A few days ago, women clad in trendy burqas, with fashionable sunglasses shielding their eyes, started appearing outside some reputed girls’ schools in Kolkata just when the students were leaving for their homes.
As they waited for school buses or their parents to collect them, these women offered them modelling assignments. One of these schools was where the grand niece of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee studies.
The Kolkata Police initiated a probe after the parents complained. After the investigation, the police gave a clean chit to these women. The report stated that it was all a misunderstanding. The women in question (some of them are allegedly students of well-known south Kolkata colleges) were apparently scouting for talent for fashion shows involving children and teenagers, the report claimed.
However, no explanation was given as to why the talent scouts had to dress up in that particular manner (to conceal their identities) or never considered seeking permission from the parents before approaching the children.
Now, a PIL has been filed in the Calcutta High Court, seeking a thorough probe into such incidents. The petitioner is Vijay Kumar Singhal, a chartered accountant and lawyer by profession who’s also a social activist.
The PIL was filed by his counsel Phiroze Edulji. In the petition, Singhal has mentioned that he was compelled to approach the court as the police response is not at all commensurate with the gravity of the offences committed by the so-called talent scouts.
These women violated several provisions of law and the children were at the risk of being trafficked with the lure of money and fame. One of the children approached is barely 8-year-old.
West Bengal is among the top states in the country from where women are trafficked. It has been estimated that over 40 per cent of such women (most of them minors) are trafficked and sold as sex workers. Recently, the West Bengal government had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Maharashtra government to crack down on this racket.
“How could the police give a clean chit to such people who have violated several laws? Approaching a minor without parents’ consent amounts to an attempt to kidnap. Minors can’t be engaged for activities such as acting or modelling without the consent of the parents.
“Even if an event is planned with minors, permission has to be taken from the district magistrate after submitting all the details, including consent from parents. All such laws were flouted but the police gave the accused a clean chit. We demand a thorough probe. We would also want to know who these women were and why they were concealing their identities,” Edulji said after filing the petition.
It has also been claimed by the police that the talent scouts chose to approach the students outside the school premises after one of the schools denied them permission to carry out such activity inside.
This only goes to prove that the organisation involved didn’t have the best interests of the children in mind while offering them modelling assignments, the petition claimed.
Nowadays, thanks to easy access to social media, children are vulnerable, said a professor in the social sciences department of Calcutta University.
“The most vulnerable are teenagers who feel that they are sufficiently old to decide for themselves. That is natural for their age when it is normal to be rebellious. There have been instances when children have accepted offers from strangers without informing their parents. The parents only came to know after the children got into trouble,” he said.
(The story has been published via a syndicated feed with a modified headline.)