Sisters Renu (18) and Seema (10)* lived in a village in Howrah, West Bengal with their parents. As the elder sister, it was Renu’s responsibility to accompany Seema to and from school. Their parents worked as daily wage laborers but understood the value of education and worked hard to ensure their daughters attended school. Unfortunately, in March 2020, due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the country went into complete lockdown. As a result, factories, workplaces, businesses and all educational institutions were closed. The sisters dropped out of school as they did not have the means to attend classes virtually. They looked for work to help provide for their family instead.
After two months of searching, Renu finally found work at a fish market where she helped cut, clean and carry fish to the street vendors. Seema also began working at the market. She carried the fish while Renu shelled lobster and shrimp. For over five months the girls worked for long hours each day with little compensation.
In November 2020, as Renu was sorting the catch for the day, she was approached by Sonia (an acquaintance who also worked shifts at the fish market). Sonia offered Renu an opportunity to work in a nearby saree factory which offered better pay and required less manual labor. Renu accepted the offer in hopes of eventually saving up enough money to rejoin school. Sonia took the sisters to the bus station where they boarded a bus that took them across the border to Siwan in the state of Bihar, India. Upon arrival, they were taken to a house where approximately 10 girls aged between 10-26 were residing.
Over the next couple of days, Sonia taught the girls certain dance moves at which point Renu realised that they were now a part of a “dance orchestra” for entertaining men. Girls unable to perform the dances were verbally and physically abused by Sonia and her husband Rohit. One of the girls in the house devised a plan to run away. She lied to Sonia about being pregnant and said she needed to return home. To ensure her ultimate return to Siwan, Rohit ordered Renu to accompany the girl, believing that Renu would never abandon her sister Seema. However, once Renu reached home, due to her traumatization, she never spoke of the orchestra to her parents.
Seema, meanwhile, along with the other girls were made to dance at various functions primarily for men. At the end of these performances, inebriated men picked girls that they would sexually abuse. Rohit would make all the arrangements for which he was paid directly by these men. Seema was confined to the house and only allowed out during performances. Sonia kept a close eye on her daily activities to ensure she did not try to escape. The future looked bleak and uncertain for Seema who was slowly coming to terms with the fact that she may never see her family again.
Based on evidence collected by local partner NGOs, in January of 2021, a rescue team consisting of JVI staff, local administration and police raided the facility where Seema and the other girls were staying. While JVI staff secured seven victims from the facility, police officers apprehended the dance orchestra owner. Aftercare staff escorted the survivors to a nearby hospital where they underwent routine medical check-ups. The Child Welfare Committee then passed orders to transfer them to an aftercare home. The accused were taken to a police station where JVI lawyers assisted the officials in filing the official police complaint under relevant sections of the law.
Seema is currently in the aftercare home where she will receive support until she goes before a district judge to give her statement. In addition to ensuring her access to various central and state compensation benefits, JVI’s Aftercare team reached out to Seema’s parents who will travel to Siwan to bring her home. Over the next two years, JVI staff will remain in touch with Renu and Seema to ensure they have access to education and are safe from traffickers.
*names changed to protect confidentiality