Onima was rescued from prostitution in 2001 when she was only 15. She joined Freedom Firm's aftercare home in 2006 and stayed for three years. She graduated from the home in 2009, moved to Mumbai, and initially found work in a factory. She successfully set up her own apartment, and now lives independently. She also ensured the safety of her sister, Rani, who was at risk of being forced into prostitution, by bringing her to Ooty to stay at an orphanage. In the past few years, Onima traveled to Ooty at least once every year to visit her sister and the Freedom Firm family.
On 16th May 2017, we received a frantic phone call from Onima saying that her sister Tumpa’s husband had fallen off the train in a station in Kolkata. What seemed like an unfortunate train accident was actually an attempt to murder Paltu, Tumpa’s husband.
After the incident, Paltu was taken to a private hospital close to the station where he was received emergency care. Tumpa and Onima worked hard to get the money needed to cover the hospital bills, but they did not have enough. None of Tumpa’s family intervened to help. Since they did not have sufficient funds, the hospital refused to continue treatment on the patient and also refused to release Paltu from the hospital. At this critical juncture, Onima called Freedom Firm. She was immediately put in touch with the Kolkata team who came to her assistance.
The social workers who were aware of new legislation that said that no private hospital is allowed to hold patients when they are unable to pay for their expenses. The social workers stood their ground and convinced the hospital authorities to release Paltu whose condition had worsened due to lack of treatment. The hospital agreed to discharge Paltu on payment of Rs.5000.
Paltu was moved to the government hospital where he soon passed away. Throughout this whole ordeal, Onima supported her sister. Onima thinks that this accident was a deliberate attempt of murder committed with the intention of securing Tumpa’s portion of the property from her family’s inheritance. After Paltu passed away, Onima ensured that all papers related to Paltu’s property would have Tumpa’s name on them to avoid trouble from her in-laws later on. In the past, Tumpa was physically abused by her inlaws and Onima was afraid it would be repeated on a regular basis after the passing away of her brother-in-law.
Of the three sisters, Onima was the one trafficked by her aunt when she was 13 years old because of her dark complexion. Her sisters, Rani and Tumpa, were kept at home. Onima, years after being enslaved, and after learning difficult life lessons, is now using what she has learned to help her sisters in their crucial hour of need. Even though Onima had no one to protect her as a child, she chooses to be the one to safeguard her sisters.
Before she returned to Mumbai, Onima connected her sister to the Freedom Firm family in Kolkata as a support network. She also met young survivors of trafficking working in the Ruhamah workshop in Kolkata and gave them a pep talk. She shared on the importance of having a good circle of friends, putting away earnings into a savings account, and staying focused regardless of life's distractions. She also spoke about how she regretted the times she disobeyed her elders in Ooty several years ago, which hindered her from reaching her full potential. Onima spoke with warmth and enthusiasm and after hearing her, one of the girls at Ruhamah Designs expressed her desire to be like Onima.
Onima wants to be a blessing not only to her own family but to the larger community of trafficked women as well. She wants her story to convey the message that it is never too late for a new start. “There is hope and a bright future” says Onima.