Cablegate: Tea, Tigers and Trafficking Go Hand in Hand in Bengal's

DE RUEHCI #0292/01 2630558
P R 200558Z SEP 07




E.O. 12958: N/A


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1. (U) Summary: Located in a narrow strip of land between
Nepal and Bangladesh, the N. Bengal city of Siliguri is a
regional economic crossroad. People and goods intersect there,
and as India's GDP growth nears ten percent, smaller cities like
Siliguri are experiencing rapid expansion. This economic boom,
while positive in a broad sense, gives rise to myriad social
problems, including trafficking in persons. Combined with the
breakdown of traditional structures such as the tea gardens in
the area, unemployment, migration and social unrest quickly
follow. Tackling these problems in the region requires an
international, coordinated approach if it is to be successful.
End Summary.

A Cross-Border Economy

2. (U) Because of its location, Siliguri is a transit point
for all manner of goods. The Nepal border is only 15 kilometers
from Siliguri and Bangladesh is approximately six kilometers to
the southeast. Bhutan and China are within a half-day's drive,
and Siliguri is the transit point into India's northeastern
hinterland, where goods arrive from Burma. In one town west of
Siliguri, a small, two-lane bridge connects India to Nepal, and
Poloff observed a continuous stream of bicycles, rickshaws,
pedestrians, and a few cars passing in between the two
countries. Inspection at the border crossing appeared to be
random at best. Many items that are legal in Nepal and illegal
in India due to import restrictions are easily found in
Siliguri. The Hong Kong Market, a narrow maze of alleyways off
one of Siliguri's main thoroughfares, offers shoppers an array
of cheap goods purportedly made in China and shipped in to
Siliguri via Nepal and the Northeast. We observed many of the
products such as electronics, DVD players, and kitchen
appliances, packaged with labels written in Chinese.


3. (U) Animesh Bose, an environmental activist, described a
flourishing trade in wildlife from India's Northeast states to
Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet via Siliguri. Bose claimed that the
towns of Joygaon and Phuntsholing, which straddle the W.
Bengal-Bhutan border, are a conduit for wildlife trafficking
into Bhutan and Lhasa. According to Bose, Bhutan's royal family
are well-known purchasers of rhino and tiger body parts. The
2006 arrest of Ratiram Sharma, one of the largest poachers in
the area, in Joygaon had an initial impact in reducing the
illegal trade, but the demand is now being filled by other
wildlife traffickers. Not all of the wildlife is trafficked out
of India. Bose estimated that approximately 10,000 parakeets
and hill mynas are captured in the nearby Dooars foothills for
sale in Bihar and other states.

4. (U) The recent economic growth in N. Bengal also has
impacted the elephant population that ranges from N. Bengal to
upper Assam. Deforestation, the expansion of the railway
system, and a growth in human settlements all have had a direct
effect on the migratory patterns of the Indian elephants in this
region. Since the beginning of the year, 15 elephants have
been killed, either electrocuted by fences put around villages
and crops or by trains speeding along the 160km-long track
stretching from Siliguri to the Bhutan border cutting through
four wild life sanctuaries. Another issue of concern is
pollution of rivers and groundwater sources due to dolomite
mining in the neighboring hills of Bhutan. Run-off from the
dolomite mining areas is affecting the quality of the water in
the rivers and dolomite deposits are raising river beds,
reducing the rivers' water carrying capacity. Dolomite
sediment also causes a change in soil quality, which has an
adverse impact on the tea plantations in the Dooars region.

Tea Gardens in Decline

5. (U) Historically based on the "tongya" system - a practice
implemented by the British of bringing in outsiders to cut down
forests, plant tea plants, and settle in the region - N.
Bengal's tea gardens are in decline and beset by labor problems,
political unrest, and poor management. Ninety percent of the
people originally brought in by the British were tribals from
Bihar, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh. Each family was put into a
specific labor line, or tea processing task, and successive
generations learned only the specific practice that had been
assigned to their family. The first three to four generations

KOLKATA 00000292 002.2 OF 003

did not leave the tea garden, thus creating a natural language
barrier to integration with Bengalis living outside the tea
estates and limiting their future employment prospects.

6. (U) In the gardens some forms of gender discrimination
continue as well. Women were traditionally only given jobs as
pluckers (picking tea leaves) or sorters (sifting through dried
tea to remove debris) and had few skills that could be used in
different jobs, thereby reducing their prospects for
advancement. One tea garden owner told us that there was also a
subtle gender inequality in wages, particularly as in overtime

7. (U) Poor management is perhaps the most significant
obstacle to the future success and re-emergence of the region's
tea plantations. Some of the gardens have been purchased by
wealthy Indians who prefer to manage from afar, leaving hired
managers with little incentive to run the gardens efficiently
over the long-term. The result of this decline has been for
estate owners to decrease the size of their operations and grow
more specialized types of teas. Boutique teas, branded with the
"organic" label are likely to become more common, as are tea
cultivation methods that label themselves as "environmentally
friendly and sustainable."

8. (U) For the tea workers, employment in many of the estates
has now become seasonal, causing many employees to seek outside
income. This makes quick money opportunities like smuggling,
trafficking, and prostitution more attractive.

