We refer to her as ‘small Preeti*’ when we talk about her or her case. It helps to distinguish her from the other Preeti rescued in Nagpur. In addition, she falls in the category of ‘youngest girls we have ever rescued.’ There were about 4 who were 13-years-old when we found them. In all likelihood, Preeti is actually only 11 or 12 years old and probably the youngest girl Freedom Firm has ever rescued.
Babli, the woman accused of forcing small Preeti to do prostitution, escaped during the raid. She applied for anticipatory bail but was denied. I understand from this strategy that she is an established person in the red-light area, she has good connections, and most of all, she wishes to continue her business without interruption. Otherwise, she could just stay away from the courts for a while and avoid arrest until things died down. Instead, she sought legal protection of the court to be free to continue doing what she was doing.
In spite of the anticipatory bail being denied, Babli was never arrested. It has been over a year and in that time she visited Small Preeti in the shelter home and submitted applications to the Child Welfare Committee for custody. All of this was done with warrants on her name and she’s not even Small Preeti’s mother!
After the rescue, Freedom Firm added Small Preeti’s case to an ongoing Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the High Court. We sought directions to protect her, so the Court ordered “no release or transfer to take place unless approved by that higher Court.”
Still, when the Child Welfare Committee denied Babli’s request for custody of Small Preeti, she appealed that decision to the Sessions Court. We only learned about this by accident, stumbling upon the case reference online while searching for another matter. We submitted the police documents and High Court directions to the Public Prosecutor and asked her to oppose any release. Babli must have gotten the news because she withdrew her application for appeal recently.
Preeti’s case is just one among approximately 20 mentioned in the PIL before the Bombay High Court, Nagpur Bench. Each case reads a little differently, but the common thread is the aggressive, and often legally prepared, pursuit of minor girls for re-trafficking through direct engagement with the very same government and legal system set up to protect those girls.
This blatant misuse of the legal system and apathetic or ill-prepared government machinery is what led to the need to file the writ petition. The rules and laws, bodies, and institutions, established in India are sufficient to care and protect victims of trafficking. But, the system is being abused. So we approached the High Court to seek better protection. We still don’t know yet what that will look like. The case has been in court for one year now. We are getting closer to final arguments. Positive orders have already started coming. As we seek final orders, we know new rules are not enough without genuine application and sincere commitment to saving these girl’s lives. Small Preeti is not even a girl; she remains a child and will be for another couple of years. We are trying to enroll her in an education program but even that takes to get the authorities to act. She deserves a life and still has a chance for one.
*name changed to protect identity