Two Bhutanese women, Chandra Maya Rai, 24 and Bina Rai, 28 went missing from Jaigaon, India on March 14, 2014. The two unmarried cousin sisters hailed from Gomtu, Pagli Gewog in Samtse Dzongkhag.
In the more than a year long disappearance of the two sisters they had been duped by two men and taken to Kashmir with promises of well paying jobs. Instead the two sisters discovered living hell there as they were kept as domestic servants cut off from the outside world including phones and were not paid. They were
in effect virtual slaves for the people they worked and were not allowed to leave and were also warned not to escape.
As the two sisters came from a humble family background and were uneducated, they thought it would be better for them to find a manual job at Punatsangchu or at a canteen as suggested by Chandra Maya’s own sister who runs a canteen for the Punatsangchu Project.
So the two of them decided to go to Wangdue taking the route via Phuntsholing. Upon reaching Phuntsholing, they stayed at Bina’s younger
The twist in their plan emerged when they went for shopping at Jaigaon where they met two middle aged guys named Sankar, an adivasi Indian man from Kalchini and Sonam Tamang from Nespara (a place near Falakata) in India. The encounter with the two men changed the entire plans of the two sisters as they were brainwashed by the two men.
The men told the two sisters that they had a very good connection with an agent in Kashmir where they the two sisters would get a good job and an attractive salary for a one year contract which could be extended.
Later at home the two sisters discussed the idea with their brother who disapproved of the whole plan. However, the two sisters were so convinced by the two men that they did not listen to him and decided to go ahead. “We could not discuss the issue further because their answer was clear and their mind was made up”, said Bina.
After few days, the two sisters fled to Kalchini along with Sonam and Sankar where they stayed at Sankar’s place for few days until their ‘job’ got confirmed in Kashmir. Bina and Chandra were later directed to an agent in Kashmir named Devi who instead of giving them the good jobs with high pay placed them instead as virtual bonded servants in the houses of strangers.
Meanwhile, the families of the two reported the matter of the two missing girls to the Phuntsholing police division a few days after they went missing. The Phuntsholing police in response asked the family to report the issue to the Jaigaon police as the girls went missing from Jaigaon where the Jaigaon police had jurisdiction.
In Kashmir, Chandra was placed first followed by Bina the next day. They were split apart and they never got any chance to meet each other nor a chance to contact and inform any of their parents or relatives about where they were or what they were doing. They were not paid and were given very heavy work contrary to what they had initially been promised.
The two sisters were not given mobile phones and they were not allowed to go outside the house unless they got permission. Their task were mainly to baby sit and do rest of the household chores like cooking, washing and cleaning the house.
For Bina, the workplace consisted of only three family members which consisted of a lady named Asman who was a school teacher, her one year old child and her father in law. Her husband Irfan used to live in Jammu.
Bina’s daily task was to look after the one year old baby, prepare meals and clean the home. In the morning, Bina had to go along with Asman and she would be kept in a cabin with the baby until the school was over. After reaching home she had a lot of work piled up for her to do.
Isolated and helpless in a foreign land she thought of running away after realizing that she had been cheated. However, she was warned by Asman that the army would ‘shoot her and imprison her’ if they ever catch her running away.
“I always wanted to run away but the fear of being shot and imprisoned stopped me and moreover, I didn’t have a single penny to run away because salary was promised to be paid after the end of the one year contract only” she added.
Bina managed to call her sister through one of the teacher’s phone in the school where Asman taught. But she was not able to give all the information to her sister as she was caught in the middle of the conversation and she was warned not to use phones again.
For Chandra Maya, her workplace consist of five family member, a husband and wife who are both doctors with three school going children. Her task was similar to Bina, except that she didn’t have to spend her day in school looking after children as all the children were school going children. “I was not allowed to mingle with any people nor allowed to go outside except to pick up the children from school which is right near the house,” she said.
It was after one year and two months later that Bina was finally sent home after her repeated pleas. She returned this year in May to her family’s relief. Her younger brother reported her return to the police on 5th May and the fact that Chandra Maya was still missing. Bina said, she was kept under custody for one night by the police who asked her details about Chandra Maya.
Based on the little details she knew about the place and the agent, the police called the Srinagar police division and were able to trace Chandra after one month. Chandra returned to Bhutan on 23rd June this year.
The salary which was promised while signing the contract was never given fully and the actual money paid was less than half and that too after the police intervention.
Their aunty Des Maya said, “They are reluctant to share their work place experience so I hesitate to ask them further questions on what exactly happened to them in those homes”. “Whatever, it is a huge relief that they are back and so they must have learned a good lesson”.
Currently, both the sister are at Wangdue. Chandra is with her sister at Bajo and Bina is helping her cousin sister in the canteen.