In May 2010, Lali* testified in Thane against two brothel keepers, Puja and Yellama. It had been a struggle to get Lali* to testify because throughout the process the local advocates had been striking. The court kept postponing the hearings. Unlike other girls, Lali* had been eager to tell the Judge what the two accused had done to her. She was especially angry at Yellama, a distant relative from her village who she felt needed to be punished.
After Lali* testified well, Shyam, Freedom Firm’s interventions coordinator, encountered severe opposition to his testimony. Like many cases, the police had written many things into the statements which were blatantly false. Shyam wanted to tell the true story of what had happened during the raid and rescue. However, even the Public Prosecutor was more concerned about procedure and insisted Shyam testify to what the police had written in his statement rather than hearing the truth. When Shyam finally testified, telling only the truth, the PP declared him hostile! Still, he kept to his conviction and told the truth.
Noor*, the second victim, had been sent back to a rehabilitation home in her native place of West Bengal some time back. It was a difficult decision for our team as to whether to bring her to Thane to testify. We ultimately decided that since the court had declared Shyam hostile (which we thought jeopardized the whole case) and Lali already testifying well, there was no need to disturb Noor. Much to our surprise though, the Thane Police went to West Bengal on their own and brought Noor. This was very surprising, as we did not cover their costs, but ultimately a great sign that they are more willing to cooperate in cases like this than we had thought.
In the court in June, Noor testified well and told the details about what the two accused had forced her to do. She testified courageously in spite of the Judge allowing the court to be open to the public. In addition to many strangers watching her, 3-5 local pimps who were looking for ways to intimidate Noor, came in the court and watched her testify. It was amazing to see her courage.
Ultimately, the court convicted the two accused and sentenced them to five years rigorous imprisonment. Due to many of the circumstances of this case, we had believed a conviction would be impossible. It was tremendous to see justice in a case that we had written off.
*names changed to protect identity