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PRELIMINARY FACT-FINDING REPORT OF WOMEN’S GROUPS INTO THE INCIDENT OF GANG RAPE OF 5 ADIVASI WOMEN IN KHUNTI

CONTINUING REPRESSION IN GHAGHRA AND NEIGHBOURING VILLAGES IN KHUNTI & ARAKI DISTRICTS OF JHARKHAND

Press Release

Date: 04 July 2018

Following up on media reports of the gang rape of 5 adivasi women in Kochang, Araki block, Khunti district while holding street plays on anti-trafficking, WSS constituted a fact-finding team comprising women’s groups from different states and local activists from Jharkhand to investigate into the incident. The fact-finding was held over 3 days, from 28 June to 30 June, in and around Khunti, Kochang, Ranchi and neighbouring areas, to gather further information on the incident and subsequent developments, as the only narrative available to the public was that of the administration, and the media did not carry information from independent and alternative sources. During the fact-finding, the team met with several persons and institutions related to the incident and with information on the case. The team also attempted to meet with the 5 survivors, currently under the custody of the Khunti police., but was not granted access.  Though we did seek appointments to meet with the district collector and S.P., they did not meet us.

Through the course of the fact-finding, several facts have emerged which throw into question the narrative of the police.

Facts emerging from the fact-finding

  1. The incident of gang rape against the 5 women performing street plays on anti-trafficking occurred on 19 June 2018 in Kochang village, Araki block. The street plays were a collaboration between , a home for rescued women, managed by the RC Mission in Jharkhand, and a troupe belonging to an NGO. Out of the 5 survivors (all adults) , two were those who had been under the care and protection of the organization affiliated with the mission, and 3 belonged to the troupe of the NGO. In the first FIR lodged by the head of the NGO, he alleges that the Sisters accompanying the troupe from the RC Mission pressured the troupe on holding the performance in Kochang. However, as per information gathered from several other sources, by 19 June, the troupe had already completed their planned 16 performances in the district, and it was on the persistence of the head of the NGO that the others reluctantly agreed to also hold another performance in Kochang, as he said he had already made announcements far and wide.
  2. The incident occurred on 19 June 2018, but two FIRs were filed on the incident, one at the Khunti PS and the other at the Khunti Mahila PS, only on 21 June 2018. As per our inquires, we believe that the police had already received information of the offence at least as early as 20 June. On 20 June itself, the police had called one of the two Sisters who were also a part of the troupe for questioning, and later in the night, had brought 2 of the 5 survivors (those who were in the NGO's troupe) for their preliminary medical examination, and on 21 June, a board was constituted as per law for the medico-legal examination of all 5 survivors. It is not known how, and from whom, the police first received information of the offence. As per our inquiries, the thana first received information of the offence directly from the SP office.
  3. The FIRs identify Father Alphonse and ‘other unidentified persons/ pathalgarhi supporters’ as the accused. However, there is videographic evidence of the incident. One week after the incident, the police released the photo of one of the accused from the same video, who is well known by the locals and journalists as Baji Samant, who is not a pathalgarhi supporter but a resident of a different village, Sarai-kela. all other sources we spoke to including those form near by villages said  that the 4 men who came on bikes (the suspects) were not from the area.
  4. While it is being projected in the media that Father Alphonse was arrested for not doing enough to prevent the incident, and for failing to report the case to the police, in the FIR he is accused of a range of very grave offences, most of which are non-bailable. Offences included in the FIR lodged at Mahila thana by one of the survivors on 21 June include: wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, voluntarily causing hurt, disrobing, gang rape, kidnapping, kidnapping with intent to wrongfully confine and conspiracy. Offences in the other FIR lodged by the head of the NGO also on 21 June include: wrongful restraint, wrongful confinement, voluntarily causing hurt, causing hurt by means of poison, kidnapping, kidnapping with intent to wrongfully confine, criminal intimidation, hiding evidence and conspiracy.
  5. As per our inquiries, apart from Father Alphonse, two other persons have been arrested by the police. The police claim that these two accused have further identified 3 others as co-accused, who they claim are leaders of the Pathalgarhi movement. On asking whether the identity of all 5 identified accused and their claims have been verified by the 5 survivors, we were told that only the SP office will respond to all queries about the incident.
  6. On 26 June, the police claimed to have raided Ghaghra village in order to arrest these three other named suspects in the gang-rape who are also ‘leaders’ of the pathalgarhi movement. On this day, residents of Ghaghra and some from neighbouring villages were holding a Gram Sabha meeting on the issue of pathalgarhi, and we received no confirmation of the presence of any of these 3 named suspects at the meeting. The police force, initially comprising only adivasi personnel, but later also joined by more force, the DC , SP and others, attempted to stop the Gram Sabha meeting, after which there was an altercation between the people and the police. It was during this process that the women residents chased the police to the house of Karia Munda, and brought back three deployed guards with them.
  7. On 27 June, a 1000-member strong force of CRPF, RAF, JAF and personnel from other units raided Ghaghra (a village with a population of around 300) and neighbouring 7 villages. Out of these 7  villages, pathalgarhi had only been declared in 3 or 4 villages. Out of the 2 villages where pathalgarhi had been initiated, the security forces unleashed brutal violence in the form of beatings and atrocities on men, women and children, lathi-charge, tear-gassing and rubber pellet shootings, and also raided the homes of the residents. One person died in the lathi-charge, a minor girl suffered fracture, and between 150-300 persons, including women in substantial numbers, were arrested. After the raids, residents of all 8 villages have fled to the forest and nearby areas out of fear and terror. The security forces continue to camp outside the villages even after the so-called abducted guards returned safely on 29 June. The fact-finding team attempted to also enter Ghaghra village for inquiries, but were refused access by the heavy numbers of security personnel deployed outside the village, and the roads were blocked with armed vehicles.

