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ILFAT - leading the Antitrafficking movement in India and a safe space for the survivors

By auther pic. Faiza Ruksar Arif

July 29, 2020

ILFAT - leading  the Antitrafficking movement in India and a safe space for the survivors

ILFAT members lead police discussions and participate in workshops and training.

Human trafficking is a multidimensional human rights violation that centers on the act of exploitation and is far from being an isolated problem. Its causes are intrinsically linked to other social, economic, political, and cultural phenomena. Most children, men, and women belonging to poverty-stricken households in rural India find themselves caught in the cycle of trafficking in lieu of work or the false charade of a marital 'happily ever after'. Despite surviving unspeakable misery, abuse, and torture, the escaped survivors of trafficking are seldom able to reintegrate themselves into society. The survivor is not only susceptible to severe physical and emotional trauma but is also subjected to inhumane levels of stigma and resulting in a denial of aid, resources, and opportunities. The system often fails victims of human trafficking and they find themselves incarcerated in shelter homes, unable to access health and welfare services, and unable to receive the justice they deserve- through agents like the Panchayat, hospitals, bureaucrats, lawyers or police officers.

Though it is a bleak reality, the story can always change. The narrative can only change when we stop perceiving the survivors as human shells incapable of recovery and reintegration. The narrative changes, when we empower the survivors to mobilize and organize themselves into collectives, granting them access to information about their entitlements and rights, further supporting them emotionally and fighting for them legally. With this instilled sense of community, confidence, and purpose, survivors will be able to challenge the apathy of the system, negotiate with duty bearers and voice their demands, and further help governments and NGOs design and facilitate services and protection protocols that will be efficient and impactful towards those finding their way out of human trafficking.

 

The frontrunner in this quest for justice is the Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT) a forum by trafficked survivors for the trafficked survivors. The forum acts as a catalyst and convener for sharing expertise, insights, and evidence relevant to human trafficking in India, which are indicating systemic failure to combat these organized crimes. The genesis of ILFAT is closely knit with the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection, and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018. The bill was passed in Lok Sabha, but it was never tabled in Rajya Sabha. While this was immensely disappointing, it transformed into a safe space for the collective voice of survivors. A group of survivor leaders from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh took the initiative in July 2019 to form a national forum for survivors of human trafficking PAN India. The ILFAT collective is driven by their vision of a world free from all forms of trafficking, where no human being is for sale and engages in policy and law consultation processes as well as with the media to share their findings and experiences to strengthen the existing system. ILFAT is trying to ensure that all policies and laws formulated, concerning human trafficking, are 'victim-centric', and give agency to survivors. For long, policies and schemes for survivors of trafficking have been made without consulting them and understanding their lived experiences. Neither these policies nor schemes have been evaluated to see their impact and benefit on the target beneficiaries- the survivors.  Additionally, ILFAT is actively advocating for one comprehensive law across all forms of human trafficking. This will ease the facilitation of investigations and increase the accountability of the perpetrators involved.

Being the face of change: The members of ILFAT sit in a huddle engaged in a dynamic discussion.

An anonymous member of ILFAT, puts forth their struggles rather eloquently in her heartfelt statement – "We have been silenced, we are not heard or consulted, we are treated like hapless victims, and our opinions have been ignored. Our potential for leadership is suppressed. Therefore, we have decided to come together to form "ILFAT" which will unite all our voices that would reach the policymakers, implementers, media, and all other stakeholders in the anti-trafficking eco-system. Through ILFAT, we deliberate the most debilitating issues we face – lack of victim compensation, lack of mental health aid, lack of accountability from law enforcement agencies, immense stigmatization, forced rehabilitation. We have a solution for these issues and wish to communicate them to the relevant authorities" 

 

The ILFAT forum offers five core services to survivors that facilitate their journey of recovery and transformation from the victim of a failed system to a leader and advocator within their community. First and foremost, ILFAT helps the survivor collectivize, form groups, and receive information about their rights and entitlements. Secondly, ILFAT offers secretarial services to the survivors to help them make formal applications for services to Panchayats, block development officers, and health service providers for welfare entitlements including housing, financial services, testing, and treatment for health recovery, and documentation of all such correspondence. They also arrange for legal aid to help them claim compensation from the State and provide the survivors' legal representation in courts of law in cases against traffickers, further, protecting them from threats and intimidation tactics from traffickers in the course of investigation and trials. Another reformative service ILFAT offers in the form of psychological aid, where trained social workers help train survivors to navigate and protect themselves from stigma and prejudice in families, communities, and public offices. Lastly, the survivors also receive a platform to engage with the media, giving them a voice and visibility, so that they may communicate with politicians and leaders of the community and state as well as get their stories of strength out in society.

 

Over the last few years, ILFAT has indulged in dynamic debate and discourse at the policy level. Leaders from the forum have held meetings and made several recommendations to influential members of the Parliament and Lok Sabha Party. ILFAT leaders have also participated in the Kalinga fellowship and drafted a position paper to address the challenges of securing victim compensation. Simultaneously ILFAT has been actively engaging with the media to bring to the forefront the work being done by the survivors. This visibility has encouraged more survivors and other stakeholders from different parts of India to reach out and participate in this anti-trafficking movement. The connections have only deepened and the impact has been unprecedented. ILFAT has grown in representation across nine Indian states and its numbers have quadrupled to 2500+ from the initial 150 who laid the groundwork.  There are currently 11 survivor leaders who are the face of the movement, and articulate and engage with multiple stakeholders including government and media representatives.

ILFAT members lead police discussions and participate in workshops and training.

The COVID pandemic has posed an added challenge to this multifaceted and ever-evolving platform for survivors, bringing the impediments of uncertainty and financial strain on the survivors. For many, the household income has either dried up or been halved, and the loss of jobs, absence of cash flow, no viable means of securing an income have made the creation of skills-based employment opportunities the top priority for ILFAT. It is the only way survivors will be able to ameliorate their economic conditions. ILFAT has pooled its resources and connections towards establishing aid and assistance from organizations that have a shared vision of equipping survivors and helping them emerge from this pandemic on their own two feet. ILFAT is also actively reaching out to the media and government stakeholders to shed light on the aftermath of the lockdown amidst the survivors. These dire circumstances have also highlighted the imminent threat of increased trafficking in rural areas which may occur in the post COVID era due to financial distress. ILFAT remains confident and resolute that through sustained political visibility and advocacy coupled with collaborative leadership, it will continue to bring in policy reforms and social protection programs that will allow survivors to lead a life of dignity and welfare.  It is our duty as a civil society to come together, support, and facilitate this anti-trafficking movement that is taking shape. After all, justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are. These words of Benjamin Franklin undoubtedly resound loudly and resonate deeply within each one of us.

 

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Author

Faiza Ruksar Arif is a content specialist and researcher based in Bangalore who has worked extensively on curating curriculum and educational programs for adolescents in Telangana. With a Master’s degree in Gender Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Faiza is on a mission to improve social realities by equipping women and other marginalized sections, with improved access to health, education and livelihood opportunities. She also dabbles in artwork and is passionate about issues pertaining to mental health and minority politics.

 

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