Driven by extreme poverty and lack of work during the COVID-19 crisis, a migrant labourer in Assam sold his 15-day-old daughter for Rs 45,000 but police rescued the baby, officials said on Friday.
The man and two women have been arrested on the charge of human trafficking.
Dipak Brahma, a resident of Dhantola Mandaria, a forest village in Kokrajhar district, had recently returned from Gujarat, where he worked as a labourer. He was jobless and finding it hard to support his family, according to an official of an NGO working against human trafficking.
After his return, the family started living at the house of his in-laws in Kochugaon Patakata village in the same district. The family still lived a hand-to-mouth existence, neighbours said.
During these tough times, Brahma's wife gave birth to the girl, their second daughter. Their elder daughter is a year old, Nedan Foundation chairman Digambar Narzary said.
"Brahma tried to find a job during the pandemic but it was hard to come by. With almost all doors to earn a living closed, Brahma decided to sell the newborn," he added.
The man sold his daughter to two women for just Rs 45,000 on July 2 but kept his wife in dark, Mr Narzary said.
Brahma's wife and villagers filed a complaint at Kochugaon police station after they came to know about it later.
"On receiving the complaint, police swung into action and rescued the baby from the two sisters. We also arrested the man (Brahma)," police said.
During interrogation, the two women claimed that they had bought the baby for a childless couple related to them.
"We are really thankful to the police for rescuing the baby. But the issue is of very serious nature. Because of the lockdown, poor people do not have any work. The situation is getting worse for those living in forest villages," Mr Narzary said.
Lakhs of labourers returned to their homes in Assam from large cities outside the state after they became jobless during the lockdown.
Though the state government had announced that it will create job opportunities for them through various initiatives, including under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the COVID-19 outbreak has badly hit most economic activities in the state.
People are facing the double whammy of the pandemic and floods which have created havoc in the state.
A total of 28.32 lakh people in 26 of the state's 33 districts have been affected by the deluge.