The Punjab Police’s Bureau of Investigation (BOI) has established a Special Investigation Team, led by IPS officer Randhir Kumar, with the aim of probing all instances of illegal trafficking of women within the state.

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But how do these cases of trafficking actually occur?

In most scenarios, women are enticed with the promise of an extended tourist visa, spanning two years, for which they are charged anywhere between Rs 50,000 and Rs 70,000. The perpetrators often mislead them by claiming that they will secure lucrative jobs.

A majority of the rescue cases reported involve women from Punjab who were lured to Oman under the guise of employment as domestic workers or caretakers, with promises of attractive salaries. However, upon arriving in Muscat, these women find themselves trapped by local agents who seize their passports and cellphones, coercing them into signing agreements without their understanding or consent. Eventually, they are sold to locals for prices ranging from Rs 80,000 to Rs 1.50 lakh per victim.

So, how do these criminals operate?

Unscrupulous travel agents based in Punjab, New Delhi, Mumbai, and even other southern regions establish fictitious companies in Middle Eastern countries to create an illusion of legitimacy. They then identify local women with prior work experience in the Middle East to act as intermediaries. These intermediaries target vulnerable young women or their impoverished relatives who are in desperate need of money in India. Often, their victims possess minimal education and lack awareness about visa processes and employment protocols. The middlemen approach these women, painting an enticing picture of the financial prospects awaiting them if they spend a couple of years in the Middle East.

For instance, Rani (name changed on request), who recently returned from Muscat, disclosed that she was sent there by her maternal aunt. Similarly, Jyoti (name changed on request), who accompanied Rani, was dispatched by her elder sister’s in-laws. In both cases, the middlemen had prior experience working in Oman and knew that these young women would be sold upon arrival.

But what makes these targets susceptible to such offers?

The fact that the middlemen share a common regional background with their targets often leads to a misplaced trust. Additionally, the middlemen promise assistance with travel documents and visa procedures. Due to their limited education, the victims remain unaware of the risks and other cases of women being exploited in foreign countries.

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In most situations, the women are issued tourist visas, falsely assured by the agents that these visas will be extended for two years.

What transpires when these victims reach Muscat?

Initially, the travel agents take them to designated locations, where they are confined until their sale. Their passports and phones are confiscated, and they are coerced into signing contracts or agreements, frequently written in English, without comprehending the content. In one distressing case, an illiterate woman left her thumb impression on the agreement.

These contracts typically indicate that the victims willingly consent to working at a specific place for two years in exchange for an amount, usually around Rs 1.50 lakh. However, upon reaching their supposed workplaces, the women realize they have been deceived, coerced not only into domestic labor but also forced into prostitution.

Refusal to comply results in physical abuse and deprivation of food for days. Former Union Minister Balwant Singh Ramoowalia shared a tragic incident where he rescued a girl from an Arab country. Upon her return, she suffered from multiple diseases and tragically passed away a few days later. She was only 26 years old and had been forced into a life of prostitution. The victims are denied contact with their families and are subjected to inhumane living conditions. At times, they are sold from one household to another by local agents.

How are these victims eventually rescued?

In some cases, victims manage to send distress signals to their families back home, revealing their dire circumstances. Subsequently, families reach out to Indian authorities who, in turn, coordinate with the Indian Embassy in Muscat to arrange their rescue, albeit after enduring lengthy delays.

Embassy officials note that their shelter homes often house 30 to 40 women awaiting repatriation to India. Balwant Singh Ramoowalia emphasizes the urgency for the Indian government to address this issue and cease immigration to Oman. He highlights the increasing demand for domestic workers in Oman and other Arab countries, which unscrupulous travel agents exploit. The plight of these women sheds light on a harrowing reality that demands immediate attention.

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