While the anti-human trafficking bill remains pending in the Parliament in India, every year, thousands of women and girls are sex-trafficked into Indian brothels, and sometimes, from these brothels to other South Asian countries. As per the data available with the Ministry of Women and Child Development, 19,223 women and children were trafficked in 2016, with highest numbers from West Bengal. Among the five biggest red-light areas in India, which receive workers from both within and outside the country, is the Garstin Bastion Road, popular as GB Road, in the National Capital. Over 5,000 sex workers of all age groups work here in over a 100 brothels, and most of them were trafficked when they were barely in their teens. This is the story of one of them who got lucky, was able to escape and continue her education. Most of them, however, are not as lucky.
I am *Amsah. I am 17 years old and recently graduated from high school. I dream of becoming a police officer.
I am also a human trafficking survivor, and this is my story.
It was a blistering day in the month of June, two years ago. I woke up groggy, in a room I had never seen before. I stared at the ceiling fan as multiple voices trickled in from the next room. Panic thumping in my chest, I tried to make sense of what was happening.
My last memory was of meeting Sabir, for the very first time. We had become friends on a social media site three months ago. He was 17 and I was 15. We were in the first flush of love and already discussing marriage.
I pulled myself together and walked out of the room. Sabir was there. I was relieved. He was telling two women to take me to work from the next day. He explained to me that I will have to work as a domestic help, since we needed money for our wedding. I agreed. Later that night, he talked about our wedding again. And then, he raped me.
I wept, for my mother and for my life back home, in 24 South Parganas district of West Bengal. I was the youngest of five siblings and it had its perks. Despite his modest earnings, my brother had bought me a mobile phone when I turned 15.
I soon joined a social media network and that is where I met Sabir. We had been communicating for a few days when he asked for my number. I was happy to give it.
The phone calls became more and more regular and we got closer. I was in love with his voice. So when he asked me to meet him, I did not hesitate. I skipped school the next day and went to meet him. We were soon talking about marriage. I was on cloud nine. He offered me a soft drink. Soon, I started feeling dizzy, noticed being on a train for a moment, and then I was here, in a house in Ghaziabad, hundreds of miles from my home, as I would later come to know.
The next day, I entered my ‘workplace’, which rang with abuses and laughter. To my shock, I saw that it was a brothel. I had been ‘recruited’ in Brothel no. 56 of the Garstin Bastion Road (GB Road) in New Delhi. I never saw Sabir again.
Day after day, I lay on a filthy mattress in one of the stinking pigeon-hole cells, and attended to 20 to 22 customers daily. I was the youngest at the brothel, and so, most monetised. Any complaint about pain or distress led to beatings and starvation. My body turned black and blue with the beatings. One month, I missed my period. Then I was given some medicines, which led to severe pain in my stomach. But the ‘work’ never stopped.
Months of rape and assault had made me hopeless. I had stopped thinking of home and had almost resigned myself to this life of misery when one day, I came to know that a customer was from my hometown. When I shared my plight with him, he promised to help me. He even smuggled in a phone and let me talk to my mother.
When he visited next, sometime in December 2017, everyone else in the brothel was busy in their routine evening prayers. I left with him, never to look back. This Good Samaritan took me with him to Kolkata in a train and dropped me at Howrah station. From there, I made my way home alone.
My mother came running when she saw me enter through the door. We hugged and cried for a long time. It seemed like the worst was over. But this joy was short-lived. The equation with my family members had changed and they hesitated to completely accept me. My school refused to take me in again. This gave me the first real experience of how the world works, only at the age of 15. My own family and friends cared more about the society.
Then, Rishi Kant Sir, who works with Shakti Vahini—an NGO that fights against gender-based violence in India—came to my rescue. He was already aware of my case through police records. He counselled my parents and threatened to take action against the school. Because of his efforts, my schooling started again.
I did not want to let go of this second chance that life had given me, and poured all my anguish and energy into studies. I have cleared Class 10 this year. I hope to become a police officer one day and help others.
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*Name changed to protect identity.