In 2009, Freedom Firm alongside NGO Justice and Care rescued Lalitha* from a brothel in Pune. Afraid, but sensing freedom was closer than ever before, she ran away from the government home and went missing for 3 years.
When her court case came up in 2012, both organizations tried to find her. The search began by traveling to her last known address which happened to be her aunt’s home. From there, Freedom Firm’s social worker in West Bengal learned a bit more about the past 3 years and got Lalitha’s phone number. After contacting her and explaining the reason, she resisted and it took a couple of weeks of meeting with both her and her aunt to convince them. After agreeing, they changed their minds again and insisted we get permission from the police station. In following up with the police, they required us to cross more hurdles.
Meanwhile, the legal team in Pune arranged for a court summons to be sent to Lalitha but it never reached her. Even so, our social worker delivered a copy of the summons directly to Lalitha’s house. With the summons and tickets in hand, Lalitha and her aunt agreed to board the train for Pune. Near the end, Lalitha’s aunt became ill and a great effort was made to find another escort. Finally, Lalitha’s aunt agreed to go. Our social worker met the party at the train station with fruits and snacks for the two-and-a-half-day trip to Pune.
After a month, the impossible happened and Lalitha testified in court about her trafficking and forced prostitution. In the end, Lalitha’s flight from the shelter home caused the judge to doubt her story. “If she could run away from the home, why not from the brothels?” The accused was acquitted. Despite this setback, we continue to pursue justice. We know Lalitha’s story was true.
*name changed to protect identity