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January Journeys : They Dream of Acquittals

“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream" Amos 5:24

I love the Bible for many things, not least because of its beautiful imagery. Let justice roll on like a river. I see in pictures and metaphors, and its easy to let my imagination go wild. I can see the river, bright and clean, tumbling over the rocks, saturating the dry thirsty land bringing truth and freedom, goodness, and yes, righting the world's wrongs.

Yet the truth is, the rivers that Justice travels here on earth are filthy with refuse and with unchecked pollution. Her skirts are stained with mud and with the underbelly of humanity, its waste and its deprivation. Greed and desire have rent holes in her cloak big enough to see those children of Dicken's Christmas Carol, one named “Want,” the other “Misery.”

We left the police station at 12:30 am, with the rescued girl, Kirti*, sitting side by side with the brothel keeper. I guess they slept right there that night. The next afternoon we headed over to the courts. The magistrate was scheduled to hear her case. We crowded into the courtroom. Narrow wooden benches stand a few rows deep, and Greg, Surendra and Jyoti, (a social work candidate for Freedom Firm) and I squeeze into the back row.

To my left is the pimp I saw last night at the police station. He is sitting close to a young man of surprisingly pale skin and recognition is instant. This must be Kirti's brother, the family resemblance is strong. Police sit in front of us and the brothel keeper is to our immediate right, in the farthest corner of the room. She still has her sari drawn far forward, completely covering her face. The material is thin and she can see out just fine. We just can't see in.

The space around the brothel-keeper is minimal. The three-foot aisle in front of her is flanked with the wooden benches on one side and a wall on the other side. We all turn to stare as men begin to pour into the courtroom and rush toward the brothel keeper. Into that crowded area, at least eight men are now shouting, calling, clambering over each other, trying to outdo each other, pressing around her, hovering over her, and plucking at her sleeves. Some are whining and wheedling in what they hope are persuasive tones, others are domineering, belittling, blustering, and antagonizing in an effort to cow her into accepting their services.

All want just one thing. These are the defense lawyers hoping to represent her in court, and as they scent the money that might be involved, they move in close and eager, hoping they'll be the lucky chosen one. On top of the normal lawyer fees there will be bribes. They dream of acquittals.

The noise is absurd. The scene is sordid. The men have uniformly long and greasy hair. Fingernails are uncut and dirty, faces slack with stubble and drink. Tobacco stained teeth, filthy clothes, derelict in the extreme, they behave like a pack of rabid dogs. They are the rabble, all vying for the privilege of representing the criminal.

Kirti, the rescued girl, is not here yet. I see the public prosecutor assigned to her. The space around her is as silent as death.

So this is the place where the river called Justice will roll? Beautiful Saviour, born into a stable? I can't imagine it anymore. This is a sewer, where pure water is poisoned quickly. We wait an hour and then two. I wander outside because I see a young worried woman who looks a lot like the victim, Kirti. I stand near her while she talks on her cell phone. It is Kirti's sister. The whole family is here. The brother, sitting with the pimp, the sister, agitated, and the brothel keeper, who everyone is openly suspecting is the mother of them all.

The story goes around quickly, the police lean backwards in their seats and talk to Jyoti confidentially. This family sends its women into prostitution; (the truth is, the whole village, a Bedia community, sends its women into prostitution). The sister was in a brothel first, but the family eventually called her to come back to their home village in Rajasthan to get married. So the younger sister, Kirti, was sent to the brothel to replace her.

The magistrate will not come today. No one knows why, but no one is surprised. The lawyers and police all get ready to go home. The lawyers slide out of the room, and we stand up stiff and cold and move out into the late afternoon January fog.

Greg and I have to head out of Allahabad now, onto Kolkata. We hear about Kirti through Surendra a week later. Kirti was found to be 17 years old. She had already been in the brothel a couple of years. The Child Welfare Committee sent her to a remand home outside of Agra, where she is today. Jyoti has joined Freedom Firm as the first social worker in Allahabad and we just heard the good news that she has permission from the government to visit Kirti in the remand home and begin counseling her and bringing her comfort. The brothel keeper is still in jail, her first application for bail was rejected.

As we leave the courthouse, Greg and I share a smile. There is a glimmer of hope in us that Kirti will choose another way. The night before, at the police station the City Superintendent had called us into his office. He brought in Kirti and seated her in the middle of us all. He kept the brothel keeper in a separate room. He spoke to Kirti for a long time, gently and persuasively. “If you had a choice to do another sort of job instead of this dirty work, would you choose something different?” Her eyes darted to us and back to the policeman. She paused, and said in her husky broken voice, a voice you cannot forget, “I would not do this work, I would choose another kind of work.”

Sweet music to my ears. Let Justice roll. Let the mighty river carry her to a land of milk and honey.


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