Searching for Shani
Updated: Nov 25, 2020
In the company of a team of two officers from the West Bengal police, Shani's* parents and cousin-brother came to Pune on the 9th of September 2009 to look for their 16-year-old daughter. Shani had been trafficked into prostitution. Freedom Firm staff joined the family to search for Shani in the area she was last seen. She was not found.
Later on in the evening, around 11 pm, Shani was located in a brothel in Budhwar Peth. A raid was organized for the following morning.
The girl's father accompanied the rescue team the next day. A Freedom Firm operative confirmed that Shani was in the brothel, and he had “engaged” her. When the team entered the brothel, Shani came out of a room. At first, her father did not recognize her and was about to give up hope when someone pointed her out. He looked at his daughter carefully and confirmed it was her. She acted as if she did not know him. He started crying and asking her how she had ended up in a brothel.
Shani was taken to another room to ask her if the man was her father. She said her name was Pooja and not Shani and that he was not her father. When told that her parents were so worried about her that they had traveled across India to find her and that her mother was waiting for her at the police station, Shani's eyes welled with tears. Later, when the police asked her what she wanted to do, stay in the brothel or go with her father, she said she would go with her parents. Father and daughter held each other's hands as we left the brothel. The father was talking in Bengali but Shani replied in Hindi, saying she had forgotten how to speak Bengali.
When we reached the police station, Shani ran to embrace her mother and they wept in each others arms.
According to Shani, the story of how she was trafficked began when she was at a gold shop getting nose rings made about a year ago. A lady in the shop observed her while she bartered for the jewelry. After Shani left the shop, the lady followed her and asked Shani if she would help her buy nose rings with her bargaining skills. The lady walked with her to the bus stop, where she claimed that she was also catching her bus. Two boys approached Shani and the other woman and offered them curd (yogurt). The lady said that the boys were her brothers and she ate the curd and told Shani that it would be rude if she did not also eat the curd. Not long afterward, Shani began to pass out from the drug-laced curd, and she was taken from Howrah to Pune where Shani was sold into prostitution.
Shani returned to her village with her family on September 15th, 2009.
*name changed to protect identity