A girl, rescued from a Sonagachhi brothel in central Kolkata at 13 years, applied for victim compensation when she was 15.
A court ordered a compensation of Rs 9 lakh when she was 17. The girl, now 19, finally got the money on Monday, six years after she landed in the red-light district in Kolkata from Odisha.
Now, she learns to stitch fabric and wants to own her own unit one day. Since her rescue, she has been living in a shelter home. The girl lost her parents as a child. She worked at a brick kiln in Odisha before being trafficked.
Her long struggle to get the money encapsulates the arduous journeys that many trafficking survivors have to undertake. Being free from traffickers is only half the battle won. The long road to justice in court, of which compensation is only a part, is riddled with obstacles.
On June 24, Calcutta High Court directed the West Bengal government and the state legal services authority to file reports on the process of disbursement of compensation to survivors of human trafficking.
The order came on a batch of petitions by survivors alleging delay in receiving compensation. The apparent reason cited for the non-disbursal of payment was a lack of funds with the state legal services authority (SLSA), the custodians of the corpus created by the government for disbursal of funds under the victim compensation scheme.
An official of the SLSA told The Telegraph: “We recently got a sum of Rs 2 crore from the state government. We have disbursed all of the money in compensation serially, according to the waiting list. The Rs 9-lakh claim was settled in that lot. Now, our balance is back to zero.”
In the Odisha girl’s case, the trial is yet to begin in the Pocso (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) court.
“We filed the application for compensation in February 2019. The order came in November 2020. Her age, the delay in trial and the medical examination proving she was subjected to rape and sexual assault led to the order,” said her advocate, Joanna Shireen Sarkar, who had filed the compensation claim before the Kolkata district legal services authority.
“But an order is one thing and its execution another. The public justice system must adopt a survivor-centric approach in all cases involving sex trafficking and sexual violence, as expeditiously as possible,” said Sarkar, who has been relentless in pursuing the case.
The girl, in her initial years at the shelter home, would find the going very hard, said Sarkar. “On weekends, she would see parents of other children calling or visiting the shelter. That made her more depressed,” said Sarkar.
But thanks to her counsellor and the staff of the home, the girl is much more cheerful now. “She calls the staff her family. But she also dreams of building her own home,” said Sarkar.
Many survivors have the same or similar dreams but are yet to find the means to achieve them.
A survivor from North 24-Parganas had a compensation order passed in February 2021. The order awarded her Rs 4.5 lakh. But she is yet to get the money.
The 22-year-old, a minor when she was rescued from Ahmedabad, is trying hard to lead a life of dignity and financial independence. The woman now lives with her husband and a three-year-old son. Two years ago, she had started making, and selling, phenyl. “I want to use the money to scale up my business and for my child's education,” said the woman.