Coming Back to Life
“We weren’t convinced,” says Fatima’s father. “But the boy and his family were so persistent that we finally gave in.”
Ironically, it was a proposal of marriage, universally believed to be the end to all uncertainty for an Indian woman that was the beginning of Fatima’s nightmare.
Within six months of the wedding Fatima’s husband was diagnosed with cancer. Her family sold most of their property to pay for his treatment. “We tried everything. We just wanted our daughter to have a good life,” says Fatima’s father. “But our hopes for her were crushed when he passed away.”
Soon after her husband’s death, the grieving widow was often taken to plays in the village, by her parents to distract her and cheer her up. It is here that she met a young man from another village who offered her a job in Kolkata. The job did not exist and Fatima found herself in a brothel in Pune instead.
Fatima’s father’s eyes fill with pain as he thinks of the torment his daughter must have lived through as he struggled to locate her. In the seemingly endless months that followed, he filed a missing person’s complaint and made numerous visits to the police, hungry for any information they could give him about Fatima. Despite the many rebuffs and dead ends he refused to give up.
“Then, I got a phone call from a social worker from Justice and Care who told me my daughter had been rescued,” says Fatima’s father. “After months of waiting, it seemed almost too good to be true. I can’t describe the suspense I felt in the few seconds it took for the social worker to pass her the phone… I recognised Fatima’s voice immediately” he says, a smile of relief washing over his face.
As Fatima’s father speaks, her family gathers round. Taslima, one of Fatima’s cousins, recounts an amazing story. Fatima had been rescued but her traffickers were still absconding. The family had received a lead on one of Fatima’s traffickers. Showing tremendous courage, Taslima volunteered to act as bait and to help the family nab him. She pretended to be interested in the sham city job that the trafficker was offering her and asked him to meet her again in a crowded area where she identified him for the authorities. The rest of the family kept close, ready to come to her assistance in case the situation got out of hand.
Now home, Fatima’s family has displayed remarkable solidarity in accepting and supporting Fatima and helping her settle back into her home. They are very protective of her now but still encourage her to do things that will make her happy.
Today, Fatima is very calm and confident. The girl with a beautiful dimpled smile and striking features happily shows us around the place where she now works as a schoolteacher. She is teaching the children of brick kiln labourers along with another social worker from Barasat Unnayan Prostuti, a partner organisation of Justice & Care in that area.
Fatima and her family are extremely grateful for the efforts of Justice and Care in restoring her back to them. “It wouldn’t have been possible without Justice & Care,” says Fatima’s father, his voice full of emotion. “At a time when we needed help and everyone had abandoned us, Justice and Care are the only people who held our hand.”
This is Fatima’s story.