Thu, Jan 11, 2018 - Page 14 News List

Finding their voice

Trafficked Indian girls testify against abusers

By Anuradha Nagaraj  /  Thomson Reuters Foundation, Vijaywada, India

“The thought of standing up to the brothel owners and identifying the traffickers and brothel owner was very, very scary,” said Pinki, who goes by an alias.

“But I kept thinking that no one else should be in this situation. That gave me some courage to stand in court.”

Hiding herself in a burqa, she traveled twice to the court in Ballari to testify. Sitting in the same room as her abusers, separated only by a curtain, made her fearful, she recalled.

“The judge was a man and I remember breaking down as I told them about my days in the brothel,” she said.

“I remember asking him if they would be punished and he told me not to worry and tell the truth.”

Defense lawyers questioned why they were hiding in burqas, and what had brought them to Ballari, suggesting they were in the brothels of their own will.

But all of the young women stuck to their story, and told the truth, Pinki said.

The testimony of Pinki and 17 other Ballari survivors shut down an entire trafficking network, with the conviction of pimps, brothel owners, customers and traffickers, police said.

LOOKING AHEAD

Sometime last year, after the convictions, Pinki tore up a diary she had written for over a year to record her days at the Ballari brothel.

It had been a coping mechanism, but she suddenly felt she didn’t need to hang on to it.

“Until the verdict came, the girls and their families were worried and scared about their safety,” said Neepa Basu, a social worker with charity Justice and Care, that worked closely with the police on the Ballari case.

“The mother of the girl from Kolkata constantly tracked (progress in) the case because the traffickers’ family had threatened her. She was scared for her daughter’s safety.”

But sitting in the food court of a Kolkata mall, the high school student, who did not want to give her name, said she was not so scared anymore.

Instead she talked about coming top of the class in some of her recent tests, and how she is undecided about whether to become a policewoman or a social worker.

Pinki, on the other hand, is determined to expand her music repertoire. She now has another diary, full of movie songs she sings when her band is performing at weddings or other shows.

“I check for popular numbers on the Internet and then learn them,” she said. “I practice hard because the music sets me free.”

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