Updated: Sep 8, 2020
On June 27th, 2020, Shelly, Freedom Firm’s social worker in Kolkata, answered her phone. A colleague, working for a local NGO that specialized in care for children of prostitutes, spoke, his voice urgent, “Shelly, hurry up and come down to the Burtola police station. There’s a serious case. Please can Freedom Firm take it?” Catching a rickshaw, she was at the police station in under an hour. There, she met Pari and her thirteen year old daughter, Nilima. Pari was filing an First Information Report (FIR) against her husband for raping their daughter.
Pari, a prostitute in one of Kolkata’s biggest red-light areas, claimed that her husband had abused Nilima for the last 5 years. When Nilima missed her period twice, Pari gave her a pregnancy test. The test was positive. Nilima said her step-father raped her.
Later, when Shelly conducted the Home Inquiry, she learned the whole story. This is Pari’s third marriage and her current husband is a pimp. He started abusing Nilima when she was just 8 years old, while Pari worked at a brothel during the night. She claims that he started drugging her food and drink so he could abuse Nilima even during the day when she was home.
Pari eventually learned about the abuse, but when she confronted him, he threatened mother and daughter with a knife. Fearful for their lives, Pari said nothing while the abuse continued. Finally, when she learned her daughter was pregnant, she went to the police to report the crime and make a formal accusation.
As soon as the FIR was filed, the police left the station to arrest Nilima’s step-father. Meanwhile, word got around in the neighborhood and locals took justice into their own hands. Forming a mob they dragged Nilima’s step-father out of his house to the street and beat him up. (This is a common occurrence in India when especially horrific acts come to light; the local community will take action.) The police arrived and Nilima’s step-father was arrested, put in jail and is currently awaiting trial.
The police placed Nilima in a government shelter home for a short time.. After a medical examination, the doctor confirmed that Nilima was three months pregnant. The police ordered a DNA test of both fetus and the step-father to see if there was a match. Meanwhile, Nilima became very sick and miscarried.
With Covid-19 cases escalating, the Child Welfare committee ordered Nilima's release and sent her home to her mother. This is not a secure long-term option for Nilima. She needs to be in a safe environment. Catherine Raja, Freedom Firm's National Director explains, “The stepfather (the abuser) is a pimp, so we are certain this is not only a sexual abuse case but a trafficking case as well. The mother says she did not know what was happening, but many observations point to her being an accomplice." Freedom Firm staff are meeting with the Child Welfare Committee chairperson to convince him to pass an order to move her back to a shelter home.
Meanwhile, Shelly visits Nilima and Pari regularly, building trust and counselling both of them. Nilima is extremely fragile and depressed. The police and Child Welfare Committee are staying involved too, and working to keep Nilima protected at home.
Typically Freedom Firm does not take on child-sexual abuse cases. We stay fully focused on stopping child sex trafficking. But in this instance, other NGO’s refused to get involved. Evidence is being gathered, and in time we believe the courts will add “trafficking” (ITPA)* to the step father’s current charge of sexual assault (POSCO)* and rape (IPC)*.
*POCSO -Protection of Children against Sexual Offences -Section 6 "6. (1) Whoever commits aggravated penetrative sexual assault shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than twenty years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life, which shall mean imprisonment for the remainder of natural life of that person, and shall also be liable to fine, or death.
*IPC - Indian Penal Code - Whoever, except in the cases provided for in sub-section (2), commits rape, shall be punished with rigorous imprisonment of either description for a term which shall not be less than ten years, but which may extend to imprisonment for life, and shall also be liable to fine.