Until two years ago, Meenakshi had given up on life. Her hellish world was a tiny cubicle in a brothel at Kamathipura, where she had been since she was 13.
Now 19, the young woman from north Karnataka works as a nurse in a reputable hospital in Mumbai and vows to serve the sick and the disabled. “I have endured enough pain in life. I want help when I see someone suffering,” said Meenakshi.
She was lucky to be rescued by the Mumbai police’s Social Service Branch and relocated to Asha Sadan, a home for destitute children in Umerkhadi.
“I didn’t know what to do, where to go. Going back home was not possible,” said Meenakshi who is the eldest of three children. Her father does odd jobs while her mother is a homemaker. It was then that counsellors from the International Justice Mission (IJM), a non-profit body, stepped in.
“Didi (one of the counsellors) made me stand on my feet and I got back the confidence to begin all over again,” said Meenakshi who completed her 12 standard and later did apprenticeship in nursing at a reputable hospital. “Once I clear my course in July this year, I will go back and get a job in my home town.” She got in touch with her family after she cleared standard 12 and back home the family proudly talks of her studies in Mumbai. “My parents came to meet me in the hostel two-three times in the past five-six months.”
Last week, Meenakshi and two other young women, Kavita and Mala, who too had rebuilt their lives, caught up with IJM counsellors at a pizza joint in Mumbai’s western suburbs.
Mumbai-resident Kavita, the eldest of four children, worked briefly in a beauty parlour in the western suburbs after she lost her father. She was barely 12 then. As if the abuse she suffered under the guise of customer-care was not enough, the parlour owner struck a deal to sell her to a brothel. When the deal was under way, the Social Service Branch (SSB) sleuths rounded up the traffickers and rescued Kavita. This was in 2009. She too was sent to Asha Sadan.
“I never liked studies or went to school,” Kavita confessed. “It took several personal counselling sessions to pursue Kavita to take up books,” said an IJM counselor. Once she took up studies, there was no looking back. At present she is a first year BCom student in a big city college and lives with her family.
“I want to become a lawyer,” Kavita said confidently. “That is because I want to fight the cases of trafficking survivors and see to it that punishment is meted out to the perpetrators. I want to work shoulder to shoulder with the counsellors who made me stand again.”
Mala (17), the youngest of the three, was drugged by her best friend’s mother during a visit to the latter’s home in January last year. “She offered me a glass of soft drink. I found myself with a man in a shady lodging when I opened my eyes. It was then the police raided the place and rescued me,” Mala said. She too was relocated to Asha Sadan and later given counselling.
She completed her std 12 in the school run by Asha Sadan while doing apprenticeship in hotel management at a five star hotel. She wants to have a successful career in the hospitality industry. “Now I am working as an attendant. After completing the course in August, I want to manage the front office,” she added.
Melissa Walawalkar, a senior IJM functionary who is closely involved in the rehab programme of rescued women, said the three were an inspiration not only for others saved from similar circumstances, but society at large. “They have done wonders. Many of them have excelled academically. They have set examples,” she said.
“What we do is restore the courage and confidence which the girls lose following years of physical and mental abuse. The rest is their effort,” she said.
Experts and NGOs working in the field of human trafficking say that only a fraction of the victims are rescued or provided an alternate source of sustenance.
“Very few of them are rescued. Trafficking and child prostitution goes on through the connivance of police with brothel owners. So the actual figure never shows up,” leading Bombay high court lawyer YP Singh said.
(Name of the three survivors changed to protect their identity)