. I was leaving to go to work and he asked me if I had my PPE on…which is your personal protection equipment, which is the bullet proof vest, your helmet, anti fire retardant gloves, bullet proof glasses. I refused to which he said if I didn’t he would divorce me. When I went back, the place where I was before I left to wear my protective gear…was blown up!!
Then there was the other time when it was sheer luck, I used to work with the Chief Justice in Iraq .The The Australian Embassy in Baghdad asked me if I could take the Chief Justice to Australia for the conference and just two weeks before I had been sitting with the Chief Justice of Iraq in his office, and I had mentioned to the Chief Justice to at least put blast proof film on the windows, as most people died from the glass when there were car bombs, or rockets…and then from one day to the next we were in Australia. When we got off the plane on October 25, 2010, we were told the news that the Ministry of Justice and Higher Judicial Council had been hit by two truck bombs, the largest yet in Iraq. The entire building was completely destroyed, over 500 injured, and about 170 killed. The Chief Justice’s entire floor was killed, and we would have most likely been there.
Adwiti: Wow! That is a close shave. You have always had that indomitable will, a strong sense of knowing what you want in your life and laser sharp focus. All these qualities have led to your success. What and to who do you attribute this quality to and who are your inspirations?
Rima: My inspirations are my Mom, she says I am her role model and I tell her she is mine…risk taking definitely comes from my father..
The strong beliefs and doing good comes from Taba and Aama.
Adwiti: You have lived a very colorful life and have achieved great success for yourself, with single handed devotion to your profession and your career. What advice do you have for the younger generation of our region or the youth of today? Any advice from your personal experience?
Rima: Be curious. Learn about the world. Take risks and do not be afraid. Just to give you an example of how I ended up in the U.S. was on a dare. Somebody said you’re wasting your talent in Australia you have two degrees from Australia; you need to get a proper degree from the USA. I took out a loan for 100,000 US dollars investing in my head with no assets whatsoever.
I closed my eyes and said not going to think about it…just GO FOR IT…….. JUST DO IT!
Adwiti: So it is primarily an act of inspiration. When you are hit by inspiration and the burning desire in your stomach – don’t prevaricate. Do not hold yourself back and with your eyes closed go for it. Wonderful advice!
Rima: Yes …. In the beginning it was about trying to prove myself, being the ONLY girl in the family and then just going for it. I went beyond the proving to myself and others that a girl can…to OMG I cannot believe I am doing this? Am I a great big bullshitter? Am I a used car salesman? How am I doing this?
(Laughs…….) and then suddenly realizing that people actually respect me! When you go from country to country, you always establish yourself you know in terms of professionally and then it suddenly strikes me, Oh…maybe I am not a bullshitter after all..!
Adwiti: No Rima, you never were never a bullshitter! How do you manage the laser sharp focus in your life, in this world of collective distraction or might I even say ADHD? How can we achieve that kind of laser focus?
Rima: I’m kind of an unusual creature because people I work with say I do the job of three people. It has always been my history at work, my colleagues and bosses could never keep up with me and in Somalia the minister would say Duracell Special Advisor.
I suppose this type of discipline we learned from school and Darjeeling and the nuns. I have always been a focused person, if you think about my music how I used to totally engage completely.
The main thing is to make up your mind and I am very result oriented. People around me know when I engage at work, I am breathing it, living it and passionate about it. Everything else shuts off when I am going for a particular goal which I have to! A whole country’s judicial or financial future is at stake and I am in charge of it and I have to deliver the results and it has to be good!
One – is the way my brain ticks and two- I am very result oriented. I keep my eye on the goal. To be results oriented you simply shut down. So Fleming, my husband too knows when he sees it in my eyes, I am charging for the result, the final product.
Adwiti: What is next in the horizons for Rima Das Pradhan-Blach?
