Operation Rescue!

Sangita is Youth Facilitator (2017)
Read her earlier post
I want to share an adventure I recently had where I had to use my skills as a Social Investigator and Youth Facilitator in a very different context!

I had participated in a workshop on Human Trafficking at TF, conducted by an organisation that does Rescue Operations along with the Police. I learnt in a lot of detail about the familiar and yet horrifying ways in which women and children are regularly trafficked; attractive job offers, feigned love, false promise of marriage... eventually the girls and boys are trapped into sex work or child labour. They are not paid enough, not fed enough, and are abused physically and sexually if they protest.

Whenever the Rescue Team goes on an operation they need a few volunteers. I signed up as a Volunteer in September 2016. A day before the event I learnt that a minor girl would be rescued from a red-light area in North Kolkata. My job was to be a witness.

I would need to use all my skills of observation and listening, I would need to be alert and ready to run, so I was told to wear comfortable clothes and good shoes. I would need to be courageous. The operation could last for many hours and through the night. We were dealing with criminals, and had to be ready for a range of unpleasant possibilities. I'd need to recall what I'd witnessed many months later, when the case would appear before the court. Hearing about police, court, and all the risks, I couldn't help feeling a little scared. I told my family about it, they too were worried for me.

The day of the operation I reached the Rescue Office at 8.30 in the morning and saw Raj, another youth leader from TF who had also volunteered. I felt a little relieved to see him there. The rescue team explained the operation to us. I was assigned to observe the rescue spot, and note the things that might be found there as evidence, such as condoms or bottles of alcohol. The team’s advocate was a little hesitant to speak to me about condoms, but I was quite comfortable since we do so much work on sexuality. They also instructed me to not touch anything. I had only to point the items to police from a distance.

After the briefing, we went to the Police Head Quarters for the paperwork. An officer noted our profile information. We had been instructed by the Rescue Organization to give fake details for our own safety. From then on Raj and I had to act like strangers which made me a bit uncomfortable. Raj played the role of a customer.

There were two men in the car with me. My mind was playing tricks and I was suspicious of these men too. I felt like I was being trafficked myself! One of them, sitting in the back, was called to sit in the front with me. This was a bit frightening, as my mind was full of doubts. When we were near the location, I was ushered into another vehicle with the full team. The closer we got to the spot, the more nervous I felt.

Near the rescue spot, I saw the rest of the team with Raj. We waited inside the vehicle for the green signal from the other team. I noticed a bystander, a local guy, observing us for long time. One of our team members asked me not to look at him.

The green signal finally came; we moved out of the car with our faces covered. The girls at the brothel were frightened to see us arrive.

We found the girl we had come to rescue, sitting in a room with the fake customer from our team.

She told us that she wanted to escape from that place so she had saved some money. The Police found a condom, her bill and a diary from the room. They asked her questions about the Mashi (Mistress) of the brothel, and about the people who had brought her there. The traffickers were arrested and brought to police station.

The girl was with me in the car on our way to the Police Station. There, the Child Protection Officers noted her information. She was barely fifteen years old. She used to live with her mother, sister, and niece; her mother makes bidis. Once, after a fight with her mother, she'd run away from home and met this boy. The boy had promised her a job, brought her to the red-light area and sold her for a mere five thousand rupees ($75). The Mistress threatened her, saying she would be sent to another place and beaten up if she refused to become a sex worker. She was given only two meals every day.

While listening to her story, I felt her fear, sadness and anger. I realised how much bigger her challenges were than mine.

This whole experience opened my eyes to how vulnerable adolescent girls in our communities are. It started me thinking about how we could put in even more work to protect the girls in our YRCs.