The investigations of the Fact-Finding team raise the following questions:

  1. How and when did the police first get information of the incident? Why was an FIR not filed immediately but only 2 days later?
  2. Why were two of the survivors taken for a surreptitious medical examination on the night of 20 June, followed by a full medical examination of all 5 survivors on 21 June?
  3. When there was video recording of the incident, why was the FIR filed against ‘unidentified’ persons? Why did the police not pursue the accused, Baji Samant, identified in the video, despite being aware of his name and address? While it storms into unconnected villages of the pathalgarhi movement under the pretext of arresting the rapists.
  4. Why did the police raid the Gram Sabha meeting in Ghaghra where the pathalgari event was ongoing on the pretext of arresting the accused, when they knew that the accused belonged to another area, Sarai-Kela?
  5. Why have the police not verified the identity of the 2 persons arrested thus far by the survivors? Also, why have the police not verified the identity of three suspects being pursued by the police by the survivors, but instead only by the two suspects who are already in the custody of the police? Also, if Yusuf Purti has not been named by any of the arrested accused or the survivors, then why is the police projecting him and other Pathalgarhi leaders/ supporters as the rape accused in their proceedings and the media?
  6. Why are the girls still under the custody of the police? Why are they not being allowed to meet or speak to anyone (except the NCW team)?
  7. Who is head of the NGO which was a part of the troupe and who has filed the first FIR? Where has he disappeared after filing the FIR on the incident with the police? Is he also under the custody of the police?

Conclusions of the investigations into the incident by the fact-finding team:

