India’s Kumbh Mela festival steps up anti-trafficking efforts

The Kumbh Mela has always had lost and found booths to help reunite lost children and the elderly with their families. (File/Reuters)
Updated 12 February 2019
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India’s Kumbh Mela festival steps up anti-trafficking efforts

  • Religious congregations are an integral part of Indian culture but are becoming dangerous places for children
  • At the seven booths, a database of all children visiting the event will be maintained

CHENNAI, India: Camps to protect children from human traffickers have been set up for the first time at the world’s biggest religious festival, the Kumbh Mela in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state.
During the event, as many as 150 million people are expected to visit the festival city of Prayagraj to bathe at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and a mythical third river, the Saraswati, from Jan. 15 to March 31.
“In the melee, it is very easy for a child to just disappear,” said Subedar Singh, a campaigner with anti-trafficking charity Pragati Gramodyog Evam Samaj Kalyan Sansthan.
“Thousands of children, particularly girls between 12-15 years old, are left behind by their families to take care of the elderly, who spend up to a month here. These girls are always at risk,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Tuesday.
Armed with temporary identity cards and pamphlets, Singh and a group of volunteers have helped set up seven camps to keep track of children who travel with their families to attend the eight-week festival.
Religious congregations are an integral part of Indian culture but are becoming dangerous places for children and thousands are reported missing each year, child rights campaigners say.
“We have consistently seen that during these events, there is a noticeable spike in the number of children reported missing,” said Smita Dharmamer of Aangan Trust, a charity that works on child protection across six Indian states.
“And while we say missing, the fact is that there are organized groups at work and the children are trafficked.”
Many families believe that because they are in a place of faith, that God will protect them, so often ignore safety checklists, anti-trafficking campaigners added.
Practices to protect children that were first developed by the Aangan Trust and used in two separate religious fairs in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in 2018, have now become the template at the Kumbh Mela.
At the seven booths, housed near the temporary ashrams where pilgrims stay, a database of all children visiting the event will be maintained.
Each child will also be given a detailed identification card that includes the exact ashram where their family are staying.
The Kumbh Mela has always had lost and found booths to help reunite lost children and the elderly with their families.
But often children are unable to remember the name of the ashram where they are staying or their parent’s telephone number, said police officer Neeraj Pandey, who is in-charge of the security at the Kumbh Mela.
“Children are often confused when they are brought to the booths and we spend many days trying to locate their families,” said Pandey.
Parents at the event have often complained about adolescent girls who have gone missing, though no human trafficking cases have ever been filed to date, he added.
The police have also for the first time set up a fully computerised network to track children with 14 booths spread across the enormous venue.
“It seems like a small intervention, but the impact is big,” said Shitla Prasad Pandey, a fourth generation priest at the Kumbh Mela.
“So many sacred activities go on at this event but what can be more sacred than ensuring the safety of children.”


India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote

Indian National Congress party president Rahul Gandhi (C) gestures after laying a wreath to pay tribute on the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh martyrs memorial in Amritsar on April 13, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 14 min 18 sec ago
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India holds ‘Super Tuesday’ vote

  • Rahul Gandhi is standing in Wayanad in Kerala state, taking a risk as south India is considered a stronghold of regional parties
  • This election is seen as a referendum on his five-year rule — which has seen impressive economic growth but not the jobs that the BJP promised

AHMEDABAD, India: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be among tens of millions of people to cast ballots as India holds a ‘Super Tuesday’ of voting in its marathon election.
The 117 seats to be decided will be the biggest number of any of the seven rounds of the election being held over six weeks.
Some 190 million voters in 15 states will be eligible to take part, and candidates on the ballot will include Modi’s arch-rival Rahul Gandhi, head of the opposition Congress party.
Modi, leader of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, will vote in his home state of Gujarat. He ruled the western state for over a decade before leading the party to national power in a 2014 landslide.
This election is seen as a referendum on his five-year rule — which has seen impressive economic growth but not the jobs that the BJP promised.
Gujarat sends 26 lawmakers to the Indian parliament and the right-wing BJP won all of those seats in 2014.
Modi will vote in the constituency where his close associate Amit Shah, the BJP president and key powerbroker, is contesting his maiden election.
Gandhi is standing in Wayanad in Kerala state, taking a risk as south India is considered a stronghold of regional parties.
The opposition party leader says contesting Wayanad is a sign of his commitment to southern India. His opponents say it shows he fears defeat in his traditional seat in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
Under Indian election law, candidates can contest two seats, though they can only keep one if they win both. Gandhi is also on the ballot for Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.

Turnout was robust in the first two rounds of voting, on April 11 and 18, with around 70 percent of eligible voters taking part.
Heavy security has been put in place for voting, though violence has still been reported, with Maoist rebels carrying out bomb and shooting attacks.
Authorities have also bolstered security in the restive Kashmir valley ahead of voting on Tuesday in the region considered a hotbed of anti-Indian sentiment.
Election results are to be released on May 23 and analysts say Modi is not expected to see a repeat of the BJP’s 2014 performance, when they won 282 seats.
Modi has capitalized on nationalist fervor that followed India’s air strikes on Pakistan in February in a dispute over Kashmir.
India accused its neighbor of harboring a militant group that claimed a deadly suicide bombing in Kashmir.
The fractured opposition, led by Congress, has sought to attack the government over employment, the economy and a debt crisis for Indian farmers.