At the dead of the night on January 31, while the towns and villages slept, a group of around 70 young girls waited at the Moreh Manipur International Border, to be trafficked into Myanmar. The terrified teenagers had been coerced or duped by human trafficking rackets and labour placement agencies, and they were left with little choice but to slip into a doomed life. But, little did they know that an organisation headquartered in Meghalaya would step in to save all of their lives. The news about the girls had reached Impulse NGO Network promptly through trusted sources. Thanks to their timely intervention, the girls could be rescued and were sent to shelter homes before the process of repatriation.
For the last 26 years, Impulse NGO Network (INGON) has been a frontrunner in rescuing victims of human trafficking, who are forced into child labour, begging or prostitution. Till date, they have successfully rescued and rehabilitated 72,534 victims of human trafficking in North-Eastern India through their platform. They have also provided livelihood opportunities and financial independence to over 30,000 women.
In a conversation with Efforts For Good, Founder Hasina Kharbhih shares how Impulse NGO Network grew up to its present stature as one of the largest anti-trafficking agencies, working in eight north-eastern states, North Bengal , Myanmar, Nepal and Bangladesh. In fact, the Impulse Model devised by her is being replicated abroad as well, in countries plagued by the menace of human trafficking.
How Impulse NGO Network came into being
Hasina Kharbhih had been active in a wide range of social initiatives since her school days. “Since 17, I have been involved in social activities, Leadership Training Services (LTS) at St Joseph School Shillong. In 1987, I started a LTS Alumni volunteering student group, which actively participated in different programmes to help the underprivileged and marginalised,” Hasina shares.
She started Impulse NGO Network in 1993; however, the objective of the organisation was entirely different then. They focused on generating livelihood opportunities for rural women artisans, residing in the hamlets of East Khasi Hills District. It was not before 1996 that human trafficking featured on the agenda list of Impulse NGO Network.
In 1996, the Supreme Court prohibited the cutting of trees in the states of North-East India, in an attempt to preserve the biodiversity hotspots, according to the TN Godavarman Thirumulkpad vs Union of India judgement.
Though the decision was welcomed by most, it had an adverse impact on rural women of North-East of India, who were heavily dependent on forest-based resources like bamboo and softwood for their vocation.
The umbrella ban on timber unsettled the forest-dependent communities and forced them to migrate to urban areas for alternative jobs. “During the mass migration, reports reached us that many women, children and youth were becoming victims of human trafficking. At that time, there was not a single organisation in the entire north-east India to deal with this issue. So, we stepped into the scene,” recalls Hasina.
Over time, she built a good rapport with the women in the community, who started approaching her to trace their missing children. “Upon meticulous search, far and wide, we found that the children were being trafficked to cities and forced to work as child labourers, housemaids, tea-stall helpers, beggars or even sex workers in brothels.
Building an anti-trafficking partnership platform
“Our work with rural communities started to evolve gradually when we realised that the safety of young children was being comprised for the purpose of employment through unsafe migration. We started getting reports of children going missing in the community, and as we further investigated the issue, we were alarmed by the ugly signs of human trafficking,” Hasina shares on her website.
Realising the gravity of the human trafficking situation in eight north eastern states of India , Hasina started interacting with national organisations working in this domain. “With their insights and advice, I understood that unsafe migration in these eight states is the root cause of such rampant human trafficking. Our own survey revealed the absence of preventive measures which ensure safety and security of the victims. Before our survey and intervention, nobody was aware of the aggravating human trafficking menace in the North-Eastern states,” shares Hasina.
Impulse NGO Network first came into the limelight through their ‘Email Campaign’ in the early 2000s, through which they sought to build an integrated pan-India partnership network of non-profits and agencies working to prevent human trafficking. “It was the first year of the advent of internet in India, but our unique approach made the campaign successful. Soon, Prerana Anti-Human Trafficking Mumbai rescued two trafficked girls from Meghalaya Since then, we have dealt with over 72,534 cases of trafficking,” informs Hasina.
From rat-hole mines to brothels
Her experience of nearly three decades has made her encounter several shocking situations, some of which she narrates. “Many villagers agree to send their children for menial jobs like working in tea-stalls or run errands at a small shop. However, in most cases, traffickers promise the parents to provide better work to their kids and then send them across the borders. What makes North-Eastern states so much prone to human trafficking is their porous borders with five neighbouring countries – China, Bangladesh, Burma, Nepal and Bhutan,” she informs. Within Meghalaya itself, many trafficked children from neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Nepal are subjected to work as labourers in numerous illegal rat-hole mines. INGON has rescued over 1200 children from these mines and reconciled them with their families.
Prostitution is another illegal trade where many young girls and women from the North-East are trafficked. The victims rescued by INGON from red light areas have always been provided with skill-based livelihood opportunities through their platform. The younger girls are generally returned to their families and monitored regularly so that they continue their education and are not re-trafficked.
The Impulse Model – 6Ps + 6Rs
What makes Impulse NGO Network a pioneer in the prevention of human trafficking? Undoubtedly, the amazing Impulse Model, which constitutes an in-built partnership network bringing all stakeholders together to eradicate the inhuman menace. From government level to local community level, Impulse NGO Network has developed widespread outreach over the years, which facilitates faster and accurate tracking, rescue and rehabilitation of victims. The Impulse NGO Network (INGON) is regarded by many as the frontrunner in this sector, as evident from the fact that the Impulse Model has been replicated far and wide in countries where human trafficking of women exists in large scale.
As detailed on their website, the Impulse Model stands on 6Ps and 6Rs. The 6Ps include Partnership, prevention, protection, policing, press and prosecution while the 6Rs comprise reporting, rescue, rehabilitation, repatriation, re-integration and re-compensation. All the 12 pillars are given equal importance by Impulse NGO Network , which is why they have succeeded in tackling re-trafficking almost entirely.
“Nobody can solve the problem of human trafficking alone. We need a holistic approach, which Impulse Model is doing by bringing together all the resources and networking partners,” Hasina asserts.
She adds how INGON has generated economic development and sustainable employment for the women in North East India, which in turn curbs the risk of human trafficking at its root.
Challenges and future plans
Hasina Kharbhih has been awarded profusely by national and international foundations for her incredible work. However, the journey of 26 years has not been bereft of challenges. “The latest challenge I have started to face in the inefficiency and lack of sensitivity among newer anti-trafficking NGOs. To gain social media popularity, many a time they do not maintain victim confidentiality and deals with the rescued victims insensitively. They fail to realise that these kinds of callousness can cause more trauma to the victims as well as increase their risk of being re-trafficked,” she expresses.
When asked about the agenda for the next ten years, Hasina shares that she wishes Impulse NGO Network to be a global support organisation, helping developing countries who are struggling with human trafficking problems. “I envision Impulse Model to be an open source creating substantial engagement of the society at every level, to end human trafficking and bonded slavery,” she signs off.