Story of trafficking in the shadow | Bengaluru News – Times of India

BENGALURU: Miriam Chandy Menacherry is an artist and activist. The lines smudged some five years ago while trooping down a Kolkata bylane.
Menacherry, director of documentaries Rat Race (2011) and Lyari Notes (2015), was struck by the silhouette of a child. The frame was underlined by hashtags — #Missing-Girls #every8minutes.
It followed her to other cities, tugging at her. She tracked down Leena Kejriwal, creator of that narrative that said so little, yet so much.
“Leena’s childhood home overlooked Sonagachi,” Menacherry said of Asia’s largest red-light district, that houses over 7,000 sex workers. “As a photographer, it became her obsession; certain sights and sounds left an indelible impression. She photographed young girls forced into the sex trade, converting photos into dark silhouettes, representing the black hole of sex trafficking into which one girl disappears every 8 minutes.”
The numbers of the Powaibased director hit you like a concrete brick — 1.8 million girls disappear every year in India. The average age of a trafficked girl has dropped from 16 to 12. Menacherry’s ‘From The Shadows’ has been five years in the making and travels down the most trafficked route in South Asia, shooting in the Sunderbans and northeast border. It connects personal narratives while seeking resolution to a larger movement for justice. A missing girl returns and asks for Leena’s help to file a case against her traffickers, giving the story a significant flip.
There are clues in neighbouring Meghalaya, where activist Hasina Kharbhih has helped a survivor secure a rare conviction. Ella testified despite threats and bribes which resulted in a powerful lynchpin being jailed. Kharbhih, who also trains the armies of India and neighbouring countries to detect cases of cross-border trafficking, helped establish a legal precedent in a country where the conviction rate is less than 2 percent.
Menacherry shot 50-60 hours of material for the 90-minute feature. It was due to be completed in 2020, but was stalled by the lockdown. Shoots were not feasible and post-production studios were shut. “We’ve been hampered by Covid-19, but child traffickers have continued seamlessly,” she says. “A well-oiled nexus operates —children without guardians, those locked in with abusers with no scope for escape and innumerable cases where the trafficker poses as the groom.”
Menacherry stresses, “Only a counter force and collaborative approach can stem this tide. We hope our film can stir such a dialogue.” Of all her work, Menacherry says, this has been the most challenging. “You can never be fully prepared for such a topic. They’re fighting a brave battle,” she says, adding, “The trafficker is not someone in the distance, this is something happening around you.”
So, don’t look away.

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Sagar Biswas

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