The Global Slavery Index 2018 estimates that on any given day there were nearly 8 million people living in modern slavery in India. The GSI 2018 reports an emerging trend in northeast India where organised trafficking syndicates operate along the open and unmanned international borders, duping or coercing young girls seeking employment outside their local area in to forced sexual exploitation. Many women and girls are lured with the promise of a good job but then forced in to sex work, with a 'conditioning' period involving violence, threats, debt bondage and rape.
Aditi* was sent to live with her cousin in the red-light area of Kolkata. When she was 11, she was taken to a brothel where she was kept for three years and forced to provide sexual services. When police raided the brothel, Aditi was arrested along with her madam. She was eventually moved to a home and talks of how she is still haunted by her past trauma.
When I was very young, my parents died. I was sent to live with a cousin who was a prostitute in the Sonagachi red light area of Kolkata. One day, when I was 11, she took me to a brothel, left me there and never returned. I was locked in the brothel for 3 years. I used to cry and beg for release but they wouldn’t let me go. Why should they understand my pain? If they did, no girl would ever be sold.
Some of the customers were kind. They listened to me, then told me to lie that we’d had sex, and left me money without touching me. Finally, one boy spread the word in Sonagachi that I was very young and was kept locked in a room. The local gang intervened with my madam because they were afraid of the police. I was shifted to another brothel. I felt safer, though I didn’t know that I was sick inside.
A few days later, the police rescued me. The police were cruel. They asked me such bad questions and kept saying that I would be punished. I was so frightened, and I kept asking them what I had done wrong. I was put into jail with my madam. She beat me and threatened to kill me. Soon, though, I was shifted to this home.
It’s difficult here because I want to forget that time, and I’m not allowed to do so. People keep asking me questions. When the other girls get angry, they rake up the past. I’ve learned a lot here, but I can’t sit in group counselling sessions because there is always talk of our past. I can’t listen to any story that’s like mine because it hurts too much. I see a dream of a girl in a village who is continuously being raped and she is screaming in pain. I wish I could stop seeing this dream.
Narrative ‘A Sheltering Tree’ featured in the project ‘Another Me: Transformations from Pain to Power’