She was trafficked from her native Andhra Pradesh village to Delhi eight years ago after her first husband died and was forced into prostitution. The brothel owners paid her no money for serving 20-25 men every day and even took away one of her children.
But 30-year-old Sarika didn’t give up. With the help of a customer who fell in love and married her, she escaped her traffickers and began looking for her second daughter, whose whereabouts she doesn’t know.
Sarika is now fighting in court for custody of the girl, who police say was put up for adoption as Sarika signed away her rights. She says she was forced to sign the papers because as a sex slave she could do little to stop it.
She can’t leave the red-light district she abhors because she fears losing all trace of her daughter, who is just eight. Her traffickers have threatened they will push the girl into sex work.
“This is a clear case of human trafficking. During her captivity, she was forced to sign an adoption deed. The traffickers ruined her life. Now they want to exploit her child also,” says Ravi Kant, president of Shakti Vahini, an NGO fighting her case.
Sarika’s troubles began in 2008 when her husband died of snake bite, leaving behind a heavily-pregnant wife and a four-year-old daughter in rural Andhra Pradesh.
A local woman promised her a job as a salesperson in a sari shop in Delhi for a salary of Rs 5,000.
Unable to support her family, Sarika took the job and arrived in the capital in mid-2008 but quickly realised she had been trafficked for sex work.
A month later, she delivered a girl at the Girdhari Lal hospital on GB road, Delhi’s infamous red-light district.
“The woman took away both my daughters. I was forced into prostitution and asked to pay R 5,000 every month for the care of my daughters,” Sarika tells HT.
She says her elder daughter was admitted to a government school in Gurgaon. Sarika regularly visited her in a hostel.
But the second daughter was put in the care of another woman in GB road.
“They let me meet her but stopped that by the end of 2009. The woman said they will push her in to sex trade if I don’t cooperate, which means serving 20-25 customers daily,” says Sarika.
Sarika lived as a slave for the next five years until she met Rakesh, a 30-year-old customer who promised to help her.
“Rakesh gave me R 1 lakh, which I gave to the brothel owner to set me free. I moved to another brothel where I was allowed to work on my own. I could not leave the area as I would have lost the track of my daughter,” Sarika says.
Between all this, she dropped her elder daughter off at her native village in Andhra Pradesh.
“She is now studying there and lives with her aunt and uncle. We returned back and started looking for the second daughter. We are determined to get her back and ready to fight any battle for that,” says Rakesh.
But more trouble was in store. Upon returning, Sarika learnt her second daughter was put up for adoption, allegedly with her consent. The 30-year-old disputed this and filed a complaint with Delhi Police.
But police filed a closure report in two months, saying Sarika was the biological mother of the girl but had signed away her rights as a parent. The couple then moved court, saying she was forced to sign the adoption deed as a slave.
“Any contract or deed signed during captivity is void. Police should arrest all those who trafficked the victim in 2008 and ensure the child is sent to her mother. The investigation by the Delhi Police and the order of the child welfare committee legitimises human trafficking,” says Ravi Kant.
Sarika still lives on GB road, earning Rs 100 per customer and saving up for her legal case. She alternates between hope and despair but is assured by Rakesh’s presence by her side.
“They threatened to push my daughter into sex trade. I will not let this happen at any cost. Being a sex worker doesn’t mean I can’t be a mother,” Sarika said.
She longs to go back to Andhra Pradesh to start a new life with Rakesh, who is ready to move with her and find work. His family doesn’t know she is a sex worker and she has a one-and-half-year-old daughter with Rakesh. But she is determined to not lose custody of her second daughter.
“At the time the deed was signed, I didn’t even know Hindi. I met my daughter in the court and she is not even recognising me. But I will not leave Delhi till I get the custody of my daughter,” she says.
Names have been changed to protect identity.