Glory (name changed to protect identity) is all of eight years, but little does she know that her story inspired the book, Cage - Horror & Hope, which was launched on Friday.
For Glory was just nine months old when her parents sold her off to an ‘aunt’, who planned to force her into prostitution.
It was Glory’s story that made award-winning British photojournalist Hazel Thompson, 32, team up with Bombay Teen Challenge, an NGO working for the emancipation of women working as prostitutes in the city’s red light district, Kamathipura.
The NGO has recently kicked off a Stop Sex Slavery campaign.
As an allegory, the book uses the stories of the lives of Rekha and Lata (names changed to protect identities) — two teenagers who had been tricked into prostitution by their boyfriend and adopted brother respectively — to highlight the conditions of women who are trapped as sex slaves.
Thompson spent two months in the bylanes of Kamathipura trying to document the lives of hundreds of girls like Glory.
“When I saw the lives they lead there, I wanted to drag the world to come and see. But I couldn’t do that. Hence, the camera was all I had to show how teenagers are held captive and made to work as sex slaves.”
Ask her about her experiences and Thompson switches from one harrowing experience to another.
“Young girls are tricked, bought and brought to Kamathipura, they are kept in cage-like rooms… and beaten and tortured to ensure that they break down and submit to the Madam’s demands. It is then that they are made to go on the roads and solicit clients.”
Thompson’s other works include documenting sexual violence in war-torn Congo and posing as an aid worker and photographing children illegally detained in The Philippines’ adult prisons.
“However, this two-month period in Kamathipura was like a war-zone experience for me — with violence, rape, murders and fights being commonplace in the bylanes.”
She also discovered trapdoors and water tanks where girls were hidden during raids.
“Whenever there would be police raids, young girls would be made to hide inside tanks with chest-high water.”
KK Devaraj, founder of the Bombay Teen Challenge, said, “We want to involve more and more people and create more awareness. The girls need our help and support just the way we’d help and support our daughters and sisters.”
Thompson said, “The situation is so depressing out there that the more you find out, the more you don’t want to know. This is one project that I will never be able to walk away from.”
“You start as a journalist and end up becoming an activist for something that concerns you. I’ve never been able to be neutral observer because the more you care about the subject, the more it comes through in the work.”