Rima: I have always worked overseas, and now I have a home in Denmark. I want to work from here yet be available to travel for work. So I decided after two or three years away that I was going to make Denmark home and then work from here. Because of the uniqueness of my profession, it is a little bit of a challenge to find a job of my nature here but then it’s like all the stars aligned, as I received a call from this Company Bindslev A S. They want me to be a partner and help expand their business internationally. And they’re very much social entrepreneurs. It is a good fit. Do good and also make money.
So right now I am happy with this!
When Rima asked me why I am interviewing her I told her it was because I wanted to make an intellectual contribution to our community. In my Face book profile www.facebook.com/AdwitiHaffner I bring in a lot of inspiring messages for my audience, but now I want to bring real people, exemplary people from my region, people who are leaders, people who have overcome hardships and have created a meaningful life, people who have contributed to the society in terms of music, art, culture and intelligence, into the public eye to inspire the youth and anyone aspiring to reach their full potential. I want to particularly raise awareness of the latent talent that they possess and what they can achieve when they focus and have the courage to accomplish their goals. By bringing real people who have overcome odds with their courage and “can do” attitude, I hope to help you tap into your own courage and attitude. And for those who are sitting on the fence or have a dream, take that leap of faith and fulfill your dreams. Thank you Rima for this eye opening, refreshing and INSPIRING interview!
[Adwiti Subba Haffner is an entrepreneur, social worker, writer, freelance journalist, world traveler, mother, wife, meditation instructor. You can find her at https://www.facebook.com/AdwitiHaffner and her website iswww.alivewithadwiti.com]
What Lies beneath HUMAN TRAFFICKING
What Lies beneath HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Nirnay John Chhetri, the founder of MARG joins Adwiti Haffner in a candid interview and reveals some astonishing facts and details that are honest and downright distressing; everyone in our community should be aware of what he is campaigning against.
“ If you want to know how civilized a culture is, look at how they treat it’s women.” Bacha Khan
Nirnay John Chhettri was done for the day! He had helped recover a girl who had gone missing from Kalimpong, launched the Violence against women campaign and had spent the whole day discussing, brainstorming and meeting people, he was also working on a petition to sensitize the Police force against Human trafficking when sleep overtook him.
But his phone buzzed at 12:34 A.M.
“Hello!” Nirnay answered trying to break free from the deep sleep that he had fallen into.
A male voice with slight trepidation, speaking English with a hint of Darjeeling accent asked “ Is this MARG?”
“Yes, this is Nirnay! Who is calling please?”
“Well, Nirnay bhai..so, sorry to call you this late, but I am calling from Delhi. A girl in very bad condition, I think she is just sixteen years old, is badly bruised and beaten, she cannot speak and she can’t really even move her legs.. she dragged herself to my house, asking for shelter. I have her laying down on my sofa but I found your number from your website..what should I do?”
After asking for his street address, he thanked the caller, requested him to take care of the girl and that he would be in touch with him shortly.
He scrolled through his phone list and started calling the partner organization in Delhi. The NGO in Delhi attacked the situation with full force. The girl was taken into a shelter and the men who were responsible for the trafficking were charged and incarcerated.
Nirnay spoke to the girl and her story was unfortunately as stereotypical as it gets! She fell in love with a man from Delhi, he lured her with the big city life and comfy living, lavishing her with presents and promises of a rosy future. When she got there, she was forced into the flesh market. Some are lured similarly but thrown into a flat with seven-eight girls training to be sex slaves. Sadly, most of whom were minors!
When I asked Nirnay what “to be trained” or “inducted” meant he replied “Look.. no woman, no child, no girl grows up thinking “I want to be a prostitute or a hooker.” When they refuse, these little girls are raped over and over and over again by different men into submission! When she gives up then she is ready! So they are systematically beaten, raped and starved into submission.”
This portrait of rescue is true but it definitely obscures a more complicated and vastly sordid reality. Nirnay, with his passion, his stubbornness and his refusal to fold is fast reshaping the skyline of Darjeeling District’s sex trade.
Adwiti : As we know MARG is now a house hold name fighting against human trafficking amongst other things, what really motivated you towards this cause … Is it because of what you saw while you were in Kolkata and Delhi?
