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Here, take mine

Eye witness account written by a Freedom Firm social worker

As I stepped out of the remand home, I realized that I left my dupatta, (my scarf), somewhere in the building. I sent the group of westerners, who were visiting and had led the day's activities, on without me and I returned to find it. Dupattas are considered part of a woman's honor in India, laying cautiously or carelessly across one's neck or shoulders or chest as a distraction.

The girls greeted me enthusiastically as I re-entered the room to search for it. Their square living quarters have stained tiles on the floor and the large windows somehow don't allow much light in through the grills. Barren and stale, the room seemed lighter today and their voices rang out as they continued to interact joyously with each other after the group's departure. They rushed to help me, but it couldn't be found. Concerned that I don't darken the streets exposed, Pinky pulled off her orange, transparent scarf – one I had earlier complimented – and insisted I take it. I resisted for some time, but finally, I couldn't refuse when she said, “Take it and pray for me when you wear it.”

Pinky's parents are split up and live in different towns in Mumbai. Separation and divorce are much less common in India and can leave the family exposed. One week in September, Pinky, an only child, had gone from her mother's impoverished, box of a home to stay with her father for a time. Traveling on a bus one day across the city she realized that she was not heading in the direction that she needed to go. She couldn't quite figure out where she was in this city of eighteen million people and she began to cry. A boy a little older than herself, seeing her distress, came to sit beside her and insisted he would help her. He gave her something small to eat. She was flattered and excited by his kind attention. During the comforting conversation, she began to slip out of consciousness; Pinky awoke several hours later in an area completely unfamiliar to her and the boy was nowhere to be seen. With her beautiful open face, Pinky was a popular choice for the month to come.

Pinky was rescued after a month by Freedom Firm investigators from the busy and well-known redlight area of Pune. The first story that comes out in the police station on the night of a raid most often doesn't prove true in the end; the girls lie to the new set of strangers around them, confused about the need for the information and the ramifications of giving it. Pinky's story, on the other hand, has not changed.


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