I followed her slight frame, dodging puddles and oncoming traffic until we reached a narrow lane leading to an apartment building. Not a slum, but an apartment building with middle-class neighbors and a gated entry locked by 10 pm every night.
I marveled. Rebecca, once known as Karishma*, rescued from a grandmother who collected money from the men who raped her under the tin-roofed, mud floored shack, was Freedom Firm's first rescue. Karishma was 12 then. An angry, wild, distraught girl who lived the only way she knew, through violence. The violence done to her was embedded deep in her body, and the fact that she still had fight left was a good sign, and part of her survival, part of her salvation. She lived by the sword and was quite prepared to die by the sword.
My mind drifted back to her first three months with us in 2006. We felt her sword often then. How a small twelve-year-old could baffle and wound us as she did defies belief. There are a few of us who remember locking up the knives at night and locking bedroom doors, washing fistful’s of our hair down the toilet, and backing away from shards of glass held tightly in small, angry hands. Those days are long gone now, though we still see flashes of the old rage from time to time and unlucky co-workers feel the blunt end of her sword.
Seven years ago, after her rescue, the Indian government only allowed Rebecca to stay at the Freedom Firm aftercare home for three months. For the next four years, she was transferred multiple times to different government remand homes before the authorities finally tired of her outbursts and remanded her back to Freedom Firm. She was seventeen then. Rebecca stayed another year until she graduated from the Freedom Firm Aftercare program. Then, seeking greater freedom and independence, she moved back to her hometown, where she lived a dangerous existence of dancing for a living. Tiring of that after six months, she moved to Pune and asked for a job with Ruhamah Designs. Rebecca has worked for Ruhamah now for two years and is one of the most highly skilled jewelry makers in the business.
The slim girl in white is flecked with dark monsoon and strides up the flight of apartment steps, faster now, eager to show me her own home. Her home.
It's more spacious than I expected with a single bed, a tiny kitchen counter in one corner, and in another corner, a tap, a drain, and floor sill that doubles as a sink and a shower stall. Down the hall is the shared toilet. A TV is on full blast and Rebecca's eighteen-year-old sister and ten-year-old nephew sit in rapt attention. With the wage earned from Ruhamah Designs, she supports them both, plus sends money back to her brother when he can't find work in the rainy season.
Rebecca mentions each of the objects in the room with loving pride, noting what she bought with her savings and the items gifted to her by others to helped her launch into financial independence. Her eyes are bright as she surveys her small kingdom.
I am lost in wonder as she hands me a steaming bowl of chicken curry. My daughter, Kavi, is with me on this trip to Pune, learning and helping us in our latest design venture of hand-beaten copper and other metal jewelry. We exchange glances as Rebecca keeps up an easy banter over the delicious dinner. We can hardly believe this sane, loving hostess sitting opposite from us on the bed is the same Rebecca we knew before.
This thing called home. This space where the few left in her family are with her, and fully dependent on her. As Freedom Firm once provided a home for her, she now provides for others. This tiny apartment represents a great achievement, a move from the complete shelter of an institution to the complete independence of a self- supported home.