The National Human Rights Commission has issued a notice to the State government of Rajasthan has issued a notice demanding a police inquiry into an “abominable” practice as a shocking case of young girls in Rajasthan being sold as “repayment” for loans their parents cannot afford, surfaced.
In the Northern Indian state of Rajasthan people living in rural areas often have to borrow loans from fellow villagers when a family member falls seriously ill and needs medical treatment, among other emergencies. Local media reports that in half a dozen districts around Bhilwara, if a family cannot repay a loan, the creditor has complained to the “caste panchayats” or caste councils. After that the councils have ordered the family to hand over their daughter – sometimes more than one depending on the size of the loan – so that the creditor can sell her to a trafficker to recoup his money. I any one of them or any of the families denied to do the same then the mothers of that families are subjected to rape and abuse.
Among the cases highlighted by the commission is that of a man who borrowed 1.5m rupees from a neighbour who was forced by the panchayat to sell his sister and 12-year-old daughter to “settle” the debt.
To look into the incidents, the commission dispatched a representative to Rajasthan. The crimes, according to Ashish Modi, the collector for the Bhilwara district, were unique. “They are completely unlawful. Police are conducting an investigation, and we’ll make sure the guilty are brought to justice and the victims receive justice,” Modi promised.
In India’s rural areas, panchayats frequently serve as kangaroo courts and are a fundamentally regressive force. They have imposed harsh punishments on couples suspected of infidelity or ordered so-called honour killings of couples who disobeyed custom by getting married into another caste or religion.
Veteran women’s rights advocate Kavita Srivastava from Jaipur, Rajasthan, claimed that caste panchayats informally governed villagers’ private concerns like marriage, inheritance, and child custody. If people defy their orders, they are ostracised and shunned by the rest of the community. “But what is new in these cases is that they seem to have expanded their ambit to settle loan disputes in this way,” Srivastava said.