On 31st January, Laxmi Bhimsingh Tamang, a brothel keeper involved in the trafficking and forced prostitution of Seema* and another Bengali girl was sentenced to 3 years rigorous imprisonment by the Additional Sessions Judge in Pune.
Seema was trafficked from Bangladesh to India and sold into prostitution in her early teens. On March 2016, Freedom Firm found and rescued Seema in a brothel in Budhwarpet, Pune. After the rescue, she was placed in a government remand home. A few days later, forty girls in the home broke the lock and escaped.
Only Seema decided to stay. For a year, she actively took part in activities organized by the home and welcomed counselling by Freedom Firm social workers. Through a growing relationship of trust, they prepared her for testifying in court.
Meanwhile, Laxmi was arrested and her appeal for bail was rejected twice by the Pune sessions court. She remained in jail for eight months, from March 2016 to November 2016, until the Bombay High Court finally granted her bail for medical reasons.
In April 2017, a year after her rescue, Seema was summoned to testify. She testified so boldly that at the end of her testimony the public prosecutor said the case would definitely result in a conviction. She was repatriated to Bangladesh in May 2017. The court called Freedom Firm staff who were witnesses to the rescue, to testify in May 2017.
However, the defence lawyer delayed proceedings for over a year. Finally, staff testified in September 2018. Laxmi paid her lawyer to get bail, delay proceedings and to avoid jail time. Usually, in trafficking-related cases, 8-10 witnesses are called to testify in court, but in this case, only 5 witnesses were called to testify because of Seema’s strong statement.
Four years after her arrest, Laxmi was finally convicted under 2 sections of the Indian Penal Code(IPC) and 4 sections of the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) to a maximum of 3 years rigorous imprisonment which includes hard labour. She was shown leniency by the court because of her family dependents and because of her terminal illness.
Laxmi’s conviction has sent a strong message to the trafficking community that buying and selling minors for sex has an enormous cost. Today, safe in a home in Bangladesh, Seema knows that her brave testimony and unflinching pursuit of truth has succeeded in a measure of justice.
*Name changed to protect identity