22 July 2019 started out like any other day. I filled my reports, prepared for the week’s activities and caught up with my colleagues. At 11 am our investigator called the office and told us that he had spotted a minor girl at Gautam Nagar’s red-light area in Chandrapur, Maharashtra. After we collected the information from our investigator, three of us from Freedom Firm drove to the police station in Chandrapur (a three-hour drive) to report our findings.
When we reached the police station, we met with the Superintendent of Police, SP, and provided him with a rescue letter that contained information about the suspected minor girl. Now that he had evidence, he would inform the crime branch which worked out of the same police station. The Freedom Firm team would join the anti-human trafficking unit and we would conduct the rescue operation together.
We waited at the crime branch of the police station for the investigator to call us when he spotted the minor girl again. By 5.30 pm our investigator had still not spotted the minor girl or the brothel keeper in the red light area. After waiting for a few more hours, the rescue was pushed to the next day.
The next morning as soon as our investigator called to inform us that both the minor girl and brothel keeper had resurfaced the Freedom Firm team went back to the crime branch. We met the same inspector that we had met the previous day. This morning he wasn’t able to assist us as he was tied up in a court case. He directed us to the city police station. This development was definitely a concern because in a few earlier rescues someone from the police station had alerted the brothel about the upcoming raid and when we reached the brothel there were no minor girls in the brothel. Since I couldn’t say or do anything about this, I hoped and prayed that everything would fall into place and that the rescue would be successful.
We met the inspector at the city police station. This inspector was busy till 3:30 pm and asked us to come after that. We went back to the police station at 3:40 pm and waited for our investigator to call again. He called at 5:15 pm. He had spotted the brothel keeper and the minor girl. Our team wanted to leave right away but the inspector said that it wouldn’t be possible to conduct the raid as the Panch witness (a respectable person from the area that would be an objective witness during the rescue) would take time to reach the location. So once again we were asked to come the next day. The three of us from Freedom Firm returned back to the motel where we were staying and tried hard not to let the delay discourage us.
At 10 am the next morning once again we made our way to the police station. We waited for our investigator to call. At 1:30 pm, he called us. Both the minor girl and brothel keeper were at the location. Thankfully today everyone who needed to be there for the raid was present. At 3 pm, a team of 10 of us left to the brothel in Gautam Nagar; three female and four male officers from the anti-trafficking unit and three of us from Freedom Firm. We travelled discreetly on motorcycles and in a car.
Once the rescue was underway, everything happened so fast. The anti-trafficking unit and Freedom Firm team entered the brothel. The brothel in question was a shed that housed a few rooms all covered with tin sheets. It was filthy. Our search led us to the minor girl we were tracking, three female sex workers whose ages we would only be able to determine later, and the brothel keeper a woman who appeared to be in her mid-forties.
The rescue was successful. The rescued girls, the brothel keeper, the anti-trafficking unit and our team headed back to the police station in Chandrapur.
“Don’t worry girls, I am not going anywhere” assures social worker Rupeli (in blue)
I sat with the girls in a vehicle; they were quiet and looked calm. I kept assuring them that they were safe now. I switched from rescue worker to aftercare worker. I started building a relationship with them and encouraged them to give correct information to the police on everything that happened to them thus far – where they were from and when and for how long they were at the brothel. The First Information Report, FIR, was filed successfully. Two of us from Freedom Firm stayed in the police station right till 10 pm to ensure that all the information was filed correctly. The brothel keeper was sent to a cell in the police station. I accompanied the girls for their medical test. The inspector gave us a request letter to produce at the Stri- Aadhar Kendra girl’s shelter home in Chandrapur where the rescued girls would be spending the night. I spent the night with them at the shelter so that they wouldn’t feel abandoned or alone.
I didn’t sleep much that night. I couldn’t help thinking about how chaotic the last three days were. But the girls were safe and freed from a life of sexual slavery thanks to the efforts of everyone involved in the raid. Right now I am happy and content with the world. Tomorrow I will focus on finding other young girls trapped in brothels that are waiting to be rescued.