At 17, Suhani was already a widow and mother of five. Life had been a struggle for Suhani – an arranged marriage when she was a mere child, and then the compounding demands of raising five of her own children while living with a husband who was developing an increasingly serious alcohol problem. When her husband died unexpectedly, she was faced with a situation almost too difficult to bear.
Suhani had been left penniless, with no means to support herself and her children. She returned to her parents’ farm in rural Bihar. With six additional mouths to feed, the family was not able to sustain itself and quickly ran into a financial crisis. Suhani was not able to find a job locally that paid enough to support her children. Fearing for her children’s future, Suhani made the difficult decision to leave her children with her parents and travel alone to Delhi, a city where she knew no one, to search for work as a domestic servant.
A decision that she would later regret.
Suhani left for the railway station, planning to board a train to Delhi. While waiting for the train, Suhani was approached by a man who engaged her in conversation and appeared to be sympathetic to her plight, offering to help by accompanying her to Delhi. Unable to read, Suhani had no idea that he had actually lured her onto another train, heading in the opposite direction to West Bengal. Only after they arrived and Suhani had been turned over to a brothel owner did she realize what had happened.
Suhani was shocked and refused to cooperate. She would not willingly allow herself to be prostituted. The brothel owner grew irritated with Suhani’s reluctance and turned to physical violence.
Eventually Suhani was forced into compliance, providing sexual services against her will. Every day brought a new round of customers. Despite being raped multiple times a day, Suhani received no wages from the brothel owner, or even payments from customers, who were instructed to give all payments directly to the brothel madam. For Suhani, the months spent in that brothel felt like an eternity. Suhani was in a miserable and desperate situation with no one to turn to for help.
Working through its network of partners, JVI uncovered Suhani’s situation and a rescue was planned. In September 2018, a rescue team of JVI and its partners, Freedom Firm and SPMUS, together with local police raided the brothel and rescued Suhani and six other minor girls. Police arrested eleven perpetrators and shut down the brothel, sealing the building to prevent re-entry.
Following the rescue, JVI and Freedom Firm aftercare staff provided counseling to the survivors, guiding them through the next steps they would take. The survivors’ statements were recorded and they were taken to a shelter home.
The JVI legal team ensured that a formal police report was filed asserting violations of the Indian Penal Code, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act and the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act. JVI’s legal team will continue to work with the police and prosecutors to hold the brothel owners and traffickers accountable.
JVI aftercare partners will work with Suhani to develop a plan where she can move forward and build a more stable life, with opportunities for healing, learning and providing for her family. For the next 24 months, JVI and its partners will work with Suhani and all of the survivors to ensure their sustained freedom and restoration.
*Name changed to protect identity of the victim and family
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