Evening is descending over Ichhamati, the river flowing serenely along the border between India and Bangladesh that cuts through North 24 Parganas district in West Bengal. Along the bank, on the winding dirt path, two schoolgirls, 16-year-old Nandita and 13-year-old Mita, have stepped up on their bicycles’ pedals. “We have to rush home before it gets dark,” says Nandita.
In North 24 Parganas, this is more than just routine--it’s a standing instruction from parents worried about their daughters’ safety. It is also part of a lesson taught in almost every school in the vicinity, a mandatory special subject—a course on “how to identify and stay away from human traffickers,” says a girl. Absent in other parts of Bengal, it is unique to both North and South 24 Parganas districts, and points to an upsurge of girls from villages being kidnapped.