Women's leader from India's ruling BJP charged with child trafficking

Vidhi Doshi

Juhi Chowdhury, state secretary of Bharatiya Janata party, arrested for alleged involvement in a cartel that police say sold Indian babies to people overseas

Police officials with BJP politician Juhi Chowdhury after her arrest in Siliguri, West Bengal, on charges of cheating, trafficking and exploitation. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

A women’s leader from Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party has been charged for her alleged role in a child trafficking cartel, which police say sold Indian babies to people from foreign countries, including Australia, France and the US as well as to Indians.

Juhi Chowdhury, state secretary of the BJP’s women’s wing, was arrested this week for charges under the Indian penal code including cheating, trafficking and exploitation.

Nishat Parvez, the director general of West Bengal’s Crime Investigation Department, said that authorities had received a tip-off about a trafficking ring, which allegedly posed as an NGO and obtained fake licences and government funding.

Police started investigating the case after reports that babies were being smuggled through Baduria in North 24 Parganas district, near the Bangladesh border last year. In November, police arrested eight people, including two women, for their alleged involvement in the case, and said they recovered three babies in cardboard biscuit boxes. “We have information that at least 17 babies were sold, and there is evidence of more,” said Parvez.

Babies were allegedly sold for between 100,000-200,000 rupees (£1,200-2,400).

Parvez said the issue of whether the babies would be brought back to India would have to be dealt with by the Child Protection Unit of Jalpaiguri, the district where the trafficking took place. He was unwilling to comment on whether the parents who adopted children from India were being pursued by police for criminal investigation.

The district child protection officer of Jalpaiguri said she had received no information about the case. “Foreign adoption is allowed in India, but selling babies is illegal. When information is passed to us by police, then we will act on that,” she said.

The allegations against Chowdhury have caused a huge political row between the BJP and the opposition Trinamool Congress, which rules the state of West Bengal, and whose leader, Mamata Banerjee, is one of prime minister Narendra Modi’s most vocal critics. Chowdhury and her father, both state politicians, have been expelled from the party.

An estimated 135,000 children are trafficked in India every year. Many are brought from villages to big cities to work in factories or as domestic workers.