"I Had No Freedom": Kashi's Story

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Kashi* was only 3 years old when her impoverished family sold her into domestic servitude for a wealthier couple in Mumbai. Confused and alone, she spent the next 12 years in a never-ending cycle of housework, laundry and loneliness—always desperate for a simple childhood like other girls her age.

“I had no freedom,” she remembers. “They always locked me up. Everywhere I went, I had to go with them.”

Kashi’s owners shuffled her back and forth between their homes in Mumbai and Kolkata, like she was property. Beatings were commonplace, and the horrific abuse went even further: When he was 15, Kashi was raped by one of the owner’s sons.

“I tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t listen,” she says. “I wanted to tell someone, but I had no evidence to prove what happened. He said he would accuse me of making up stories.”

From there, several other relatives began to sexually abuse Kashi and forced her to keep it a secret. Later, the family sold her off to a massive brothel in Sonagachi, one of Kolkata’s most dangerous red-light districts. She was tied, beaten and forced to have sex with any customer who came. She could never leave, and Kashi quickly lost hope of a better life.

“I had no freedom,” she remembers. “They always locked me up. Everywhere I went, I had to go with them.”

Kashi lived in the brothel for nearly one month before IJM found her and mobilized Kolkata Police to help bring her to safety.

Police, advocates and social workers entered the brothel on April 5, 2013 and went straight to the room where they knew Kashi was kept—but it was empty. They arrested the suspected madam and nearly left until, out of the corner of her eye, one IJM staff member saw a small hand behind a curtain. She remembers, “We found Kashi hiding and shaking, surrounded by clothes. We could see only her face.”

“I was very scared,” Kashi says quietly. She had been told that she would be beaten severely if the police came. “They told me to come out, and said they are there to help me.”

Kashi was initially hesitant to share her full story at the police station, and even lied about her age several times before admitting she was only 15. In all of that fear and confusion, Kashi remembers IJM staff giving her chocolate, and she began to trust that help had come.

“She was very scared but very cooperative,” recalls one staff member. “She was one of the strongest victims we’ve ever rescued.”

Following her rescue, Kashi moved into a loving aftercare home and began the long, tenuous process of restoration. Years of abuse and isolation had left her constantly unhappy and unable to express herself. Whenever someone asked where her parents were, she could only cry and get very upset that she didn’t know.

Over the next year and a half, she participated in crucial trauma-focused therapy and built a strong relationship with her caseworker. Slowly, she began to open up. Kashi began informal schooling and vocational training at her aftercare home, but what she dreamed of most was studying in a real school.

At 16 years old and with no formal education, Kashi’s prospects were limited. IJM found a special program for non-traditional students like her to study and live at a private school. Three days before her 17th birthday, in November 2014, Kashi put on a school uniform for the first time in her life. After 13 years of slavery, she was finally free to reclaim her childhood.

“Before she was not very confident and pulled herself back in a group, but now she is opening up and expressing herself,” says Nanda. “She’s humble and innocent. She never grumbles, and she has a grateful heart.”

Three days before her 17th birthday, in November 2014, Kashi put on a school uniform for the first time in her life. After 13 years of slavery, she was finally free to reclaim her childhood.

IJM’s lawyers continue to fight to prosecute the people who trafficked her. Because of corruption in the case, the accused is now out on bail and the trial has stalled. It will take years of relentless effort before these criminals are finally brought to justice.

In the meantime, Kashi is moving forward in life—determined to keep learning.

“Without education, you can do nothing,” she says with quiet confidence. “My dream is to study so I can stand on my own two feet. If you want to do something in life, you have to leave your past and focus on the future. I want to forget my past and start a new life ahead of me.”


*A pseudonym was used to protect Kashi's identity.

 

 
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