11 Muslim girls who were “illegally detained” by the Railway Protection Force (RPF), Government Railway Police Force (GRPF) and Anti- Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) on the suspicion of being involved in ‘child labour’ and ‘human trafficking’ in Hyderabad on June 12, alleged that they were framed and harassed in the custody.
The detainees include 5 minors, 2 adults and a married woman.
On 11 June, a day before their detention, around 15 women, along with their parents and relatives travelled to Khammam district, around 150 kilometers from Hyderabad to attend a wedding reception.
On 12 June, on the day of their return, 11 out of 15 women, residents of Hafez Baba Nagar, Chadrayangutta and Santosh Nagar decided to take Konark Express and as they stepped down at their destination at Secunderabad Railway Station, they were taken into custody by RPF, GRPF and AHTU and were taken to Secunderabad Police Station.
A day later, after verifying their documents and tickets, the police let go 3 adult women and the rest 8 minors were sent to an observation centre in Namboliadda area that functions under Child Welfare Committee (CWC) which looks after the matters related to Human Trafficking and Child Labour.
One of the woman released accused the GRPF of harassing and beating girls in the custody.
On 14 June, a First Investigation Report was also registered by GRPF, Secunderabad under sections 370, 374 of CrPC and 34 of IPC against Khadija Begum, one of the 13 women who were travelling on that train. Police has also booked her husband Mahamud Jaleel, who was not even travelling with them.
The FIR was registered on the complaint made by M Srinivas, District Child Protection Officer, Hyderabad.
The copy of the FIR which is accessed by Maktoob stated that, “…they identified 8 child labours and 2 traffickers on the train Konark Express between Khammam to Secunderabad railway station…”
The FIR copy also stated that ‘as per children’s statements, they were taken to a function in Khammam to do work”.
The complaint further stated that all the girls were ‘rescued’ and sent to girls observational homes in Namboliadda as per CWC’s orders and 2 traffickers are ‘absconding’ since the children are rescued.
On 15 June, the girls remained in the observation centre. Next day, all the girls were released after CWC interrogated them and verified their documents.
Maktoob spoke to three families of now released girls. They refuted the claims of being involved in the child labour.
One of the girl’s mother told Maktoob: “My daughter who is a school student only went with her friends to attend a function, neither have we women done any work nor our children are involved in any labour.”
She said: “My daughter never travelled in a train and insisted that all her friends and cousins were going, so we let her go too, but who knew that it would costs us this much that she had to stay in custody all these days, for no fault of her.”
“Her friend’s parents were going along, so we were assured of their safety”, she added.
Another parent accused the authorities of unnecessarily harassing the children.
She said: “If they wanted to know if our children are involved in child trafficking or not, they could have come to our localities or visit their schools to investigate, they kept them in custody for no reason. Our children are scared.”
Father of another girl refused to comment or say anything stating, “We have been troubled enough, and we don’t have anything to say.”
He said: “We are okay to get our girl back, now we don’t want to land in another trouble. She is with us now. We will never let her go away from us now.”
However one of the parents told Maktoob that the parents of her kid’s friends worked as waiters in the function, and that might have hinted the authorities that kids are also involved in the work.
But clarified: “None of the kids work. They only went along to enjoy the function as it was their summer vacations.”
Amjed Ullah Khan, spokesperson of a regional political party Majlis Bachao Tehreek helped the families to rescue the girls from observation centre.
He told Maktoob: “When I got to know about the issue, I immediately went to observation homes and requested the authorities to let the girls meet their parents.”
“The parents denied the allegation made by GRPF and AHT and when we met the girls, they were terrified and scared, since they were minors”, said Khan.
He accused that authorities “Illegally arrested” the children and said, “Despite parents refuting the allegation, they kept the minor girls in illegal custody for 48 hours.”
“These people are simple and don’t know much about the legalities. They had to struggle a lot to get their kids released”, said Khan.
He also asserted that they were targeted based on their clothes and were taken into custody, as all the women were wearing veils and Hijabs.
In one of the videos accessed by Maktoob, women released from the custody can be seen substantiating the claim that they and the minor girls were beaten and harassed in the custody.
Khan said: “We raised the issue on social media and anyhow got the girls released. But now the families are scared and don’t want to take it up further.”
Moreover, all the children have reached their homes and resumed going to school as their summer vacations are over.
One of the minor girl Maktoob spoke to said: “I will never go anywhere without my parents ever.”
“If I knew train would land us into trouble, I would have never asked my mother to let me go with my friends,” she said.