The Telegraph
Wednesday , June 26 , 2013
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Gold stud, biryani, freedom & a new life

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.

From child labour to abuse, traumatic marriage and domestic violence to life in a brothel, Farah, now Poulami, endured it all till one day her life changed dramatically...

Farah, a girl from Asansol, had never seen her father and her mother ran away when she was seven. She was left alone with her mother’s live-in partner who refused to take her responsibility and sent her to his sister’s home.

“I couldn’t go to school. They made me work all day. From going to the market to lighting the clay stove and cleaning the house, I had to do everything,” said Farah, who suffered it for three years till the man she called “uncle” started abusing her. “He would come to me every night and grope me. I didn’t understand what was happening but it didn’t feel right.”

One night when everyone was asleep, the 10-year-old slipped out of the house and made her way to the railway station. “I had travelled to Calcutta a few times with my mother and believed that every train was headed to Calcutta, so I just jumped in without checking.”

Farah did arrive in Calcutta with “faint memories of visiting the area around the Kalighat temple with my mother where I remembered seeing many women standing on the streets”. “I thought that was a place where girls lived,” said Farah, who went to every shop and every woman in the lane, pleading “Uncle, do you remember me? Aunty, I am Shahana’s daughter…. Please, will you let me stay?”

A woman named Maya took Farah to a shelter home, where she spent five years. She learnt to read and write and made friends but the possibility of freedom, choice and the need to get out of the confines of a shelter home prompted the 15-year-old to jump at the prospect of returning home when Maya came back to collect her.

“She took me to Diamond Harbour and got me married. My in-laws started abusing me for not having parents.” Grappling with daily abuse from an alcoholic husband and his family, Farah fled once more, this time with two baby daughters. She went to Maya, who kept her daughters but packed her off to Delhi to be sold to a brothel. “It was January, raids were on and since I looked like a minor, no one wanted to keep me.”

Back in Calcutta, Farah grabbed her daughters and fled to Howrah station where she lived for three months. “I went to the nearby cemetery for free meals before shifting to a footpath at Sovabazar. There I saw girls decked up in beautiful saris and make-up pacing up and down every evening.”

It didn’t take much for a penniless Farah to get lured into the shine and shimmer of a dark world that promised her a regular income, a place to stay and food to eat. Farah found her footing in the red-light area of Bowbazar where she couldn’t believe what she was earning. “I had never even seen Rs 10 as a child or after marriage and here I was, earning Rs 200 a day. I bought my daughters clothes for the first time.”

Three years later, Farah met the man who walked her out of misery. “I had been sent to a Haldia hotel to attend to customers when I met him. He kept coming back and asking for me. He wanted to know more about me and my life and within a few days he told me, ‘pack your bags, I have found a place for us… I will marry you’. He even took up the responsibility of my daughters,” smiles Farah, pointing at her gold nose stud, her husband’s first gift to her. “I wear this all the time.” Married for the last four years, Farah is now Poulami.

Sandeep, her husband who runs a sweet and garment shop, says, “I had never felt a mental connection with anyone like I did with her and that made me want to marry her. I was taken aback by the story of her past and realised that this is not the kind of work she deserved to do. This marriage has also changed me and I’m trying my best to give her a life of respect. The only people who matter, my aunt and sister, have accepted her because I explained to them that she was a victim of circumstances.”

Sandeep encouraged Poulami, now 26, to find her own vocation. She has been working in a manufacturer’s office, running errands. She saves her salary in bank. “I didn’t want her to sit at home. I wanted her to go out, meet people and get exposed to good culture and environment,” Sandeep said.

Their favourite together time? “Watching movies and eating biryani!” smiled Poulami. “Loke bole, erai ashol swami-stri…. Ami je ki shukhe achhi, ami bhabi eta aage keno holo na. (People say that’s a real couple. I am so happy, I keep thinking why didn’t this happen before?)”