India: Freedom Express

girl rescued from the brothels boards train to home

'Friday the thirteen' is often considered unlucky and a day shrouded under the shadow of bad omen. But, for 15 year old Kakoli*, last 13 August 2010, a Friday, was a landmark day, one of the luckiest of her life.  After waiting impatiently with her family at the busy New Delhi Railway Station, the 4:30 p.m. Purva Express took her back home and to freedom.

Kakoli is a survivor of human trafficking rescued recently by the Delhi Police and Shakti Vahini, a non profit organisation, from the largest 'red light' district in New Delhi, also known as the Garstin Bastion (G.B.) Road. UNODC met her at the railway station to learn about her real story - how she was trafficked to and treated at the brothels and about her miraculous escape.

"I am 15 years old and am from Sonapuri, West Bengal. My village is very close to the border area of Bangladesh. My childhood girl friend introduced me to her boy friend from the next village. He was fun and would treat us well. I began spending a lot of time with them. One day her boy friend took me alone for a picnic to another village. He kept insisting that my friend would arrive shortly. He offered me food that put me to sleep almost immediately. I would wake up from time to time feeling groggy, unable to speak and nauseous. I knew I was on a train but to where - I had no idea.

When I woke up it was night. The station was not familiar; strange language and people. My eyes were searching desperately for a known face or landmark. I finally read 'New Delhi' on a board. It is then I knew something was wrong. I first was hesitant to go with them, but it was safer to go along than be abandoned in an unknown place. They took me to a house and fed me something again that put me to sleep. Next day they took me to brothel 5211 in G.B. Road. I was told my girl friend is waiting there for me. When I saw so many young, decked up girls - I knew I was sold for prostitution.

I fought, screamed and tried to wriggle free. A fat lady dragged me inside and locked me in a dingy room. They beat me with a thick stick all over my body. My face was so bruised I could not recognize myself. I eventually resigned and started entertaining the customers. I lived in that cramped, dark place for a month. One of the regular customers grew very fond of me. He was caring and considerate and would often ask why I am sad. I told him my story and gave him the mobile number of my brother.

He happened to have a friend in the Delhi Police Crime Branch, who contacted my family. The Delhi Police Department informed Shakti Vahini. On 6 August 2010 at 4 p.m. police officials and outreach workers of Shakti Vahini, barged into the brothel. There was a lot of commotion. Then all of a sudden I saw my mother standing there. I ran out of my room screaming and embraced her!"

Mr. Rishi Kant, Chief Coordinator of Media Coalition and social worker with Shakti Vahini shares, this is a rare success story, but it is not an impossible one. Only in the last month, Shakti Vahini has rescued 44 victims of human trafficking from the New Delhi Railway Station.  To repeat such success stories, we need stronger collaboration between the central administration, state police department and the judiciary. In addition, there has to be inter-coordination between the Railway, Labour and Women and Child Development Ministries including the National Commission for Women and National Commission for Protection of Child Rights. Organizations like UNODC can bring these stakeholders together on a common platform and facilitate advocacy on trafficking in persons at the international level."

* name changed

Shakti Vahini helps in the rescue and rehabilitation of survivors of human trafficking.  Media Coalition is a forum comprising of 700 committed journalists, who use the media to partner with non governmental organizations and the Government of India to highlight and address issues on human trafficking and HIV and AIDS. Both organizations  are active partners of the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) that brings together stakeholders from allover the world to  prevent and combat human trafficking.