Updated: Sep 8, 2020
“But it seems to me that to put one's self in the second place is the whole significance of our life.” (On the Eve, Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev)
We are sitting in the Rs. 600 ($9) a day room the investigators are sharing. It's early January in Allahabad and we are far north enough in India for it to really feel like winter. A thick white fog blankets the city outside. The hotel room has paint peeling from the walls and it is not heated. I huddle down inside my layers and listen to the talk. Its the first time ever, in fifteen years that I get to be a part of the planning of an imminent raid. I also desperately want to go on it, but I am not sure the police will allow that. I am along to see Greg's world of investigation and rescue, and I am thrilled to be included. A mouse scuttles across the floor.
We could have been lucky enough to have the room next door to the operatives, but I think when Greg saw my look of horror at the dirty floors, dirty bathroom and well, dirty everything, he had mercy and took the $20 room on the 4th floor, complete with two sheets instead of one, and most coveted, a tiny space heater that we never turned off the whole time we were there, whether we were in the room or not. We paid the difference out of our personal money. Well worth it, I think.
Greg rolls his eyes, and I wonder if he is regretting bringing me along. I remind myself to focus on what matters. The four investigators sit on the bed with a laptop open. Quickly they show a couple stills taken from the undercover watch camera worn by our investigators. One girl is plump and very pretty. The other, in another brothel, is dark-haired and beautiful too. Both are young. We decide the main target for the upcoming raid will be the first girl. Both need to be rescued, but we can only choose one.
Greg is training a couple of the operatives who are fairly new to Freedom Firm. Once the decision is made about our target girl, he switches gears to some big picture goals for the year. “This year our goal is 18 successful raids in a total of five or six cities.” Greg knows better than anyone that an average of 1.5 raids turns into a success. The investigators have to travel to distant cities at least once a month. So a raid away, a raid at home. That's 2 attempts per month.
The tiny mouse moves closer and pauses to have a good look at me. I want to scream and stand on a chair, but I hold back. We are in a serious meeting, and these guys are used to mice, I realize, because no one seems to notice except me.
Greg asks, “When do you think we should go to the police?” Suresh*, the team leader says we should go tonight. “We can't delay, we need to go right away because the police may not be free to help immediately. If we want success by the end of the week, we start now.” Suresh is full of energy. He is a natural leader, takes initiative and has a clear plan of how things should take place.
He picks up the phone and dials the additional superintendent of police. He is out of town, so we think of a different strategy. He calls again and asks the superintendent to call his junior and give him directives, which he agrees to do.
Suresh pulls out a hand-sketched map of the red-light area in Allahabad. The Muslim call to prayer rings through the windows of our little meeting room as we pour over the map. There are three main lanes of brothels. He shows us where the nearest police station is located. It's just 200 meters from the closest brothel. Child prostitution in the literal shadow of the police station. We drink cups of steaming tea and try to stay warm.
We discuss the pros and cons of mass raids. The police in Nagpur have asked Freedom Firm to assist them to do a mass raid. Greg and Suresh frown. I can see no one wants to do this. I am curious. This seems like a great opportunity! Why don't the investigators want to rescue lots of girls at once?
Greg says, “It's the lack of available manpower to cover all the bases. You need huge numbers of police on the raid plus lots of our staff and then continued large numbers of staff to do all the follow-up. Girls are more likely to be released after the raid because the government home infrastructure just can't handle large numbers. Its an overload to the system, and the legal work, and ultimate care of the girl suffers as a result.”
In the same breath, he says that we will certainly do the large raid in Nagpur, to help the police when they ask for it, whether we think its the most effective method or not. They begin to plan for the mass raid. I can tell the investigators are still excited about the possibility. Sheer numbers excite and motivate whether its prudent or not.
Greg begins the orientation of our new young men. Their English is broken but they understand a lot. Greg makes it clear. “If you are a witness in the FIR (First Information Report) that gets filed when a girl is rescued, whether you are working for FF or not, your duty is to the court, and you must testify when the case comes to trial.” Kiran*, our investigator who has been with us for 6 years now, translates and they ask questions, clarifying their doubts and each sign the “Witness Understanding” document. He goes over the employment manual with each man. He goes over their job descriptions. Now they know their rights, and they know what we expect.
I ask Kiran on the way to the police station, “Are you nervous?” He smiles and chuckles a little. “I am always scared,” he shrugs his shoulders, “but after 6 years it's normal. Its what we expect.” There is a complete acceptance of his work on his honest and earnest face. His eyes twinkle, and I know how excited he is about the raid, and I know the work has not grown old for him. We move quickly now, the police have called us, and its time to do the raid....
(to be continued next week!)