Interview: Dr. Veerendra Mishra

Posted: November 25, 2013 at 6:27 pm

Dr. Veerendra Mishra is an Indian expert on human trafficking and a law enforcement officer of more than 18 years’ experience. During his career, he has served in United Nations Missions and worked as an Assistant Inspector General of the State Police in the Central Region (Madhya Pradesh) of India. He was a Humphrey Fellow with the Institute of International Education of the U.S. Department of State and a scholar affiliated to TraCCC.

Veerendra Mishra

How did you connect with TraCCC?
VM: I read Dr. Louise Shelley’s book Human Trafficking: A Global Perspective (2010) and her article in Human Traffic and Transnational Crime: Eurasian and American Perspectives (2005). She gave a very interesting perspective in her book. I was impressed by her work. I then contacted her and expressed my desire for us to work together. Now, I am an affiliated scholar at TraCCC.

What are you working on with TraCCC?
VM: My stay in TraCCC is very short — six weeks. I am trying to understand the focus area of TraCCC and discuss possible new ventures in the study of human trafficking. I am trying to highlight sex trafficking in com-munities in which this is generational prostitution. TraCCC has screened my documentary film ‘Do I Have a Choice: A Saga of Socially Sanctioned Sexual Servitude’, which I produced and directed with my wife Dr. Priyanka Mishra.

Dr. Priyanka Mishra is your wife? How did she first react when you started working with the Bedia community? How was it to work with your wife on this documentary?
VM: Yes! Dr. Priyanka Mishra is my wife and professional colleague.

It was always a challenge when I started working with the Bedia. Due to the stigma attached to this community, people (except for those exploiting them) tended to avoid them, and hence they suffered. My wife was apprehensive that someone with professional grudge against me might consider character assassination. But, her fear did not last long, as she herself got passionately involved with the work, and now it is a collaborative effort. It was a pleasant transformation, from her being my weakness to my strength.

The documentary was our common dream. I give her all the credit for making it possible. She spent months at the editing table, learning editing techniques and working tirelessly. It was a new experience in our married life, and working on a project together certainly gave new meaning to our partnership. We are very excited with the outcome and look forward to helping the community by spreading the message and garnering wide support.

Your wife is in law enforcement too? Are you strict parents?
VM: As I mentioned earlier, we both are law en-forcement officers in State of Madhya Pradesh in India. She is currently serving as Assistant Inspector General of Police, Planning at Police Headquarters, Bhopal, M.P.
We are normal, loving parents. We both have a passion to live and look beyond core policing work. That has certainly helped us from being bitten by the ‘Police Syndrome’ problem (This concept can be understood from book Community Policing: Misnomer or Fact?, Sage Publications, 2011). We have two sons, 15 and 7 now, and they are great company and friends to us.

What were your main tasks when you served as an Assistant Inspector General of the State Police in the Central Region? What is unique about this region?
VM: While serving as AIG, Crime Investigation Department, I was in charge of the Juvenile Aid Bureau of the Police Headquarters, monitoring the implementation of the Juvenile Justice Act in the state. I was responsible for liaison between different government departments, agencies, UNICEF and NGOs on child rights issues. Additionally, I supervised the investigation of sensitive cases transferred to CID of three zonal areas of the states. I also supervised the administration of the whole department.

What got you interested in human trafficking?
VM: My interest in human trafficking dates back to the 1990s. I worked in the UN Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (1997-98), Kosovo (2004-05), and East Timor (2009-2010). During my stays, I encountered the sexual exploitation of women and children, especially of Roma/Gypsy people in Bosnia and Kosovo, and both labor and sexual exploitation existing in East Timor. Somehow, I felt that UN failed to meet the standards established to combat human trafficking. From 2005 onwards, I started learning about this subject and started working intensely on it.

Could you talk about human trafficking in India?
VM: As in any country, the focus is on sex traffick-ing in India, although labor trafficking is a major issue and attracting a lot of attention recently. Some other prevalent forms are medical trafficking, human organ trafficking, and child trafficking under the guise of international adoption.