HIV/AIDS and Trafficking in Persons

9. (U) On the outskirts of the village of Naxalbari, which
sits only four kilometers from the Indo-Nepal border, we spoke
with Tamali Dutta, head of the local unit of the Bhoruka Public
Welfare Trust (BPWT). BPWT provides assistance to persons with
HIV. Dutta spoke of the impact of economic growth on
HIV-related issues. She noted that drug usage had increased
rapidly. In addition, increasing numbers of women were
migrating to Siliguri and on to Kolkata looking for work. A
common arrangement is for women to be hired to carry smuggled
goods into Siliguri by truck. The women have sex with the truck
drivers in exchange for a reduced cost for the ride into the

10. (U) Dutta said that because of the awareness campaigns
conducted by BPWT and other NGOs at the panchayat (local
village) level, they were seeing some improvement in the
treatment by the community of persons testing HIV-positive.
Where previously the default response had been social
ostracization, Dutta found that villagers were more open to
understanding the disease and its implications. Access to HIV
testing facilities remains poor. There is only one testing
center in Siliguri at North Bengal University. Plans for a
second testing center are being prepared.

11. (U) Poloff asked about Siliguri's expansion and any impact
that may be having on trafficking of women. Dutta pointed out
the increasing number of dhabas (small rest shelters) along the
paved roads. The dhabas are a recent phenomenon, coming up in
the past year, she said. Locals do not set up these dhabas;
instead they are built by Siliguri traffickers who shuttle girls
along the road from Siliguri to Nepal. Women travel back and
forth on the roads, providing sex to the drivers and customers
at destinations in both India and in Nepal. Dutta added that
many traffickers avoid using major roads.

12. (U) According to Dutta, police efforts to fight
trafficking in Siliguri and in North Bengal are ineffective.
Dutta commented that just last year the head of the Bagdogra
(just outside of Siliguri) police stated there was "no
trafficking problem" in the area. She says that arrests are
infrequent and haphazard, some traffickers are granted bail
while others are beaten for a few hours and released, and that
police are reluctant to charge defendants under ITPA. In
Dutta's opinion, the police only needed the NGOs when they had
to find a place for a rescued girl to stay. Corroborating this
view of the police's ineffectiveness, another NGO called
Kanchenjunga Uddhar Kendra led by Rangu Sourya, is now rescuing
girls on its own because of police non-responsiveness to the

KOLKATA 00000292 003.2 OF 003

13. (U) Dutta believes that there are two instances where the
number of trafficking cases rises: whenever the government has
other problems to deal with, like the rise in unemployment at
the tea gardens, and during the wedding season. Prior to the
wedding season, men from states such as Punjab and Haryana come
to the village in search of brides. Dutta says that despite the
growing awareness that some of the women offered marriages will
end up in brothels, custom, tradition, and the parents' desire
to marry off their daughters override such concerns.

14. (U) The problems besetting the tea gardens appear to
correlate with the rise in the number of trafficked women in the
region. In many tea gardens the work season lasts from March to
November. Although the off-season is meant for pruning bushes,
turning over soil, and re-planting, the rising costs of these
activities along with the overall mismanagement of the tea
gardens means that tea workers are effectively laid off from
November to March. One estimate put the number of unemployed
tea workers at 40-50,000. Journalists have observed increasing
migration by former tea garden workers to other parts of West
Bengal and India.

15. (U) Another concern, identified by both the police and
anti-TIP NGOs, is the lack of shelter and rehabilitation homes
for rescued women. The nearby district of Cooch Behar has the
largest available shelter home with a limited capacity of 50
beds. One in Siliguri has 30 beds. Contacts told us that plans
are in the work for a public-private partnership to construct a
new shelter home in Siliguri.

16. (U) Comment: When the economic growth is largely
unplanned, as in Siliguri, it is not surprising that the
community finds itself unready to tackle the social problems
that accompany the increased economic activity. In this
respect, Siliguri typifies the difficult transition being
experienced throughout India in what are described as its
"second or third tier cities" as towns grow into new urban
centers.. Having no access to any sort of social safety net
should an employer shut his business, most workers in the
economy of N. Bengal drift toward illicit and undesirable
activities in larger urban centers out of economic necessity.
Facilitating the problem is the ease by which goods and people
can move between Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. Police efforts
therefore tend to focus on security issues -- arms and narcotics
trafficking and the movement of insurgents in the region.
Because of this, it is particularly important that global issues
such as trafficking in persons and wildlife, as well as HIV/AIDS
be addressed in a multinational context, not simply within a
particular state. Contacts we spoke to observed that despite
the high numbers of Nepali and Bangladeshi women being
trafficked to Siliguri, there is no Indo-Nepal or
Indo-Bangladesh body that addresses this cross-border problem.
(Note: One contact noted that there is an understanding between
the government of Uttar Pradesh and Nepal on anti-TIP
cooperation. End note). Nepal recently drafted new trafficking
legislation (reftel), but its comprehensiveness in dealing with
migrant trafficking from neighboring countries is unclear. In
places like Siliguri, these problems truly are international and
require a coordinated international response.

© Scoop Media

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