Kasturi Ray

Within the sophisticated interiors of ITC Sonar, Diyalu Nial seemed lost. Making efforts to escape the eyes of 20-odd journalists who were present there to talk to him, he was jostling for a space to shut himself. An oversize jacket, loosely fit denim and a pair of slippers couldn’t hide his angst. He left the venue. But not before he travelled through the scarred and scratched memory lanes of his bruised past - opening up hesitantly on his fears, anguish, uncertainties of a future that he has stopped dreaming about.

Diyalu Nial is not a newsmaker today. But a fateful day in November 2013, he was all over newspapers for being a survivor of human trafficking. By his own admission, he left Pippalguda village in Jayapatna, 180 kms from Bhawanipatna, in search of greener pastures. Lured with a good income, Diyalu agreed to the terms and conditions of a middleman. But the then 17-year-old never imagined he would return to his village only after bartering one of his palms for a life of freedom in barely 15 days after he boarded the train to Hyderabad.

JOBLESSNESS & POVERTY: One of three siblings, Diyalu was born to parents for whom survival was a struggle. Uneducated, all the three worked in farms of others to fend for themselves. So when Diyalu was lured by a middleman from the same village with a job offer, money and food, he promptly agreed. As he and Nilambar, another villager reached the station to board a train, they were surprised to see 12 others awaiting the same middleman. On board, Diyalu and Nilambar slept off and woke up to realise that the 12 others escaped from the train and there began the story of torture for both of them.

Instead of going forward, the middleman took them to Nuapada and made them work in his fields all day and locked them up at night feeding them with one meal. “We were asked to pay Rs 2 lakh for the 12 other who fled. He thought we let the others escape and said he had paid the 12 persons with Rs 2 lakh advance and as they had escaped, we will have to pay that back. I knew I was doomed as I won’t be able to pay a single penny let alone Rs 2 Lakh,” explained Diyalu narrating his tryst with the ordeal.

GORY DETAILS OF TRAFFICKING TERROR: On December 15, they were lifted to an unknown jungle and thrashed by the middleman and his friends who were drunk. They were also asked to choose between chopping off of their palms or feet if they wished to be set free. “Foot was important for me to walk and I can manage without one palm. So without batting an eyelid, I agreed for my palm to be chopped if that can lead me back to my native place. The perpetrators too took no time to sever our right palms leaving me and my co-villager bleeding profusely. Thinking us to be dead, they deserted us in the jungle from where we traced our path back to a road where we got into a bus. The next I realized, we both were being treated at a hospital and media was all around,’’ explains a visibly shaken Diyalu while narrating the trauma even after six summers.

They got medical attention and also legal assistance that led to the arrest of the human traffickers who have also been convicted and jailed. The incident was widely reported and instrumental in instilling a sense of fear among the existing middlemen operating in various villages. But all that has not brought normalcy to Diyalu’s life.

LIFE YET TO BE NORMAL: Nilambar passed away recently but Diyalu struggles today to eke out a living. With only one hand to work, He depends on his mother who is also ailing. She makes ropes for sustenance though the earning doesn’t make both ends meet for the two in the family. The International Justice Mission (IJM) that stood by Diyalu in most trying times has been making efforts to provide some option for him to earn. “He was shattered when we first met him. After six years now he is coming back to normalcy but at a slow pace. We plan to provide him a shop where selling anything would be doable for him,” says Mathew Joji, Director of Advocacy IJM that had organised the interaction session with trafficking survivors at a workshop in Kolkata on Unsafe Zones: Stories of Violence and Vulnerability at Work.

Ask Diyalu if he remembers the bad times now and he says, “I can’t even sleep at night as the dark memories haunt me.” He stays with his mother in a house that has been constructed under a government scheme. But he feels let down as no government official has visited him since the incident. “I don’t know what is in store for me. We do not even get food every day as it depends on how much ropes my mother can make and sell,” says a remorseful Diyalu.

Does he plan to settle down and get married? “Yes, I want to. For my selfish interest you may say but who will look after me and my mother? I need someone to cook for me at least and help in basic works,” Diyalu says in a despondent tone.

Well, after spending some moments with him, it was understandable why he wore an oversized jacket. He needed a long sleeve to hide his severed hand! And he was doing it all the time! “Even now there is a chill in the hand and gets paralysed sometimes so I keep it in,’’ he immediately diverts as eyes fall on his hands.

STARK REALITY: Many migrate to other places while others get trafficked on the lure of earning good. A menace prevailing all around the country has telling tales from Odisha. Every day, someone or the other is crying for help from a distant land. As per the latest NCRB data, 302 persons have been trafficked which includes 60 males and 57 females below the age of 18 years. Above 18 years, 124 males and 61 females were trafficked. Victims rescued in 2017 stood at 240 so the rest are missing still. In 2016, police recorded at least three women and two child trafficking cases every five days in Odisha. The year saw 84 cases registered and as many as 226 women and around 206 children trafficked from the state. Though the numbers show an improvement over the years, there’s a dire need to provide basic necessities of education, employment and awareness that can arrest further spread of the menace.