Hoping for a life beyond the brothel

Monday, May 21, 2018
hoping for a life beyond the brothel

When on a July morning eight years back, 20-year-old Shivani took a train from  Howrah junction to Mumbai, she thought she was headed for a whole new life.

She was leaving behind an abusive marriage of six years, and a miserable life as a daily wage labourer in a small village not far from Kolkata.

A woman from her village had promised her a better job at her brother's place in Mumbai. A better earning in Mumbai also meant education for her three-years-old son. She was excited when she undertook the longest ever train journey of her life.

Twenty- four hours later, when she reached Mumbai, she felt drowsy. It was night and the streets were still bustling with people. While walking on those unfamiliar roads, Shivani recalled her dark life—marriage at 13; a mother at 16; regular beatings at the hands of her husband; fleeing home to be a daily wage labourer.

Now , she was relieved she had left all that behind. It was the beginning of a new journey—or so she thought.  

The woman from her village took her to a big house in Mumbai a day later and asked her to take rest till the evening. "She told her brother and his wife were out of the city and would return in the evening. That's my work will start, " recalls Shivani.  

Little did she know that she had been sold at a brothel in Kamathipura, the red light district of the city.

In the evening when a man entered her room and asked her to bare herself, she realized what had happened to her. She resisted, cried, shouted for help but to no avail. "There were guards outside the room who beat me up when I cried for help. I almost died that day. In the morning, this woman told me that she was taking my son along with her to the village," she says.
Shivani was shocked. She had come to Mumbai for her son's better future and he was snatched away from her. She could bear anything, but not losing her son. “He was the reason I was still breathing,” she says.  

She had to somehow escape from the brothel to get her son back.

But , as it turned out, it was not easy. She was caged and abused in that room for the next four months. But all that while her only focus was to find an escape route from that house—and, finally,  one morning she did.

"I found out that the house had a secret exit where they used to hide new girls from the police. I didn't even know Hindi at that time. I got a taxi right outside the gate of the house and asked the driver, in Bengali,  to take me to a train station. I don't know how he understood where I wanted to go," she says, her voice quivering.

She managed to get on a train to Kolkata and reached her village. But the woman who had taken her son got the information about her running away and hid her son.

She forced Shivani to return to Kamathipura.

The failure to get her son back was devastating. But Shivani could not lose hope. She tried to make a few friends at the brothel and win the confidence of the owner. As they became a little lenient with her, she fled again. This time , at her village, she told the villagers her maternal uncle was about to die and she wanted to see her one last time. “In front of the villagers, the woman could not do much and gave me my son," she says.

But Shivani could not live in the village and had no option but to return to Mumbai—and to the Kamathipura. During her days at the brothel, some women told her about the boarding school run by Prerena, an NGO working to help children of the victims of sex slavery.

Her son is 12 now, and is very bright in studies and extra-curricular activities. He has been selected for a singing competition to be held in Canada. And Shivani is busy preparing for his passport and visa. "He has an idea what I went through but he doesn't ask me questions. He concentrates on his studies and I can't ask for more," she says smiling. “I am hopeful once again.” 

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