Nirnay John Chhetri: It all started when I was in college in Kolkata.
I was just back from my Puja Holidays and my friends were all in a great mood, they exercised a slight amount of peer pressure on me and urged me to lose my virginity. The way to do that was to visit a brothel. With testosterones on overdrive each one contributed some money for my experience and we landed in a brothel. I still remember the feeling of disgust and revulsion I felt.
Adwiti: So was it just like a set from the movies that we see?
Nirnay: Yes, Yes… but the women were clad in traditional attire, ( chowbandi cholo, potey and bangles) Can you believe it? teasing and joking with sexual innuendos, and the room that I was led to was plastered with posters of Gods and Goddesses and to my dismay, the girl was a minor from Nepal. I could not even touch her, my heart was aching so I talked to her and she told me her story of how a man from India( Madheeshay) had brought her here and three more girls to India promising them work and how much she hated what she was doing but she was compelled and had no way out.
My friends started banging at the door, hooting and hollering as the allotted time of 30-40 minutes was up. Then after we were out, I dared not tell them I had squandered their money on small talk and empathy so they threw a “Nirnay lost his virginity” party for me after that. I, obviously did not feel comfortable disclosing my sensitive encounter.
Back in my room, I could not control myself and I cried aloud for a long time! In the morning, I met with the priest who was also my Vice Principal. He was empathetic and assured me that I had not sinned. Emboldened by the priest’s support I confessed to my friends who immediately turned around and started taunting and teasing me by calling me a “chakka” or “ gay”!
Today I feel that this was the incident which opened my eyes and my friends who had called me “Chakka” applaud and praise my work. Deep down I thank them for giving me the opportunity to see my heart through the brothel.
Adwiti : Most of us when we leave Darjeeling and go to the big cities we somehow tend to stay there, what really pulled you back home?
Nirnay John Chhetri: I was physically in Delhi but my whole mind and soul was in the hills. I am sure this happens to every individual who is away from home and misses home, the place you are born, friends, the air… It was love for Darjeeling which got me back home after being in Delhi for 11 years. Always wanted to go back home and serve the society with the knowledge and contacts I had gathered during my stay in Delhi and be with the loved ones at the hour of need, I registered an NGO with likeminded friends and started Igniting smiles of individuals in simple yet effective ways. All these pulled me back to Darjeeling and compelled me to put up my resignation at British Council and later in OneWorld South Asia an INGO in Delhi .
Adwiti : When you started your social work how difficult was it in the beginning to reach people with your cause ? Were they already slightly aware or did you have to educate and inform them from grass roots?
Nirnay John Chhetri: Only a permanent resident with a permanent residential address of Delhi can register a NGO in Delhi. I was not one. I approached my close friends for help but everyone denied for reasons of their own which I hold no grudge against. But I had unwavering faith in God and I knew he would show me the way so I did not give up. One day one my colleague during our days in Oneworld South Asia asked me why I was sad, I mentioned to him that I had been trying to get NOC but had hit one wall after another and before I could say anything more, he volunteered to provide me the NOC.
MARG is very thankful to Mr. Tajuddin Khan Siddique who came forward to help us at the hour of need. Then the registration process began where the dalals were asking for Rs 20000 to get the NGO registered, personally this was a total nightmare for me. So no, it was not a cake walk. But God is great. I worked sincerely drafting the Memorandum of Association and By Laws and at the end I just paid Rs 50/- to get MARG registered under the Indian Society Registration Act of 1860.
Now we needed the money! I requested all the 7 founder member to contribute Rs 5000 each. Some did and till date 2 founder members have still not contributed. With Rs 25000 in hand we started sponsoring under privileged children for their education and in the year 2006 we sponsored 9 children. But about Human trafficking, while visiting villages and remote areas we also became alarmingly aware of missing children that went unreported due to lack of knowledge. In 2010 we were approached by the editor of Darjeeling Times, Mr. Udhyan Rai to help recover 12 Darjeeling girls in Bangalore. We recovered 9 girls then and 5 traffickers also got arrested later that year they got 7 years of conviction. After that there was no looking back.
