Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mala's Story

The story of Mala (name changed) is of a nineteen and a half year old girl from Nanded, Maharashtra. Driven by social conditions and socialisation, her story is perhaps like that of many more young girls who are married off as children, face an abusive situation at their husband’s home and driven by torture, they leave home in a fit of anger.

Mala’s story brings out the harsh realities that make women and children vulnerable to trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. Married at 12, Sold for sex trade at almost 13, HIV positive at 13 and battling for life at 19 and a half, is the story of Mala.

Quote Unquote - Mala
(name changed)

I am Mala and this is my story.

At a time when girls my age are looking forward to a bright future, I lay battling for my life. I’ve seen it all before my 19th birthday - deceit, mental and physical abuse, HIV AIDS, and now I lie awaiting my death. I am not afraid of death now, but the fact that saddens me more is that I’m not the only victim in this situation. Mine is a common story. A story written by the very society we live in.

My parents belong to the Kaikadi community and we are considered as "untouchables". I was the youngest of seven siblings and was married off before my 12th birthday to one of my distant cousins. This was the beginning of an endless nightmare for me.

My husband was pressurised into marrying me, although he was in love with another girl, and so, I became the target of his frustration. He abused me. Unable to bear his aggression, I sought respite from the torture. My parents convinced me that the abuse was probably my karma, my destiny.

I tried to make a more sincere effort to change my karma. It was difficult to bear the harassment but I continued to suffer in silence, until one day I decided that I couldn’t bear the agony any more.

I left my husband’s home. I had nobody to turn to, no house to seek refuge, no support of any kind and no inkling of what the future held for me. All I knew was that I had to escape from that living hell.

I walked and walked for what seemed like an eternity. In my mind, I thought of ways and means to support myself. What I didn’t realise was that I would be an easy target for people who are on the constant lookout for vulnerable women and children like me.

As I rested for sometime at a government bus stand, I noticed the unwanted attention I was drawing and panicked. I boarded the first bus that arrived and reached Aurangabad in the middle of the night. Scared, I began looking for a place to rest. I was a little wary when a middle aged woman approached me but after some time I was comfortable and even accompanied her to her house.

She took care of me and gave me food. She also convinced me that she had a job for me in a another city. I accompanied her from Aurangabad and after several hours of train journey reached a station where we were received by a woman who took us to her house.

She was to be my employer and she told me to change from the saree that I was wearing into a salwar kameez. Thus attired, I was taken to a place an hour away in an autorickshaw. From the moment I reached there, I sensed that this place was different. Something was terribly wrong. I had reached G.B. Road – the infamous red light area of Delhi.

When I realised the situation I was in, I attempted to run away but I failed. I was locked up in a room for several days, kept hungry, beaten up and abused. Several days of torture broke my spirit and I gave up. From there on began an ordeal which made everything I had gone through before, pale in comparison.

I now entertained several customers daily. I found many girls from Maharashtra, especially from Latur in that brothel. We befriended each other and soon realised that all of us had a similar story to tell. We had all been duped and sold into the flesh trade. The abuse that we faced at the brothel was unbearable and I attempted to escape several times. I missed my mother a lot and wished that she would be there to comfort me. I wondered if I’d ever get out of this place alive.

Then one day came the turning point. The Police with a Delhi based NGO had raided the brothel (2000). I was rescued alongwith some other girls. I was placed in a Delhi based shelter-home for rehabilitation of trafficked survivors, where I received vocational training. After two years at this place I was entrusted to Save The Children India (STCI), Mumbai on December 14th 2002.

Between the period 2000 and 2004, 20 other trafficked survivors were transferred to STCI, Mumbai. In the meantime a medical examination revealed that I was HIV positive. Inspite of my deteriorating health, I am well looked after and I receive a lot of medical care and attention. STCI located my family and I was reunited with them after six long years. My family was very regretful that they did not support me when I most needed them.

My story is very different from what a lot of girls dream of when they are young but ironically it would be very similar to every girl’s nightmare. There are perhaps thousands of Malas' out in the world who are married off as children; face an abusive situation at their husband’s home and run away. Such girls very easily fall prey at the hands of traffickers.

I know that my end is near and it’s inevitable but all I wish for is that other "Malas" be saved.

Mala passed away on Jan 18, 2008