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Friday, June 9, 2023

Love Jihad, forced conversions in the controversial ‘dance orchestras’ of Bihar

Traveling dance troupes, popularly known as ‘orchestras’, in Bihar, are known for the illegal sex trafficking of young girls who are lured into this exploitative business. This dubious activity has now included Love Jihad and forced conversion into its folds, while also expanding its range to neighboring states like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, and West Bengal. 

It is also unfortunate that these shady rackets are being patronized by the rich and elites of the area, who hinder government efforts to crack down on it.

National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) chief Priyank Kanoongo tells Firstpost in an interview that:

“The governments of states where orchestras are a problem, such as Bihar and Punjab, must show will and must act against them. Sexual exploitation of minors is rampant in these orchestras. Moreover, why should there be minor girls dancing in orchestras? Then there are also places where religious conversion rackets are active. Another angle to this problem is the involvement of illegal migrants in India, such as Bangladeshis and Rohingyas.”

The method of bringing women, mostly minor girls, to their troupes is – to promise them love or high hopes and money for the future, and once trapped in their fake promises, these girls are then sold to these orchestra troupes, sometimes for as less as Rs. 10,000. 

When the ‘deal’ is being done with a Muslim buyer, often girls are converted after they have been bought. These dance troupe operators also use the tactics of Love JIhad to trap girls i.e.,  faking their identity to start love affairs,  manipulating girls to elope, and then selling and trapping them in this business

According to Firstpost,

“This infamous ‘orchestra belt’ in Bihar comprises the districts of Gopalganj, Motihari, Muzaffarpur, Rohtas, West Champaran, and adjoining areas. These orchestras cater mostly to wedding functions that as a rule include the lascivious, and sometimes occasions like the birth of a son to people of means. Unsuspecting girls are mostly sourced from Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Odisha, among other states, and neighboring Nepal.”

Once trapped in these groups, the girls are brutalized and forced to train as dancers. They are brought into the dark hold of prostitution where they are beaten and sexually assaulted. Many girls are later sold, again, by the orchestra to join brothels, mainly in West Bengal. Sometimes the girls are also sold for marriage to men from areas with a really low sex ratio, against their consent. 

Recently, four girls were rescued from a Champaran-based orchestra. The orchestra owners are currently absconding. The girls were made to dance against their will, while also being physically exploited. These girls were from Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Muzaffarpur in Bihar.

The girl from West Bengal was sold by her close friend for Rs. 50,000 and the girl from Muzaffarpur was netted into a love affair by a man named Tanveer, who also ‘married’ her and then sold her for Rs. 20,000.

Virendra Singh, the director of Mukti Foundation, a non-profit which works closely with NCPCR for the rescue of women and children from such organizations, told Firstpost:

“This is not an isolated case. This has been happening in Bihar for some time now. Guys net young unsuspecting minors in love affairs and push them to have physical relations after which the girls are psychologically gripped by these men. They are also alienated from their families. When the time is ripe, they elope but then are sold,”

As per official records, 17 women, including five minors were rescued by the police from a Champaran-based orchestra that was running human trafficking operations, in 2018. In the same year, six girls, all from West Bengal, who were sexually abused in their orchestra groups, were also rescued. 

It is a shame that there is an organized crime racket going on all around a state and the government is unable to crack down on it. These young girls fall for the nasty tricks played by men, much older than them, and are trapped in this business for life.  NCPCR under Priyank Kanoongo deserves applause for doing its job, but other government authorities, police, and courts need to introspect on why such criminals manage to operate with such impunity.

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