Adwiti : As you know in big cities such as Delhi , Mumbai the red light District has taken in thousands of our innocent girls from the hills who are forced into the flesh trade and I understand they are mostly from Nepal … How difficult is it to pinpoint where they might be and how complex is it to rescue them once they have been absorbed by the system ?
Nirnay John Chhetri: I feel sad that our leaders are not at all proactive in this issue. They have different priorities. If one goes to any red light anywhere in India we find 60 percent of them are Nepalese either from Nepal or from the hills of Darjeeling. Who do we blame? The girl? The family? Or the situation? The blame always goes to the victim. But my question is where is the society? Where was the society when the girl needed help? Our so called samaj is only fit for organizing marriage and Ghewas..after that? …..
We need to rise now and think and move ahead. All those in the red light and those who have taken the profession of prostitution and call girls are our daughters and sisters. No girl would like to take a profession of prostitution or call girl. It is always because of one situation in life that they would have opted for this profession. We are in the 21st century now and every one should be given an opportunity to change.
Mostly we get information through clients and sometimes the girls themselves call. The trend has changed now with the ubiquitous cell phone culture. Those dingy rooms and seedy brothels are replaced by hotel rooms and flats. Activities takes place in hotels and the negotiations are done through mobile phones. Minors are preferred and are in high demand. The fair skin girls are in demand and our girls from the hills fulfill the criteria as the girl / or the family is in need of money, they are easily lured as we from the hills blindly trust and believe in strangers. These are the weak points and the traffickers take advantage.
Adwiti : So it is the intersection of poverty and Sexism. I know you have mentioned before that it’s the people from the plains or as stated earlier “ madeesays” who entice innocent girls into the flesh trade. Correct me if I am wrong, but I have also heard that people from the hills “ our people” are equally devious traffickers if not more so in this operation.
Then Nirnay breaks into Nepali: “Adwiti, hamrai manchey heru ley pani lancha..jhun darlagdo prakaar ley, kina bhaney tini heru lay saino lagaucha, daju, didi, bara, bari, uncle aunty..bhundai” ( Adwiti the most dangerous of the middle men/women are our people. They start cozying up and can build trust even more effectively with these innocent girls calling themselves sister, brother, uncle, aunty ! )
As per our experience if a girl is in this business for around 1.5 or 2 years then there is high possibility of her to be rehabilitated but if she is there for 4 to 5 years then it is very difficult and they transform into traffickers as they would not be getting clients as they age. But there are always exceptions. Most of these girls first are minors, under the age of eighteen when they were taken. 100% of them are addicted to some kind of drugs.
Adwiti: What kind of drugs Nirnay?
Nirnay: Mostly heavy doses of marijuana, they are walking around red eyed and high.
Adwiti: What role does the media play in assisting the rescue and repatriation of these girls?
Nirnay: Mostly information gets leaked in the lower level hence we always approach the top to bottom theory. There is always a black sheep wherever you go. In the NGOs, law enforcement, every where. This is the challenge. The media plays a major role as they too are the ones who are anonymously informed, but then sometimes they want this as a trophy and are not sensitive enough to not disclose the identity of the victim/rescued.
I had to ask a few website portals to withdraw the image of the girl and the write-up. The media and the police can help, but they should do it with no vested interest! Perhaps exposing the people who are involved, the middle men, the traffickers, the pimps, the madams.
Adwiti: About the Police, how much do they help?
Nirnay: The police can be very corrupt in the lower rungs and they work hand in hand with the hotels (so they are not raided), the pimps so when their hands have been oiled they basically turn a blind eye. But the ones in the upper level have been very helpful, Thank god for that!
Adwiti: In your opinion is there even a solution if so what?
Adwiti: when you say sensitization what exactly are you referring to?
Nirnay: Awareness. Respect. Law. I hope to do seminars on this with the Police department at least once or twice a year. The upper level Police officers have been highly supportive in my efforts to sensitize the entire force, because we have to work with them so closely.