  1. The Jharkhand police and administration are maintaining utmost secrecy in the actions and proceedings subsequent to the incident. As of now all information about the incident, the statement of the survivors and the witnesses is coming form only one source – The SP office. On the pretext of keeping the 5 survivors in the protective custody of the police, they have not been allowed to meet or speak with anyone, including their families and other care-givers, except the NCW team. The organizations to which they belong have also been not allowed to speak with press or any one else. The staff of that organization has also been ordered to stay within the organization premises and are not allowed to admit visitors or speak to anyone.  We also found out that the families of these women have not been informed by the police about the incident. In the whole incident, their voice (who are all adults, some of who are married and have children) is completely missing. There has been no statement from them, their families or friends. At the same time, the quick escalation of police action in the days after the incident has focused entirely on a campaign to tarnish pathalgarhi movements and leaders, with the result that investigations into the gang-rape and safety of the survivors have assumed secondary importance.
  2. The legal proceedings subsequent to the incident are shrouded in doubt, as these are based entirely on the questionable narrative proposed by the police and Jharkhand administration, without any avenues for independent verification and corroboration. This, combined with the subsequent repression by security forces has created a reign of terror for the residents of Khunti and neighbouring areas, further undermining chances of independent verification.
  3. In the name of pursuing unidentified suspects, the police has artificially linked those associated with the pathalgarhi movement with the gang rape, and has unleashed targeted persecution, harassment and arrests on them. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that the 4 bikers who committed the crime were not localites. One of those from the video has been identified as Baji Samant, resident of neighbouring Sarai-Kela. Yet, instead of pursuing these identifiable accused, the police, with the support of security personnel, is targeting pathalgarhi leaders as the prime suspects in the case.
  4. The targeting of the mission and mission run organization- It has been projected that the Father of the mission in Kochang has been arrested for not doing enough to stop the incident, or for failing to report when he had knowledge of the incident. The NCW is now projecting the whole incident as being pre-planed. The charges against Father Alphonse in the FIR are of a much more serious degree, carrying offences of gang-rape, wrongful restraint, conspiracy, among a range of others.
  5. The role of the media in the entire process has also been suspicious, with local and national newspapers and media channels widely misreporting on the incident, based on false and distorted facts. The media has concertedly cast adivasis, pathalgarhi supporters and the Church/ Mission organisations in a negative light in the absence of verifiable information. The press was also present in large numbers in the security camp prior to and during the raids on 27 June in Ghaghra, and was relaying the police version directly from the frontlines.

For these reasons, the fact-finding team demands:

The institution of an independent inquiry into the incident, through a high-level committee, comprising retired Judges, lawyers and women’s rights activists.

The police Investigation of this incident should not be conducted under the influence of the Khunti administration or police , it should be carried out by an independent agency.

An inquiry should be carried out not only of the incident of the alleged gang rape , but also of the aftermath , in which the police crackdown that caused the death of one person and many sustained grave injuries. We also demand the withdrawl of all security personnel currently camped outside Ghaghra and neighbouring villages.

All the safety of the women survivors is very important, their own agency too has to be kept in mind. It is not clear whether they have asked for protective custody or was it a decision taken  by the police?. To a large extent it seems like the latter. Keeping them cloistered and under the complete control of Khunti police can not allow for a fair inquiry.

The team also demands that the state government ensure the immediate removal of the 5 survivors  from the control of the Khunti police and some alternative safe arrangement be made for them, taking into consideration their own choice. In the present situation it is evident that they have not been given that choice and have been forced into this protective custody by the police. Some of the women have children and it is very possible that they may want to return to their families or the organization that they were living in.

- Rinchin, Radhika and Puja,

from Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression and Sexual Repression (WSS)

Women against sexual violence and state repression is a non funded national initiative to challenge and put an end to the violence being perpetrated upon womens bodies. We are a nation wide network of women activist, lawyers, writers and women connected  womens groups ,mass organizations and civil liberty groups. We unequivocally condemn sexual violence on women and girls by any perpetrators.

www.wssnet.org

Contact: againstsexualviolence@gmail.com

Disclosure of bias: I am biased against mainstream schools as currently exist in India and think they do more harm than good. We need better schools and for reasons more than security.

This is the second murder in a Ryan International School. Last year, in February, a child was found drowned in the Ryan International School in Vasant Kunj. Now there is a child found stabbed to death in the Ryan International School in Gurgaon.

Very conveniently there is the confession of a murder on TV by a bus conductor. Soon, the predictable will happen. The bus conductor will be the villain. Lawyers are already refusing to represent him, which will always leave the question of whether he is taking the fall for someone else.

The questions not being asked are how after having one murder in the school, the safety of students was still lax enough for a murder to happen in the toilet of a school. It does not explain what a bus conductor was doing in the children's toilet to begin with to have the opportunity - if at all he is the murderer as he is confessing.

But more than that, it does not explain what children were doing in that school at all. Or, for that matter, any school. The Delhi Gang Rape used a school bus to commit a horrendous rape. The driver of the bus was ferrying children on a daily basis till caught. Much outrage had ensued. Much vanishing of who the owner of the bus was happened. Sheila Dixit made it mandatory for schools to run background checks.

What happened? When the child was found dead in the Ryan International School in Vasant Kunj, many excuses were made to shrug off responsibility like he had a habit of wandering. Seriously? A child had a habit of not being in class and wandering the school and no one found it odd enough to investigate or be alert for?

