Carulata* came from a religious system of prostitution called Devadasi. Traditionally, girls trapped in this system are dedicated to a god and sexually service the priests and others at a local temple from a young age. Being born a “devadasi” means you are made to do the same sex work as your mother and aunts. Carulata's destiny, it appeared, was to live the life of one of these girls.
Freedom Firm rescued 16-year-old Carulata in 2007 from a brothel in Sangli, Maharashtra. She was a tiny, sweet, and shy girl. The first time I saw her, she was hiding behind a group of girls who were enjoying a dance session with some foreign visitors in a girls' home in Mumbai. She smiled at me and again hid behind the group. She avoided talking to me initially but soon we became friends as we began to meet regularly.
Soon after being rescued, Carulata completed her training and got a job in a beauty parlor. But she was not used to the long hours, got burnt out at her work, and desperately wanted to go back home. By then she was eighteen, so we arranged a visit for her, but with a sense of concern. She was on the right track in Mumbai with her new job and people to support her. These would not necessarily be available to her back home. The day she left I was not sure if it was for a vacation or forever. From her hard-earned money, she took ten thousand rupees to deposit in the bank in her village in Karnataka. I was certain of her destiny if she decided to stay back in her village, but at the same time, I could not force her to return to Mumbai.
I accompanied Carulata, and after a full day's journey on a bus, we reached her village. She was anxious about how her community would react to her return, but at the same time, proud of how well she was doing. They did not know about her time in the brothel, so there was a good chance her family would accept her back with open arms. She held my hand tight as we walked down the street that led to her home. She showed me how the face of her village had changed from what she remembered. As people stared at us, her grip became tighter until we reached her home. There, after all the anticipation, her whole extended family came out to meet her. The reunion was beautiful. She was in tears, so glad to be back with them. We had lunch together and then walked to the bank to deposit her money. Her mother and aunt were grateful and proud of Carulata.
With carefully chosen words, I told her family how good it would be for Carulata, and for the family, if she continued to earn a living in Mumbai. They agreed and were happy with the idea.
Although her trip home was better than she could have hoped for, Carulata returned to Mumbai and to her work several days earlier than planned. Her renewed excitement for work was a good sign, and I was particularly amazed as I had wondered if she would return at all. To this day, she is doing very well. Her commitment to earn a living and maintain her health continues to help her. She is becoming such a strong young woman.
This eye witness account was written by Freedom Firm Social Worker Amee Christian. Amee works in Mumbai and the surrounding area with girls rescued by Freedom Firm that are learning, like Carulata, how to stand on their own two feet, earn a living, and live whole lives, free from the bondage that once held them.
*name changed to protect identity