By Steve Cunliffe
“Here you work in the hot sun making barely enough money to feed your family, but if you come with me to Hyderabad you could be a babysitter in a big fancy house and make lots of money. You could buy nice new clothes and enjoy a good life in the city.”
It was an alluring proposition for Chinni*, an 18-year-old girl in southeast India who worked in dusty fields from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. for less than a dollar a day. The friendly lady making her the offer had visited the village numerous times over the years and taken many girls to the city, promising them good jobs and a chance to earn a decent wage. None of them ever returned, so the villagers simply presumed they had all found great jobs in the city and turned their backs on their poverty-stricken lives.
Chinni was the latest victim, coaxed into leaving the village and heading to Hyderabad in search of a dream.
Once Chinni was in the big city, the woman left her in a house where girls were traded and sold. There, a kind-sounding man approached her. “Young sister, why did you come to this bad place? Don’t worry, I’m going to take you away from this horrible mess. You deserve much better than this.”
Confused and scared, Chinni decided to place her trust in the man who offered to help her get out of the house where she had just been dumped. Unbeknown to her, she was jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. The man befriending her and winning her confidence was, in fact, a con man and human broker. He took her to the Indian state of Maharashtra, where she was sold to a brothel owner for 50,000 rupees ($1,100).
“It was a terrifying experience to arrive in that place. When I saw all these young girls in short skirts surrounded by rowdies (brothel customers) and goons (brothel guards), I thought, ‘I am never going to see my parents again.’”
Although Chinni had no money, she desperately wanted to escape. The first time she tried to run away, she saw some police nearby and ran to them for help, but they turned out to be pimps in disguise. She was taken back to the brothel and punished.
“I was tortured for trying to flee. The pimps beat me, cut me with knives and extinguished their cigarettes on my skin. There was this one girl who kept trying to break out; she had acid poured on her genitals as a warning to the rest of us.”
Chinni remained resolute and determined to get out. She bided her time waiting for the opportune moment.
Early one morning after a party, she snuck out and ran all the way to the train station where she boarded the first train back to Hyderabad in her home state. She had no money and no ticket, but when the conductor heard her desperate story, he took pity on her and allowed her to continue her journey. Upon arrival at Hyderabad station, she was approached by people who were conducting a rescue of human trafficking victims. They took her to their counseling center at the local police station.
The people were from Prajwala, an anti-trafficking organization that helps prevent the sale of women into forced prostitution, and rescue them if they are caught in it. With support from Catholic Relief Services, Prajwala teaches trafficking victims job skills like bookbinding, carpentry, and printing.
“These people were friendly and honest,” says Chinni. “I realized that I was in good hands and safe at last. I thank God every day that they found me.
“Prajwala has completely changed my life: I never knew such a peaceful world existed and I certainly never dreamed I might get the chance to learn so many useful trades like embroidery, screen-printing and carpentry.”
Prajwala empowered Chinni by providing her with vocational training. With her newly-acquired skills, she has become an independent, self-supporting woman.
Recovered and reintegrated after her trafficking ordeal, she was married in 2009 and now has a beautiful six-month-old daughter, Pooja. With the assistance of CRS and Prajwala, she has finally achieved her original dream: a happy life.
* Names changed to protect identities.
Steve Cunliffe is a freelance writer working in India.
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