I wonder at the gullibility of parents who send children to school. In an age when we don't see a two hour film without reading a review or hearing word of mouth praise first, how is it that parents commit 10 years of a child's time without so much as asking whether it is necessary at all to spend 10 years to learn to read and write.

But that is the real thing. Schools are not a service to children, they are a service to parents - a service that gets the kid out of your hair for most of the day, and installs all the knowledge a "standard human being" should have as per a template. It has nothing to do with a child's needs. Nor does it have any ability to predict what knowledge a child will need to function in the world as an adult. Most of you who learned how to calculate square roots in school have never done it after leaving school. Most of you who mugged up names of random places in the world have never found use for that information as an adult. What a child does in school has nothing to do with a child's needs.

We recognize the vulnerability of children and think they are stupid, but have no hesitation sending them off to an environment which may not be safe on their own without us. I could easily get a high paying job instead of making do with working from home. The reason I don't is that my son can't speak. Till he isn't able to tell me about his day and complain if he had a problem, not a chance I'm leaving him to strangers in day-care. I have no intentions of allowing someone who could potentially be harming my child to speak for him. And when I say harm, I include so much as intimidating or insulting a child or subjecting them to the indignity of sarcasm and taunts. Let alone murder.

I must wonder at parents who can comfortably trust a school and not think further. When there is a rape or a murder, parents suddenly get all traumatized. Parents reading about it imagine their innocent child in that place, all broken and dead, they can't bear it. Many cry, can't get images out of their heads. But it isn't like they won't send their child to school or will go and land up in the school of their own child and demand to see the files with background checks on all the people working there to make sure that robust investigation of potential risks has indeed happened.

It isn't like if their child talks about a sarcastic or unpopular teacher in school, they land up demanding that teacher account for their actions or be taken out. How many of you, after the Delhi Gang rape insisted that all personnel on the campus of your own child's school be investigated? But offending people by thinking they are suspicious is so bad, no? Yet they provide an Aadhaar that tracks people as potential criminals by default.

How many did this after any instance of a child being found raped or murdered in school? This is just the capital of the country - a place where "people like us" send their kids. There are even more horror stories from schools in smaller towns, hostels for tribals. Government schools are a free for all - may the biggest bully call the shots. What will it take for parents to see that schools are NOT SAFE FOR CHILDREN? Or at the very least to demand a security audit? What will it take to see that schools are a business that targets parent satisfaction and not kids? What will it take for people to stand up for their own damn child instead of imagining them in every crime against children and getting all emotional, but doing nothing to protect?

I am a staunch proponent of homeschooling, but I accept that it may not be an option for many people who have jobs - for example or where there are ill people in the home needing considerable attention, leaving the adults too weary to participate in a child's learning. Or where the home enviornment may have abusive people around. Sure, schools can be a necessity for many. But I think it is high time their overinflated importance be evaluated too. If a school can't get your children fluent in basic knowledge and blames children for low scores, it is basically time and money invested with zero guarantee. And today, there is no guarantee that all the education in the world will result in a job anyway. Technology is developing so fast that assistive devices may take communication to the illiterate without ever requiring them to read or write in a few decades. What exactly is it that the school is being glorified for? Why is it that the need of sending a child to school at all can't be questioned? Why is it so hard that schools face robust scrutiny? You'd have a problem if your office peon or collegaue or even the CEO squeezed your boobs as he passed by, right? What will it take to ensure that extensive efforts are made to ensure that your child isn't going to be subjected to it? How the hell is it that parents simply meekly take a school's word for it - if at all they ask.

It won't be easy. Schools are already on tight budgets. Popular culture blurs age and sexuality encouraging perverts and normalizing behavior that should create alarm. Investigations and stepping up security is time consuming, expensive. Being screened would probably be taken as an insult by many teachers who feel entitled to lack of scrutiny. But it isn't impossible either. Without security, the most logical place for a pedophile to be in is a school. Where the ratio of vulnerable targets to potentially alert protective adults is exceptionally high - say unlike a park, stressed teachers getting through their duties on autopilot are not likely to notice things unless trained for it. How many schools train their staff in basic security concepts so that they may notice and investigate potential risks?

This is my question to you, parents. When are you going to shed this blind obedience to authority figures and demand that they are worthy of the trust you entrust them with? Does your child matter or not?

