By Tuga Alaskary
As I stepped out of the rickshaw I was greeted by girls pouring out into the courtyard; “hello sister” “welcome sister” “sister look…” I knelt down low enough for one of the young girls to gently place a bindi on my forehead. The girls I was surrounded by were very young, some as young as 5, I thought to myself that they must be the daughters of the women housed in this shelter. I was very wrong. These were the victims of human trafficking that had been rescued. I had arrived at Odanadi, a rescue centre for women that had been trafficked for sexual exploitation located in the Southern Indian city of Mysore, I was shocked to find that far from being women, these were young girls their ages ranging from 5-23.
Odanadi is an inspiring project that rescues, rehabilitates and reintegrates girls and boys who have been trafficked all across India. With the police turning a blind eye to the well-connected gangs, some of the rescue operations are carried out by the founders of this organisation and it comes with great risk. Over the short period of time that I spent at Odanadi, I learnt of the horrifying ordeals that the girls had lived through. Three of the girls I met, Saanvi, Radha and Parvani were rescued together. Their parents were conned into believing that they were being taken to the city for respectable work that would pay well. Desperately poor and hoping for a better future, they let their girls go. Once taken away from their families, the three girls were kept in an underground cellar for several years and sexually abused over and over. Odanadi learnt of these girls’ whereabouts and carried out a rescue operation. At the time of my visit, the girls were still recovering from their ordeal. Saanvi, aged 17, had the frame of a child and often cried; she explained to me that although Odanadi had managed to locate her family, her parents had refused to take her back in as they feared she would bring dishonour to the family. Odanadi was now her permanent home. Radha was HIV positive and hadn’t said a single articulate word since she arrived, she let out strange babbling sounds. Parvani was coping the worst of the three, she hadn’t uttered a word since her rescue, one day she emerged from the bathroom having shaved all her hair off and she spent her days curled up in a corner, keeping away from the rest and looking spaced out. All three girls were receiving medical treatment and counselling provided by in-house professionals employed by Odanadi.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though, there were happy endings too. One girl who had spent most of her life at Odanadi told me that she was finishing school that year and had been accepted into a prestigious university in Germany to study Business. Another of the older girls, who had taken part in a cross-country cycle with other volunteers to raise awareness about human-trafficking, had met a young man, a co-volunteer in the cycle, they had fallen in love and Odanadi, stepping in as her family, were making arrangements for her wedding.
Wherever possible Odanadi strives to reconnect the girls with their families, but in many cases the families refuse to take the girls back, fearing for their family honour. Odanadi provides these vulnerable girls with the safety and love they need to cope with and get past the trauma. Even though there are over 80 girls living in the home, it hasn’t lost its warm family feel.
On November 18th 2010, British-born Bally Sappal will be participating in the groundbreaking 10-day long India UK Friendship Walk, to raise awareness about human trafficking on behalf of Odanadi UK. She will be walking 22km per day alongside the event organizer Jill Beckingham and British Indian entrepreneur Seema Sharma, who featured in Channel 4’s popular Secret Slumdog Millionaire series.
She hopes to raise much-needed funds for Odanadi, aiming to raise at least £2k for Odanadi’s two rehabilitation centres in Mysore, home to around 85 young survivors of human trafficking. Many of them have been rescued from the hands of pimps, brothel madams, criminal sex trafficking networks, situations of slavery, destitution and abuse. Support this great initiative by making a donation http://www.charitygiving.co.uk/odanadi-bally_sappal.
You can also check the Odanadi website: http://odanadisevatrust.org/
or their UK website: http://www.odanadi-uk.org/
*I have changed the names of the girls in the stories I have shared.