Komal belonged to a poor family. Her parents were labourers who provided for her and her three sisters with the daily wages they earned at a nearby construction site. Having seen them struggle for years, Komal wished she could help them by getting a job herself. So, when a neighbour promised her a well-paying job at a garment factory in Pune, she agreed readily. But upon arriving at the city, the young girl of twelve was sold off to a brothel.
Eight-year-old Sheru suffered a similar fate. He was brought to Bengaluru, along with several other children from a village in Maharashtra, with the promise of a job and education. But he was made to beg for money on the streets all day, every day.
This is the story of thousands of people who ache to leave their poverty-stricken circumstances behind and start anew in prosperous cities where opportunities seem boundless. In their desperation and naïveté, they fall into the wrong hands and end up in the mire of human trafficking. On the occasion of International Day against Human Trafficking, Soulveda delves into the lives of those who have survived such adversities and found themselves again.
Numerous organisations work tirelessly to rescue, rehabilitate and support helpless minors who are trapped in the web of this social evil.
Being subjected to the evils of human trafficking damages a person physically, emotionally and psychologically. But the curse of poverty keeps victims from making a run for it, as the need to survive in the world takes precedence over protecting one’s dignity. While life is a constant battle for such people, a fraction of them are fortunate to find a way out. Numerous organisations work tirelessly to rescue, rehabilitate and support helpless minors who are trapped in the web of this social evil. By empowering them psychologically, economically and socially, these activists hope to restore the survivors’ dignity and give them the respectful life they deserve.
Sunitha Krishnan is a mental health professional and co-founder of Prajwala, an anti-trafficking NGO based in Hyderabad. Having survived gang rape at the age of 15, she has now dedicated her life to rescuing and rehabilitating victims of sex trafficking. She observes, “The hardest thing to repair in victims of trafficking is their ability to trust again. The many layers of violation they suffer result in deep-seated psychological issues and, sometimes, even substance abuse.”
When left unaddressed, such issues of the mind can hold anyone back from living life to the fullest. After all, nobody can focus on getting an education or building a career while being tormented by complicated emotions and torturous memories. Explains, clinical psychologist Shivangi Dhaundiyal, “Victims of trauma often suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, what we shorten to PTSD. They have frequent flashbacks of the bad things that happened to them and relive the horror even when they are no longer in the unsafe zone.”
For the most part, education is the first step in setting these children on their path to a dignified life. A diploma or a degree can fetch them jobs and facilitate a sense of achievement.
Intensive counselling sure can help a victim of trafficking overcome the horrors of their past and adapt to a healthy, normal life. In the case of Devika, a 12-year-old inmate of the Prajwala shelter, it took over six months of de-addiction therapy and years of counselling to bring her out of her suffering. When she was four, she was repeatedly drugged and violated before being rescued and brought to the shelter. “It has been an uphill battle. But over the years, the girl has recovered miraculously. Last month, Devika passed an extremely challenging state-level exam and qualified to study at one of the best schools in Telangana,” says a proud Sunitha.
For the most part, education is the first step in setting these children on their path to a dignified life. A diploma or a degree can fetch them jobs and facilitate a sense of achievement. Once they learn to stand on their own two feet, their sense of self-worth can be restored. Isn’t that half the battle won?
Although, children with a background of abuse tend to have trouble concentrating in class. Creative activities like drawing, painting, making crafts or dancing can get the proverbial juices flowing and help them improve their ability to focus. Observes, Sonal Kapoor, founder-director of Delhi-based rescue organisation Protsahan India Foundation, “Alongside regular schooling, a little bit of art can go a long way in healing and empowering traumatised children. We have noticed that putting pen on paper to create intricate patterns, while listening to soothing music, has an incredibly calming effect on such children.”
Sometimes, rehabilitation can do more than heal. It can inspire. Take Feroza, for instance. The 15-year-old at Protsahan had suffered abuse at the hands of her family members. On her journey to recovery, she developed a flair for photography and it gave her a purpose in life. Today, she trains under a professional wedding photographer and brings home a pay cheque after every assignment. Feroza sure is an epitome of strength and a role model for others who have suffered similar trauma.
Cases like these strengthen our belief in the resilience of humankind. Our efforts to restore survivors to normalcy can go a long way, if we view them as people with potential, rather than as victims of trafficking. They don’t need pity, only our support. With sheer resilience and courage, they can indeed turn their trauma into stepping stones towards a life of dignity.
*A few names have been changed.