Because right now, the old Ryan International School murder is all but forgotten, and the new one is on its way out of our awareness. We forget, over and over the news that shows the threat to children. Untill next time.

What will it take for you to ensure to the best of YOUR capacity that your child is not on national news for the wrong reasons?

1

The Tarun Tejpal chargesheet attempting Guinness book records over what was basically a groping and rape under the new definition got me curious about the sizes of various chargesheets. This is mostly an experiment driven by curiosity.

I thought the chargesheet had a lot of pages and compared it with a few, and there seemed to be a pattern. So weeding out random results and sticking with Mainstream News sites, these were the results I got.

Name of rape casePages in chargesheetNo of search results in MSM sites
Tarun Tejpal Goa Rape Case26848060
Asaram Bapu rape case10114260
Babu Lal Nagar rape case2004080
Shakti Mills rape case (photojournalist)6001460
Shakti Mills rape case (second - was back to back with first)361395
Hyderabad techie gang rape by cab drivers case45533

I am using this search engine I have created using India's biggest news sites only.

This is by no means exhaustive research, but in my view is somewhat indicative of media influence on how "seriously" cops take a case. What the merit is, in the chargesheet, is difficult to say. For example, I hear that the chargesheet against Tarun Tejpal contains frame by frame printouts of CCTV footage (but not the video). Something like that will fill up pages fast.

There are exceptions which seem reasonable as per prevailing patterns in the country:

  • The Babu Lal Nagar case has a smaller chargesheet than the pattern. Babu Lal Nagar is also a politician and an ex-minister.
  • The second Shakti Mills Gang Rape case has disproportionately more page chargesheet - it also came on the heels of the first Shakti Mills Gang Rape outrage.
  • I have deliberately omitted the Delhi Gang Rape, which has a 1011 page chargesheet, mainly because the results (210,000) include all kinds of articles, which are not related to the case but refer to it - from demands for laws to new laws to op-eds on other rapes to .... anything. Literally. I was not able to filter out relevant results in a way that could be equivalent with the rest. If you can, help me out.
  • There are bound to be errors in such measures ranging from pages indexed or not by Google, to cases being referenced by other issues, so this cannot be considered an accurate method, but assuming similar variations for all the cases (other than Delhi Gang Rape), I think the results are indicative of a need for more refined research.
  • The custom search currently shows only results from sites related with National news channels. I imagine large newspapers also influence opinion and I will try to customize this search to include a more realistic selection of news sources that influence public opinion.

What it means will take more research than is the capacity of this blog to produce, but I do think that media reporting influences how the police deal with a case. Which is an excellent reason for media to be responsible in how they deal with cases, unless they WANT to preempt the process of justice.

Breaking news being tweeted right now is that Goa police will be filing a 2700 page chargesheet against Tarun Tejpal for sexual assault. For a sense of proportion for those wondering how normal this is, the chargesheet against the Delhi Gang Rape (that gave birth to the law amendment that qualifies Tarun Tejpal as alleged "rapist"), Torture and Murder was 1,000 pages and people had mostly interpreted that unusually large number as symbolizing the gravity of the crime (I am no lawyer, or have an idea of a normal charge sheet. I went by reactions on Twitter.). This chargesheet is almost three times as big as that one (going by number pages alone) against a single "rapist".

As per DNA:

Investigating officer Sunita Sawant has charged Tejpal under sections 354, 354-A (sexual harassment), 341 and 342 (wrongful restrain), 376 (rape), 376(2)(f) and 376 (2)(k) (takes advantage of his official position and commits rape on a woman in his custody).

The 2,684-page charge sheet filed before Chief Judicial Magistrate Anuja Prabhudesai has examined 152 witnesses including the victim, staff of Tehelka magazine and the investigating officer in the case.

The charge sheet mentions that there are enough statements on record to prove that Tejpal has admitted the commission of rape, sexual harassment and outraging the modesty of the victim.

The investigating officer has noted that there are incriminating emails in this regard containing his apology, email letters to the victim regarding rape, sexual harassment, and outraging her modesty which were retrieved at his instance.

I am very fascinated by this phenomenon, since I have been following this very special case since a while now. Will update.

