Jaintia Hills: Today, let us turn to Shillong where Hasina Kharbhih, a braveheart who has forced the world to turn its attention to Meghalaya's rat holes. Hasina and her team at Impulse NGO are fighting the coal mafia and saving the lives of millions of children who are being trafficked from Nepal, Assam and Bangladesh to work as bonded labourers in Jaintia Hills.
Safiqul is one of the hundreds of children working in at least 5,000 private coal mines here. Every year, children from Assam, Nepal and Bangladesh are trafficked for life into the coal mines in the state and made to work illegally.
Says Safiqul, in a hushed tone, "I have been working here for 20 days." "There are five boys of my age in this mine," he informs.
Daily wages in these coal mines are determined by the success rate of filling up the coal carts, and range anything between Rs 500 and 800 a day, sometimes more, lending a false hope of a better life.
For the last three years, Hasina Kharbhih and her team at Impluse NGO have been waging a difficult battle against the private mine-owners who exploit children.
Says Kharbhih, Team Leader of the NGO, "The children we have been able to rescue from here... we've been able to intimate the child welfare committee, send them to school. When we went to Nepal, we realised most of them are 'missing from homes'."
"Unless and until they bring in these mines under a scientific way of mining, they'll have to continue to use children for any new mining," Kharbhih adds.
Lotte, one of the lucky few whom Kharbhih's NGO were able to rescue, is about to join school.
Says Lotte, "It is my choice. I am happy."
At her Shillong office, Kharbhih explains that rehabilitation of mine workers remains her prime thrust. The unspoken pride at the Meghalaya model of anti-trafficking gaining global recognition is also unmistakable, knowing that it's a step in the right direction.