Girls saved from a life of hell

INDIA – IN A western Mumbai suburb stands a six-storey building that houses 100 girls, mostly minors, where they are given vocational training and psychological counselling. What makes these girls special is that all of them have been rescued from brothels across Maharashtra state.

Members of Rescue Foundation, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) in Kandivli, not only arranged to rescue them but also took them to the protective home. Now it is helping them rehabilitate, reintegrate with their families and live a life of dignity.

The majority of the girls – most of them are from different parts of India while some are from other countries – are recovering from the trauma of being forced into prostitution at a tender age.

Established in 2000 by the late Balkrishna Acharya, the foundation is now managed by his wife Triveni, a former journalist. On an average, it helps rescue 300 girls a year.

Said Ms Triveni, president of Rescue Foundation: “Although my husband used to informally rescue minor girls from Mumbai’s brothels since 1993 with the help of trusted informers, he established a small NGO named Maiti Nepal in association with a Nepal-based organisation in 1995. The NGO was renamed Rescue Foundation in 2000 when we formalised all our operations and also involved the police.”

She added that they track leads they get from the missing person’s records and, after verification, conduct rescue raids with the help of the police. The girls are then taken to the home, where they undergo a medical examination and follow a strict health regimen. Nearly 20 per cent of the girls they rescue are HIV positive and these girls are moved to a centre in Thane district.

Ms Triveni said 20 officers of the NGO keep tabs on the activities in the red light areas. “Helping our officers are several informers who pass on tips on minor girls being brought to brothels. Disguised as customers, our officers meet the girls and explain to them about the rescue operation,” she said.

About 80 per cent of the girls rescued by the NGO are minors but adult women willing to leave the brothels also get help to enter mainstream society.

Rescue Foundation, which has rescued more than 2,000 girls from brothels across Maharashtra so far, plans to open offices in New Delhi and Bhopal soon. Besides its head office, it has three protective homes – in Kandivli and a recovery centre in Thane, both with facilities to house 100, and another in Pune with a capacity of 50.

Ms Triveni said the girls’ trauma does not end once they are rescued: “This is when they face the question ‘now what?’.”

That’s where Rescue Foundation’s staff of 85 step in. Some of them are teachers who give the girls a crash course in Hindi, English and mathematics.

In three years, many of the girls can pass Class 10.

For legal reasons, after each rescue operation, the NGO registers a police complaint in which the rescued girls sign as witnesses. “The brothel keeper is generally arrested first, followed by its manager or owner. Their bail application is mostly rejected as most of those rescued are minors,” said Ms Trivedi.

She related the story of two 12-year-old girls recently rescued by Rescue Foundation: “The girls are still clueless about what happened. One of them knows she was kidnapped and sent to a godforsaken place; she has no idea what she would have gone through had she not been rescued.”

That was obvious when one of the girls told IANS: “I am looking forward to returning to my family. I don’t know why I am here.”

Another 15-year-old girl was elated when Ms Triveni told her that a court order had permitted her to go home, a remote village in West Bengal.

Five other girls got married in January and Ms Triveni, who is often addressed as “Maa” (mother) by these girls, was close to tears as she spoke about them. “I attended their weddings in Gujarat. We had arranged for their meetings with the prospective grooms and made them aware of the girls’ past. They were understanding,” she said.

Then she added: “Yes, we track their well-being, even after they are reintegrated with their families.”

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