| Hillary Clinton leaves Victoria Memorial on Sunday evening. The green band on her left wrist (in circle), given to her at the anti-trafficking programme in ICCR earlier, read: “Cool Men Don’t Buy Sex”. Picture by Sanjoy Ghosh
To them, she was “US ka bahut bara neta….Bill Clinton ki biwi (a top leader of the US….Bill Clinton’s wife)”. To her, they were the faces of a movement close to her heart.
When Poonam Khatoon, 16, and Uma Das, 19, finally found themselves face to face with Hillary Clinton at the Rabindranath Tagore Centre of the ICCR on Sunday afternoon, all it needed was a smile to break down the barriers.
“Aami bhabtei parini onar shamne darate parbo. Uni amader lorai-tey shamil hoyechhen, sheta ekta boro byapar (I couldn’t imagine I would be standing in front of her. She has joined our crusade, that’s a big thing),” Uma told Metro of her meeting with the US secretary of state.
Community worker Uma and Poonam, a student of Class IX, are daughters of women in prostitution involved with Apne Aap Women Worldwide, a grassroots movement to end sex trafficking. The duo took turns escorting Hillary through a pictorial journey of a trafficked girl.
Poonam also displayed her karate skills during a show put up by various city-based NGOs.
The former First Lady watched rapt as a group of dancers moved in rhythmic motion towards her, singing Mousumi Bhowmik’s Aami shunechhi shedin tumi.
At the end of the performance, she burst into a spontaneous “Aaaah” and walked towards the dancers, clapping all the while.
“That was wonderful! I was in a trance for a while. How long did you take to learn that?” Hillary told the dancers, before shaking hands with each of them.
“I was so impressed! Loved your breathing...wonderful! So proud of you,” she kept repeating.
Hillary was then escorted towards the exhibition space, where alongside Apne Aap, the NGO Banglanatak had put up a patachitra scroll. The Sonagachhi-based group Sari Bari organised an audio-visual presentation to depict the scourge of trafficking.
In another room, the heads of nine NGOs were waiting their turn for a meeting with Hillary. “After her round of the stalls, I told her: ‘I am so glad you have come because it brings attention to an issue that is so invisible’. She immediately said: ‘That’s what I want to talk to you about, and let me see how I can get you more attention on this’,” said Apne Aap founder Ruchira Gupta, who moderated the discussion.
“She (Hillary) wanted to know how she could help and I told her: ‘By exerting more political pressure, speaking about it wherever you can and to remember this issue while working on defence and trade’. She was under the impression that the Immoral Traffic Prevention Law had changed (i.e. punishing the pimps and brothel owners and not the women), but we informed her that it hasn’t. She wanted to know who makes these changes and we told her it would have to be the Centre,” Gupta told Metro.
As she was leaving, Hillary told her and the rest of the group: “I am really proud of you. Don’t feel weary… I am totally your cheerleader; so continue what you are doing and I’ll stand by you.”
The secretary of state’s keepsake from the Sunday afternoon rendezvous was a green wristband with the words: “Cool Men Don’t Buy Sex”.
Hillary not only wore the band immediately, she insisted that members of her entourage sport one each as well. “She was also gifted a T-shirt that read: ‘Together we can end sex trafficking’. She wanted two because she wanted to gift one to Luis CdeBaca, who heads the Global Trafficking in Persons office in the US. She was happy that both were large sized!” smiled Gupta.
● That was wonderful! I was
in a trance for a while.
(After the dance performance by the Sanved girls)
● What can I do to help and bring more visibility to this issue? (On trafficking)
● I’m really proud of you. I’m totally your cheerleader so continue what you’re doing and I’ll stand by you. (To Ruchira Gupta and the NGO workers)