Around two thirds of child labor trafficking is in the agricultural sector. This sector still remains large, as 70% of the country’s population lives in rural areas and around 60-70% of the total work-force is employed in the agricultural sector. It is very challenging to deal with cases involving child labor exploitation because the family is party to this exploitation. They fail to notice the exploitation due to the feudalistic character of society. The victims accept it as a norm.

Trafficking of children through International adoption is a recognized problem now. Another growing, but less well-researched, form of trafficking is the issue of “Surrogate Mothers”, “clinical drug trails”, and so on. This has grown into a big business.

How much effort is directed towards anti-human trafficking efforts in India?
VM: Human trafficking was first defined in India by the Goa Children Act (state law) in 2003. The current Criminal Law and its Amendment Act of 2013 (CLA) has included the definition of human trafficking, maintaining its commitment to fight against trafficking. Recently, India has geared up to tackle human trafficking by setting up Anti-Human Trafficking Units in each district. This is a Multi-Agency Board involving representatives of the government, NGOs, and members of the community. These are amazing changes, that happened in a short period of time.

India has a long history of domestic servitude. Is it a problem when combating human trafficking?
VM: It is mostly girls from lower castes and tribes who become victims of domestic servitude. This is a form of labor exploitation within human trafficking. They work for long hours for a family, away from home, under stressful conditions, and are paid meagerly. The unregistered placement agencies and middlemen play a crucial role in exploiting victims. Even the employers continue exploiting them for convenience.

India took a progressive step by amending the Child Labor Act in 2006 by prohibiting children below 14 years from employment as a domestic servant.

Do you find it challenging to combat human trafficking in a society deeply rooted in the caste system?
VM: Yes, the caste system is deeply entrenched in Indian society. It is true that, according to literature, lower caste people are more exploited than upper caste people. But, discrimination on the basis of caste is an unlawful act. India passed the law “Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes Act of 1989 (Prevention of Atrocities)”, which criminalized any type of discrimination against them. It is a very strong law. The cases related to this law are heard only in special session court.

What are you working on currently?
VM: In May, my book Human Trafficking: The Stakeholders’ Perspective, (Sage Publication, May 2013) got published. Also, I just finished teaching an online course on Human Trafficking and Smuggling with Human Rights Education Associates. Now, my current research is on Missing Children and Human Trafficking in two states of India. I am trying to convey more understanding about different dimensions of human trafficking, which involves missing people as well. Also, I am working on two of my books, one on the Bedia Community, victimized by sex trafficking through inter-generational prostitution (my wife is co-author), and the second is on Human Trafficking and Social Policy.

In general, what are your concerns in research of human trafficking and anti-human trafficking measures?
VM: The biggest problem is generalization of the terms of human trafficking. All these different types of exploitation have different characteristics and require specific intervention. For example, I defined six distinct types of exploitation within trafficking for sexual purposes: bride trafficking, community based sexual exploitation, prostitution in confinement (i.e. brothels), and sexual exploitation in the tourism, pornography and entertainment sectors. All of these require different approaches to the problem. However, due to the generalization of the problem we fail to address them. It is always the victims who suffer due to misunderstanding or lack of understanding of human trafficking. As I say, we can’t sweep the whole house with the same broom.

How do you feel about working with TraCCC?
VM: I am privileged to have been associated with TraCCC. The center focuses on many different types of organized crime. I think TraCCC has great potential to work specifically on human trafficking. Dr. Louise Shelley is an expert in the field, a great resource, and an asset for TraCCC.

TraCCC focuses a lot on terrorism and transnational crime, and there is lot of scope to work on the links between terrorism and human trafficking. Human trafficking is the second most income-generating organized crime in the world. Quite obviously, it holds a lot of potential to generate money to support terrorist activities. There is an established connection between terrorist groups and drugs/arms trafficking (the other two main types of organized crime). Less research has been done on links between terrorism and human trafficking, and TraCCC is the appropriate center to take up this issue.

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