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Looking for Love

Padma, from Kolkata, eloped with her teenaged boyfriend when she was only 16. Their wedded bliss lasted 8 months and after several fights, Padma returned to her parents’ house. Padma started working in a neighbor’s shop where she stitched curtains.

In May 2020, during the COVID lockdown, she got a friend request on social media from a man who first used a pseudonym, but later turned out to be called Vinay. One look at his dashing profile picture and Padma already had stars in her eyes. Vinay complimented Padma’s good looks and the videos she uploaded on a popular video channel. The flirtatious friendship soon took on a more serious tone; Vinay wanted to marry her! Less than 2 months after Vinay's first friend request, Padma left home once again, sure this time she had found the real thing.

Padma was supposed to meet Vinay at Kolkata’s Howrah Station. She spent the entire day searching for him in the throng of commuters. When he didn’t turn up, she used all the savings she had earned from her stitching job, and booked a hotel room close to the station.

At 1am, Vinay finally showed up on his motorcycle. Padma jumped on the back, and they traveled 1900 kilometers to Pune, only stopping for meals and restroom breaks during the five day trip. When they finally arrived in Pune, Vinay rented a room and smeared some sindoor (red powder) on Padma’s forehead. Padma accepted this gesture as a sign of his commitment to their marriage. He explained that he wouldn’t take her to meet his parents, because they would not accept a Bengali daughter-in-law.

A few days later, Padma discovered pictures on social media of Vinay with a young woman and a child . When she asked about them, he said that the woman was his wife and the girl, his daughter. This started a huge fight which ended with Vinay beating Padma. Later that week, Vinay returned home intoxicated and whipped Padma severely with his belt. Padma called her parents to tell them she wanted to come home, but Vinay snatched away her phone. He used her SIM card to upload compromising pictures and videos of Padma on her social media page. Vinay threatened to release more of their explicit love making videos if she didn’t listen to him. She felt totally humiliated and unable to return home, thinking her ex-husband, friends and neighbors in Kolkata had probably seen her pictures.

Then Vinay told Padma that she needed to earn money as a prostitute. He took her to Pune’s oldest red light area, Budhwar Peth, and introduced Padma to an agent who congratulated Vinay on bringing a “good girl. To avoid frequent raids in the red light area, the agent recommended that Padma service customers in a hotel nearby. Desperate to return home, Padma called her parents and pleaded with them to do something. Once again, Vinay discovered the phone call and threatened to release her videos. Padma felt doomed. Vinay beat her regularly. She had no way to escape. But while Padma's hope was fading, Freedom Firm staff in Kolkata and Pune were already looking for her.

Read about the miracle of finding Padma in Operation Padma.


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