1

Where is the National Commission of Women that was so critical of Somnath Bharti's raid in Khirki? The women supposedly assaulted in the raid, whom they were so concerned about who filed a complaint over being mistreated by the crowd have filed a far graver complaint. That of being entrapped and exploited for prostitution. Harish Salve, their humanitarian protector has vanished. Because of course, giving urine samples is an atrocity. Entrapping women in a foreign country and forcing them into prostitution cannot really be called abuse. Hain na?

The NCW, that had time to comment on Kejriwal's protests causing inconvenience and being "childish" are now so busy with the Birbhum Gang Rape, that the Ugandan women under their magnanimous protection complaining of such a grave crime against them has gone unnoticed. The Ministry of External Affairs, so determined to fight for the rights of those women assaulted by government representatives no longer think it relevant to their office if officials from the Ugandan High Commission in Delhi are being accused of running a prostitution racket - which is probably a polite way of saying human trafficking for prostitution, if the women's passports were taken away and they were left with little choice but to prostitute themselves to survive.

I have said this before, and I am saying it again. The Women's Commissions are useless bodies eating public funds and serving their political masters rather than actively working for women. Women with strong motivations to shield people on one side of the political spectrum, or those they deem should be shielded have no business being responsible for the rights of all women regardless of who harms them.

How is it that there is no serious action after allegation of collusion between High Commission officials and Delhi Police in running prostitution and drug trafficking cartels? It is still understandable that this cronyism means that Somnath Bharti's complaints must be ignored, by order or some such nonsense, but what about the women who have filed complaints? Are they going to make news as victims and left to service Delhi's elites again, or is the NCW going to eventually get around to rescuing them and sending them home safely?

The real question here is why the plight of the Ugandan women was known to workers of the Aam Aadmi Party, who supposedly assaulted them, instead of the National Women's Commission? Where was their lawyer? Sannata. Media is engrossed in picking lint from their collective navel. Same media that hounded Tarun Tejpal over allegations of what was, until recently sexual harassment. Same media that found the compassion in them to "sensitively" report the lives of the Delhi Gang Rape accused, interview parents claiming innocence, wife pleading for mercy for husband find it outrageous that Tejpal or anyone affiliated with him can claim his innocence. But it isn't outrageous if police and High Commission officials engaging in trafficking.

On a side note, notice the lack of media outrage. Apparently the "crime" of "accosting" those women in the presence of women constables and forcing them to undergo tests in a hospital is larger than the crime of taking away their passports and forcing them into a life of prostitution.

National Commission for Women is now seeking an extension of tenure from 3 years to 5 years for queen bee Mamta Sharma, more funds to do more for women, and "punitive powers" over governments for not complying with their recommendations. It is ironic that the party that laughed at the idea of a Lokpal with power over CMs hold the strings of these jokers demanding this. The only reason this isn't unconstitutional while the Lokpal supposedly was is that the punishments aren't likely to do any real damage to the profiteering politicians.

In the meanwhile, no one really has any idea what the National Commission for Women does at all, in a country with rapidly deteriorating rights of women, rising crime against them, and exactly zero efforts to get any public messages out. There are no serious efforts of any sort to bring accountability to public figures making derogatory comments about women. The utter casualness of the correspondence revealed through RTI between this Mamta Sharma and the Prime Minister after Jaiswal said while addressing a women's college "As time passes, the joy of the victory fades, just like a wife". It verged on the "be careful" and "ok" with no serious actions seeked.

On the contrary, Nirmala Vyankatesh was fired after blaming the Manglore pub attack victims. Alka Lamba leaked the name of the victim of the Guwahati Gang rape. Mamta Sharma, who is currently asking for her tenure to be increased from 3 years to 5 years advocated women dress properly to prevent rape. Not only have her own actions been beyond casual in the face of the gravity of crimes that come to her attention, she failed to keep others in the commission sensitive to victims of those crimes. Now they want more tenure, more money, more power to punish governments it seems. Kaha kaha se chale aate hain.

Why should this joker earn any more payment on public salary? What has she done that India deserves to be inflicted with a leech like this?

I predict it will be two days before media starts to cover the "lavish lifestyles" of foreign prostitutes or something rather than report the serious developments that embarrass the central government and their precious Delhi Police that are part of Delhi's crime problem. One week later, the debate will turn to how they weren't doing it unwillingly, and it is wrong to risk international row over human trafficking unless their name is Khobragade.