The only thing that Ram Chandra * could give the police when he filed the Missing Persons Complaint, was a mobile phone number. The unfamiliar digits had flashed on the display of his mobile phone when his daughter, Durga, had called him to say that she and Anjali were on a train. A brothel owner had bought them and was taking them to Mumbai.
That was in May. It was June now in Alipur Duar, West Bengal’s northernmost district, and Ram Chandra had received little information from the police. He was beginning to feel he would never see his daughter again. In desperation he called SRDTC, a partner organisation of Justice and Care.
SRDTC immediately passed the mobile phone number Chandra gave them on to the Justice and Care team. Suspecting that the number belonged to the brothel owner who had bought the girls, investigators laid a trap. A female team member called the number and spoke to the brothel owner in Bengali. She pretended to be a runaway asking for a job. The brothel owner arranged to meet her at a crowded railway station. When the brothel owner arrived, a surveillance team easily identified her. They followed her to the brothel and rescued Durga and Anjali. The girls had been forced to work as prostitutes for two months.
Within a week of Durga’s rescue, her father arrived in Mumbai along with a social worker from SRDTC. They wanted to take Durga back with them to Alipur Duar, but the Justice and Care aftercare team were not sure this was a good idea. SRDTC had filed a case against the trafficker who had lured the girls to the city and sold them into prostitution and the woman still lived in the same village as the victims. Justice and Care social workers were worried that the girls’ lives would be in danger from her. But Durga wanted to return to her family, so the social workers decided it would be best for her to go back home.
Back in her village, Durga began to face a lot of abuse and persecution from the small community. Even though her family and the social workers tried their best to protect her and keep her story private, people were suspicious about her sudden disappearance and subsequent stay in Mumbai. The aftercare team also suspected that the trafficker accused in the case had spread rumours about Durga and instigated the ill-feeling. A vulnerable Durga began to feel suicidal. She finally decided to leave her village for her and her family’s sake.
The aftercare team placed Durga in a half-way home in a neighbouring village and she began to be counselled by a therapist to help her get past the trauma she had endured. For the first time in her life, Durga was given the opportunity to learn new skills and it is here that she truly began to shine. She excelled at everything she put her hand to and scored top marks in the courses she took. The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) took notice of her work and sponsored her when she decided to do a course in tailoring. She repaid them by being at the top of her class for the entire course.
Durga made amazing progress in her therapy sessions and the Justice and Care team saw dramatic changes in her behaviour and attitude. Because the Anubhab Home was only for minors, Durga could no longer stay there after she crossed the age of 18. But staff members at the home were so impressed with her courage and new-found confidence that they offered her a job.
Today, Durga’s parents want her to get married. But Durga wants to continue her education and become self sufficient. Justice & Care is giving her financial aid as she studies for her Standard X exam. The support Durga has received from the Aftercare team has helped her progress to a point where she can take small steps on her own. Despite external pressure, she is now empowered to make sound decisions and give herself the gift of a secure future.
* All names have been changed to protect identities