Gulam: Mandl revolves around the life of its two protagonists - Kalyani and Janki. it makes one travel through the horrible, fraught and turbulent world of human trafficking wherein innocent children and women are entrapped, sold and forced into flesh trade by a well-knit network of mafia gangs. In its quintessential, the story brings forth the myriad colours of human nature - hate, rejection, betrayal, apathy, ecstasy, opportunism, pure love, sex, expectation, trust, empathy, hope, rejuvenation and soon.
Kalyani, a beauty queen, fears ageing and childbirth and is jealous of her own young daughter. Janki, who comes from an oppressed class and had a turbulent childhood, faces rejection from a few people, but finds shelter in Kalyani and Gautam, but, of late, destiny plays its tryst with her life. Finally, she finds solace in Mohan.
It portrays the uneven world of the exploitors, who usurp and violate the victims, and the victims who are the sufferers and cannot normally escape the clutches of their perpetrators to rebuild their life. It also brings into limelight the pity world of hijras, the victims social apathy and prejudice, and their sexual exploitation at the hands of many. Here is a clarion call to the society on the ills that it has been afflicted with!
Nirmala Bhuradia (b.1960) is an Indian journalist and writer who writes in Hindi and English. She has published nine books in Hindi. She is Features and Literature Editor and Syndicated Columnist at Naidunia, one of India's most widely read Hindi daily. She is a winner of many prizes and awards.
Gulam Mandi, my novel on human trafficking, has already been published in Hindi. Here is an earnest attempt to reach out to a wide audience having its English version. I would say "version" since I did not translate it by putting the Hindi manuscript alongside. Rather, I recreated or rewrote it, following the same sequence of events and the same plot in mind, with only a few changes here and there. My guru Adrian Khare helped me to a great extent in picking up the threads, polishing the language and removing glitches that came to his notice.
Gulam Mandi would mean a market where some unfortunate human beings are put on open display to be picked up as slaves. Living at the mercy of their masters, these men and women could be made beasts of burden or prostitutes.
If, we, the people of twenty-first century, believe that we have left behind this agony of the Middle Ages, we are mistaken. In reality, the practice is still prevalent, in different hue and shade. Of course, it is banned across the world, at least in legal parlance, and it is beyond one's imagination that people of flesh and blood, like us, could be put on display in a bazaar. The poor, vulnerable and gullible people are still lured, cheated, trapped and forced into slaver): The only difference is that their perpetrators, while at large, operate elusive.
The business of slavery goes on so subtly and secretly that one cannot see it in open. This modern-day business is popularly come to know as "human trafficking". Of this business, sex trafficking holds a huge sway in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, coercion of a person, below the age of eighteen, is induced to perform a sexual act. Also, the recruitment, harbouring, transportation, provision or obtaining of a person for labour or services, using force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage or slavery come under the label, human trafficking.
Governments world over are trying to fight this malice, each one in its own way. I came across one such initiative when I visited the US in 2006, on an invitation by the US Department of State under the International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP). That year, the subject of study under the Program was "trafficking in persons". The IVLP, launched in 1940, seeks to build mutual understandings between the US and other nations through carefully designed professional visits to the US for current and emerging foreign leaders. With this objective, naturally we were introduced to several policies and strategies to prevent and actively combat "trafficking in persons". To help us acquire a background on trafficking issues we were taken to four cities in the US: Washington DC, Seattle, Dallas and New York.
In Washington DC, we were taken to the US Department of State. Here we had appointments at the office that monitors and combats trafficking in persons, the Bureau of South and Central Asian affairs, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour. The journey continued with the visiting of the US Department of Justice, particularly its criminal division and civil rights division. Then were the visits to Department of Homeland Security, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement and various other government offices. One day we had an appointment with Mr T. Kumar, Advocacy Director for Asian in the Amnesty International, which was followed by the visit to the US Helsinki Commission and the office of Senator Patty Murray.
Senator Murray, a campaigner for the rights of women and families, had helped write and pass the historic Violence against Women Act, 1994. In Seattle, we met former state Senator Jeralita De Costa and even a detective, Harvey Sloan, of the Seattle Police Department and other police officers. In Dallas, meetings were arranged with not-for-profit organizations that help immigrants and refugees of victims of human trafficking, the local media, Dallas Police and others. In New York, meetings with organizations like Sakhi for South Asian Women, Safe Horizon and Human Rights Watch were arranged. Even the United Nations' office in the Empire Estate building was on our agenda, where we visited the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) office to discuss agendas like women's empowerment and gender equality. A senior advisor on child labour in the child protection section of UNICEF discussed international efforts to combat child labour.
In Dallas, when I conveyed to the police department that I intend to work on a novel on the subject of human trafficking and wanted to visit a strip show, they took me seriously. The nest day, they arranged for two guards to accompany me to a joint in Dallas.
Naturally, during this visit to the US, I could gather crucial information on the "trafficking in persons". I was observing the scenario of human trafficking in India for a long time and in 2005 had attended a national seminar on Trafficking Women and Children organized by Madhya Pradesh Police. So the visit to the US served as a trigger and my novel had moved from just taking notes to writing properly with a plot, scenes and sequences. But it did not mean that some academic book on "trafficking in persons" was taking shape using all the references at hand. On the contrary, the references remained only at the back of mind and fantasies began to weave the story or a stream of stories on their own around the scaffold, by the characters that had confiscated my keyboard. So what I present here is totally a fiction, of course, with a tint of truth it.
Right from my childhood I had wondered as to why there is a separate community of hijaras (eunuchs) in India! Why is it that they cannot live and mingle with the mainstream? As I grew up to a teenager, some more questions began to prop up. Why are they treated with dreadful contempt? Why are they marginalized? Why are they social outcastes who are forced to live a life of penury in ghettos? Is it their fault that they are born with an ambiguous gender status? Is it a crime to be born that way? If not, why are they not treated well? The third gender people are also human beings with flesh and blood and they deserve to be treated with the same dignity as others. In order to raise these issues I have portrayed the characters of hijaras in this novel. I was careful enough not to give an account of hijaras from our side. For this it was important to know their minds, their psyche, their environs, their way of life. For this, I visited their homes, conversed with them and accompanied them from place to place. The story of kinnars runs along the main story and ultimately gets merged with the main theme.
My story has two protagonists, Kalyani and Janki. The resultant story takes us mainly to a turbulent world of human trafficking. But many other issues are interwoven with the main story: like a society where the caste system is still prevalent, untouchability still persists, life of a beauty queen, who fears ageing, and is jealous of her own daughter who is at full blossom. Then there is this girl who comes from an oppressed class and faces rejection from some people who believe that they belong to a higher stratum than her in social status. India's ancient caste system, ingrained in the social framework, is thus exposed.
Then there is Meets, a female elephant and the world of elephants and people from exotic India, who understand animal language.
However, as an unknown author once said, people like a story and like it being told well. It is in the telling of the story that the writer's entire resources and skills to be employed. But it is ultimately left to the readers to decide whether a real story has been told really well.
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