On the occasion of the Fifth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols, taking place from 18 to 22 October 2010 at UNODC Headquarters, Vienna, our Office is publishing a series of stories related to human trafficking. The following story about Roshni, a 32 year old survivor of human trafficking, is the second in the series.

India: Community vigilance rescues Roshni

The story of a survivor of human trafficking

For Nadim, a poor carpenter from West Bengal state, 6th October 2010 marked the end of a grueling search for his sister Roshni, who had been kidnapped by traffickers on 17th July 2010.

Sitting in a small hotel room in the crowded Paharganj area of New Delhi with his mother and uncle, Nadim recounts a shocking tale of horror and despair. Roshni, a 32 year old woman, lived with her family nearly 35 kilometers away from her brother. She is a mother of 6 children. Her husband is unwell and cannot work. As the sole earning member of her family, Roshni earned money by doing odd jobs in the village. Three of her children were studying and living in a missionary hostel in a town close to the capital city of Kolkata. Roshni would often travel by the local train to visit them. During her visits, she befriended a woman who sympathized with her financial condition and promised her a job in a hospital as an attendant.

"I was dead against my sister working anywhere," says an angry Nadim. "I had told her that I would help her financially. On  18th  July I got a call from her saying that she had got a job and she would return after a week with 3500 rupees. I was furious on hearing this, but anyway waited for her return. When she did not come back, I did not know what to do. I filed complaints in the local police station, contacted various political figures, searched everywhere for her - but without any success" he says, showing all the papers he has meticulously filed over the past two months.

Roshni walks into the room as Nadim is talking, accompanied by a policewoman. She sits down and listens to her brother talk. Slowly she starts revealing her side of the story, "On 17th July I got a call from my friend saying that I should go and meet her immediately for the job. When I went to meet her, there were two women and a man waiting for me. They gave me some food, which was drugged and put me on a train. They forced me to call my brother and tell him that I had got a job. Since I was not fully conscious, I could not understand what was happening, where I was going, why I was on a train. All my protests were in vain. Two more men joined us on the way. They took away all my belongings - my mobile phone, my gold jewellery, my slippers... We finally reached Delhi and I stayed at someone's house for that night. The next day I was sold to a brothel."

Recounting her days at the brothel, Roshni continues, "I was trapped and helpless. I was beaten with a ladle when I refused to work as a prostitute. I told them that my father would kill me if I got into this profession. The lady there said that she had paid for me and so I can't refuse. I would often think of my children and cry and would again get beaten up for that". She shows the marks of injury on her hands.

Events took a sharp turn around end September when a local shopkeeper near the brothel sympathized with her plight. He offered to connect her to her brother through some people he knew in her village. Soon Roshni was in touch with Nadim through the shopkeeper's mobile phone. She says, "Suddenly I saw some hope. I tried to keep my eyes and ears open and give my brother an idea of my whereabouts"

Nadim adds on "First she said that that there was a police booth nearby. The next time she said that two girls had been rescued. I passed on this information to the police officers who were dealing with the case." With the help of this information and the internet, the West Bengal police pieced the evidence together, pinpointed Roshni's exact location and finally came to Delhi with Nadim and his mother. They got in touch with the local police station. On 6th October, the local police and Shakti Vahini, an NGO that works on human trafficking, rescued Roshni from the brothel.

Roshni stayed at a women's shelter home, while the paperwork in the police station was being completed. She was then picked up by her family and the West Bengal Police. They all left for their home on 8th October. In the interim, the counselors at Shakti Vahini provided her counseling. Shakti Vahini, through its network of NGOs in West Bengal, will provide her financial and legal support. While Roshni feels relieved to be rescued from the brothel, she also is worried about going back and facing her husband and in-laws. Nadim concludes by saying, "I have not been able to earn any money over the past two and a half months. We have sold our land and our belongings to come here. Today I am happy that I have finally found my sister. Nothing else matters".

Roshni is one of the few miraculous cases of escape, where luck and the vigilance of people came to her rescue. While she can probably look forward to a different life, there are numerous men, women and children across the globe, who are victims of human trafficking with no hope for the future. Many more are still vulnerable to being trafficked. The reasons for this are many - poverty and inequity, gender discrimination, lack of appropriate legislation and political will, restrictive immigration policies, globalization of the sex industry, and the involvement of transnational organized criminal networks.

As member states gather this week at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its Protocols at the UNODC Headquarters in Vienna, it serves as an urgent reminder for the global community to act in solidarity against this crime to ensure a world that is safer for millions like Roshni.

Shakti Vahini helps in the rescue and rehabilitation of survivors of human trafficking. They partner with non governmental organizations and the Government of India to highlight and address issues on human trafficking and HIV/AIDS. They are an active partner of the United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT).