Changing the System in Allahabad
“In the court, they laughed at us, argued we should have no basis to speak, and even threatened our team.” Evan Henck, Regional Director, Freedom Firm.
Freedom Firm’s first rescue in Allahabad really surprised us. We had been expecting to encounter significant opposition to the rescue and protection of minor girls. But actually after Kirti* was rescued in January, she remained in protective custody and the brothel keeper remained behind bars for more than three months. In some ways, we were lulled into a sense of comfort and confidence. Then, in April we learned that it was premature.
It took over two months to accomplish the second rescue in Allahabad; and that despite having a letter in hand from the most senior police in the capital city. When the girls were finally rescued, we assumed the procedure would go along the lines of Kirti’s rescue. Instead, the girls were kept in the police station for 6 nights, in violation of well established rules, and then released to relatives.
When our team returned for rescue in May, we were sobered and ready. The police also seemed to have learned a bit. They responded quickly. Perhaps they knew we were serious about rescue. Three girls were rescued, but again kept in the police station. By this time, our legal team had identified a new local advocate who was willing to fight alongside us. He and his team approached the court repeatedly, over the course of a week, with application after application seeking to protect the girls. We wanted them released from the police station and put in a shelter home. We wanted an inquiry conducted into their family and history. When their medical results gave their age above 18, we wanted them retested.
As we fought day after day in the court, more supporters from the red-light area came as well. They found advocates. In the court, they laughed at us, argued we should have no basis to speak, and even threatened our team. Five men followed our staff around Allahabad for five days. Back in the court, the Chief Judicial Magistrate must have got tired of having pressure from both sides, so he simply transferred the case to another judge.
The new judge, a woman, was patient, understanding, and considerate of the girls. Still, we worried she might be pressured to release them. One of our local advocates stood outside her office until she finished her order to ensure that the brothel keepers could not meet her without being seen. They didn’t show their faces and the judge ordered that the girls be sent to a shelter home. A panel of five persons has been called to make recommendations on the girls’ care and protection. There is more work to be done but we are happy to be fighting for these girls.
*Name changed to protect identity