We found Anju’s* home in a small town in Bagalkot District, Karnataka. Her ‘grandfather’ (or so he was called because he looked after her when her mother died 5 years ago) gave us a photograph torn in two pieces. It was a picture of Anju, taken four years earlier. Anju looked pretty, was smiling, and there was no sign of brokenness … and then someone tore her in two. She stared back at me from the photo. She was the same girl we rescued from a brothel in Maharashtra, 200 kilometers away from home, just three days ago.
My first thought was, who did this? Who tore the photograph into two pieces? As I looked closer, I saw that it was a slow thoughtful tear, not a quick rip that went straight across the photo; a deliberate, intentional tear that trailed off to the side as the last bits of paper separated. That’s what it’s like to live as a devadasi; slow, intentional, deliberate destruction. Long before she was put in the brothel, Anju was dedicated to the goddess Yellama, as was her mother before her. Her destiny was sealed at the age of 3. She would not be allowed to get married, and when the time came, she would be abused by any man that wanted her. There is nothing sudden about the process; the tear in her life began when she was a child.
But somewhere along the line, she had hope. When I visited her school to collect her school leaving certificate, which is authoritative proof of her age, I discovered that she left school in 2004, just 2 years ago. She had completed her 10th standard! A surprisingly high level of education for a girl destined to be forced into prostitution. But the force of tradition was stronger - like the tear; slow, intentional, deliberate, and inescapable. I wonder now if Anju herself tore the photo when her dreams of an education were shattered, and when she realized what lay ahead for her.
After her rescue, Anju was placed in a Government Remand Home. Now is the time to mend the tear.