Adwiti : I am assuming It must be easier to promote awareness in towns like Darjeeling and Kalimpong, but how do you reach the rural areas where the people are more susceptible to the lure of a better life and earnings?
Nirnay: We at MARG believe in together we can and we will. It’s really not a matter of urban or rural areas here in the hills, there are people who are equally ignorant and if not ignorant they turn a blind eye to issues that are not affecting them personally. So we do make it a point to reach out to all areas and yes, you are correct it is considerably easier to lure vulnerable girls from the rural areas. MARG in this regard has reached to places like Sandakphu, Gairabas, Gorkhey, Phalut, Jaigaon, Gurubathan, Jaldaka, Pharen, tea garden areas in the Darjeeling region and many other places.
Adwiti: So you have the awareness campaign and then the rescue operation, but what happens to these girls after they are rescued? How can they live a normal life?
Nirnay: If the girl is a minor (under eighteen) then she is produced before Child Welfare Committee for further course of action. In bigger cities they have counselors but here in the hills about 50% of the time the girls get re-absorbed back in the flesh trade system, we do not have the infrastructure nor the capacity to help with the repatriation. The State needs to get involved. They need to see that this is a real problem. The NGO cannot manage so many facets yet..we need help!
Adwiti: How much coordination do you have with Maiti Nepali…if yes what way … If not why not?
Nirnay: We had approached them earlier regarding some cases but got no response. Maiti Nepal is a huge organization it seems they have no place for grassroots level NGOs. I respect them for the work they do but we get our work done through other NGOs.
Adwiti: Do you have a network of your NGOs working actively in big cities ?
Nirnay: We do not have network of our own NGO but we closely work with other partner organizations and Law Enforcement Agencies throughout India who are working with the issue of women and children.
Adwiti: How many trafficking cases have been recovered so far?
Nirnay: We have recovered 150 girls to date. As per district crime report bureau in Darjeeling district in 2010, 420 went missing but in 2012 it rose to 920. It is not because the numbers are rising, it is because of the awareness programs that people are reporting and responding. In the early days they feared social stigma but that is slowly starting to change as people are becoming more and more sensitive to the issue.
Adwiti: What advice do you have for new NGOs that are burgeoning quite rapidly everywhere?
Nirnay: It’s good that a lot of NGOs are mushrooming. People should not have vested interest and finance should be transparent and audited yearly.
Adwiti : We love your enthusiasm . Who and what are your inspirations?
Nirnay: Thank you so much. My school taught me to serve a faltering brother. My Parents taught me to love. I had a beautiful and simple upbringing . My inspirations are Mother Teresa…I was fortunate to meet her and get her blessings. That was one of the most beautiful moments in my life. If it was not the support from my Father, Mother, wife ,sister and my sincere sponsors and volunteers MARG would not be there.
Adwiti : Lastly what advice do you have for the youth of Darjeeling?
Nirnay: Respect women and children and you will be respected. It is high time we rise and combat violence against women and children as in each family there is a mother, sister or daughter. The victim could be someone’s daughter, sister or wife. We Gorkhas call ourselves brave and this is true indeed but my question is are we been able to safeguard the lives of our own sisters and daughters?
Nirnay John Chhetri is holding a flaming torch and it is up to us now to wake up and bring the change in our society that we so urgently need. Although this presents a formidable and introspective challenge which can be exacerbated by the complicated social emotions surrounding the sex trade, I invite you to reflect on how YOU can contribute in the uplifting of the society. Provoke your friends, rouse yourself to expand your thoughts so you can make an impact on the lives of people around you, make this world a better place. Use your ability to stimulate and challenge other people as a catalyst for positive change.
Here is what you can do :
Check out MARG’s website now and DONATE http://www.marg.org.in/ volunteer, help, call Nirnay.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE !
[Adwiti Subba Haffner is an entrepreneur, social worker, freelance journalist, world traveler, mother ,wife, meditation instructor. You can find her at https://www.facebook.com/AdwitiHaffner?ref=hl and her website iswww.alivewithadwiti.com]