“There was a blind trust before and sending young girls and boys with a promise of better employment or good life to the cities. After attending Safe Village Program, many of the villagers became cautious about new people who visit our villagers and provide lucrative job offers. I am happy that our community began to think and move in the right direction”, said Nodal Teacher from the village, in the South 24 Parganas of West Bengal.
Our team drove for three hours on unpaved roads with windows open and great slabs of hot air pouring in to reach our destination; it was a long journey but the conversation at the destination was a passionate boost– and we are yearning to reach more communities and families, even it means pushing the accelerator for long and stepping up to stop traffickers and protect young girls to live in a safe and thriving environment.
Take a pause in 2022 and travel with us to 2020 – two years ago, we learnt about the loving friendship of young girls – Rani* (15 years) and Ruhi* (17 years). They loved each other, played their hearts out across the village, shared loads of laughter and supported each other during difficult times. Other girls in the village envied their friendship but drew inspiration to find a loyal friend.
Their happiness took a hit and their lives were unquestionably changed. Bursts of laughter turned into tears of sorrow. Happiness paused and sadness seeped into their lives. All this happened because of the traffickers who posed themselves as well-educated young men and promised to offer better lives for Rani and Ruhi.
Rani’s parents married her to an unknown young man with a good job in a faraway city. They were moved by his kind nature as he paid some money to clear off their loans and promised a better life for Rani. Little did they know that he was a trafficker. When Rani reached Hyderabad from West Bengal, she was looking for a home to start a life instead she was sold into a brothel for a lumpsum amount and her husband never turned back. The days and nights that followed were traumatic for Rani – she was raped by multiple men in a single day and her 15-year old fragile body couldn’t take it. When Rani lost contact, her parents filed a complaint with the police and after many months, she was rescued and brought back to the village.
The story of Ruhi wasn’t much different. She was lured by a trafficker who pretended to be in love with her. Though Ruhi wanted to study, her parents’ financial struggles forced her to marry him and what awaited her was a brothel in Bihar.
Neither Ruhi nor Rani is the same-old cheerful young girls who were bursting out into laughter and enjoying every moment of their lives. Love was never there and good life was nowhere to be found.
That was when their village showed up on our vulnerability mapping tool as one of the highest traffick-prone villages. We joined forces with BBSS (our Implementing Partner in the region) and hit the road to conduct the Safe Village Program. We did and at the end of two days, we were able to see that differences in their mindsets were taking up – a lot of questions from young girls and boys popped during the programme and many by-hearted the number of our helpline.
Let’s get back to the present, 2022 – We have had the opportunity to interact with the villagers and noticed that the Safe Village Program messages have been deeply ingrained in their minds and hearts. “I know that I should respect girls” and “I am studying to become a teacher” – there is no better feeling than hearing these words from a young Smart Boy and a brave Guardian Girl.
After meeting with the villagers, we sat along with a Gram Mitra, Nodal Teacher, Rakshak and the Community Leaders to understand the current needs of the village. A lot has changed and most of it is all good – from improved knowledge to changed perceptions about trafficking, but some things did call for immediate and intense intervention. There is still bride trafficking (young girls are forced to marry with the promise of a better life and from parents’ view, it is less than one mouth to feed at home).
Our stakeholders – Gram Mitra, Rakshak and Nodal Teacher – and Implementing Partner stressed the importance of stepping up our efforts and having another Safe Village Program in the village. Passion plays a huge role in the choosing of our stakeholders and Hedia is no different; our stakeholders’ are ready to do it – but expressed their desire to equip themselves to become more active, participatory and empowering to continue to spread the messages of the Safe Village Program, educate the villagers about traffickers and tighten the security inside the village. This is where our Stakeholders’ Training programme come in.
What we would like to leave with you during our visit is: Traffickers are finding new ways to enter the village and they could strike at any time. And, these innocent people placed their trust in us that we will step up our efforts to fight these traffickers. Let’s together ‘Step Up’ now.
*Name changed to protect the identity of young girls