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Love, marriage and security are distant dreams for trafficked women or those forced into prostitution. Metro shares the stories of women who made a journey from despair to hope and a life worth living, with help from knights, not perhaps in shining armour, but with the courage to overcome stigma.

She ran away from an oppressive family, only to be sold off to a brothel in Mumbai. Nusrat, now Srishti, was lucky to be rescued from there and taught herself to be self-sufficient. Wife, mother and project co-ordinator with a rehabilitation centre, Nusrat’s is a tale of inspiration…

Nusrat was nine when she ran away from home and a conservative Muslim joint family in Howrah where girls weren’t allowed to read and write or step out of their home.

“I’d see my cousin brothers go to school but whenever I told my mother I wanted to study, she would hush me up. I wasn’t allowed to mix with Hindus and had to bathe five times if I did. I would always feel upset so one night I fled home and went to Howrah station,” recalls Nusrat, now 23.

The sleepy nine-year-old dozed off on a platform bench and woke up to find herself on a moving train. “A woman was sitting beside me and told me ‘don’t worry, I will take you to a place where you’ll be safe and also earn money’. So I went along with her.” Nusrat was brave enough to land up in Mumbai with a stranger but not old enough to realise that she had been sold to a red-light area in Chor Bazaar.

“I remember seeing a lot of women in pretty clothes standing along the stretch. I was taken into a house and kept inside a room hidden within walls where I found many little girls like me. We’d be given good food to eat, made to watch films and sometimes a doctor would come and check us,” says Nusrat. Although comfortable, she found it disturbing to watch the movies and being overfed. “Now I realise that those were blue films that we were made to watch and stuffed with food to make us fleshy.”

Nusrat had luck on her side when Mumbai’s police conducted a sudden raid on the traffickers’ den and rescued the girls. Nusrat returned to Calcutta and was put in the Liluah Home. “But my parents rejected me… they felt that for a girl once sold into a red-light area, there was no returning home,” says Nusrat. “I came of age by 13 and realised what it meant to be on your own.”

She moved from one shelter home to another and gradually worked towards empowering herself with education and dance.

“I wanted to do something that would be useful for me and for girls like me. So I became part of a rehabilitation centre and trained myself so that I could train others,” says Nusrat who also went in for a new name to go with her new identity when she turned 18. “Since my family had shunned me as a child, I did not want to keep my family name. I went to the Alipore court and got my name legally changed to Srishti.”

Like any other teenager, she fell in love with a boy who worked at a fast food shop next to her hostel. “I would visit his shop and we got talking, then one day he proposed to me,” said Srishti, a senior trainer and project co-ordinator with a rehabilitation centre.

Although honest about her background, Srishti didn’t want to emphasise her past for fear of another rejection. “I was afraid, so I lied to him about my name and my parents but he laughed and told me one day that he had found out everything about me and was ready to accept me for what I am.”

After two years of dating and setting up their own fast food eatery, they signed the marriage papers in 2009. “He did not hide anything from his parents either. Although hesitant at first, they finally approved.”

Srishti, who has a one-year-old son, says, “I’m very happy today and lucky because I’ve seen many survivors like me who don’t find a boy ready to marry them or a family that accepts them. The few that do are often subjected to taunts and torment. I hope that more girls find understanding men like my husband, who are willing to give innocent girls a fresh lease of life.”

Do you know of a woman whose life is a triumph against odds? Tell ttmetro@abpmail.com