Saving children and young girls from Human Trafficking in India

November 10, 2010 at 10:14 am (Human Rights) (, )

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.

 

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Torture days are over

September 16, 2009 at 9:08 pm (Diary, Human Rights, Just a thought ..., Qatari culture, Society, women, work)

Today is my last day at work. I would like to say that it feels like I just started yesterday and that time has passed really quickly, but that’s not the case. Yes, time passed by, but very painfully and unbelievably slow and boring! I had so much enthusiasm and energy when I started, but it was all crushed by the “great” mentalities of the  “Big Bosses” and the very “effective and efficient” bureaucratic  system. There is no place for creativity, no place for development! How many young talents that started their lives after graduation with high hopes to give back to this country but were eventually crushed! Crushed so bad and so hard! Crushed everyday! Every second of the day!

I spent two years of my life in this job! Two years wasted! Two years that I wont get back. I tried to make the most of this experience, but there is really no chance to get anywhere in this place. The first year I worked here, was by far the worst in my life. I got seriously depressed, I lost my appetite, I lost 8 KG in less than two months! I looked like a ghost. I was shocked at first by how unequal women are treated. We have a different entrance, a different elevator and are shoved into one floor. All the guys who graduated with us got promoted in less than a year. And we, the girls, finished two years and might need to finish ten more to get one promotion! I went down to see the manager and requested work, requested to attend meetings, requested to be working with my male colleagues to learn, to just do something for God’s sake!  Month passed by and I wasn’t given any work. I speak with the manager every two days requesting work. He wants me to be with them at the department, he wants me to attend meetings, he wants to give me as much work as possible. But because women are not allowed to attend meetings or work with men he can’t help it. And even if I was given work, it takes forever to go from the men’s floor to the female’s floor. And many times it gets lost! Very disorganized! Very retarded! After months of nagging, I was able to prove myself, that I was capable of doing some real work! So I was given few things to do! I got so excited. Then I realized that I am too quick. Whatever takes two days, takes two hours with me. They didn’t know what to give me anymore. I also realized that the kind of work I was given doest require a degree! It only requires simple basic reading and writing abilities. It got dull, nothing is challenging nothing is new. And on top of that. Women are not allowed to have training courses abroad! Even some of the training courses in Doha are strictly for men! Is this Qatar! I cant believe it. I feel suffocated. Two years wasted. I don’t even have work experience because there was simply no work. The only thing I have learnt is how to deal with frustration and get over myself and stop feeling sorry for myself for being in such disappointing place. !

I feel like a layer of mud has covered my brain. I panicked! I seriously stopped thinking! Holly S***. This place has the ability to turn you into a vegetable! I started bringing books, loads of books. They started to pile on my desk and in my room. Too many books I have read because I don’t have anything to do. I started skipping work or leaving early. I didn’t respect it anymore. I didn’t even care about the image of my desk. Pens and papers are scattered around, showing no personality or reflection of who sets behind it. Even the chair I am siting on has someone else’s name and i don’t care. The second year got better. Or I got used to the situation. The amount of work I do does not exceed two hours a week. I am really not exaggerating. I am supposed to be a researcher, and in those two years, I have only done two researches. And guess what! It was my idea! I started to stop hoping that work will get better or that I will have equal opportunities as my male colleagues. I shifted my focus on myself and my life outside working hours. I focused on improving the languages I speak and my writing skills. I  started going to events and meeting new people. I started doing different projects and occupying myself with books and gym. I started growing out of my shell and became a happier more positive person. I didn’t care about work anymore. I decided that I will leave. But I will fight one more time, I will give this place a chance one more time. And if I was not allowed to be given an opportunity. I will leave. And no one can blame me then! I don’t understand why young talented people are not being used to their full potential here. Even if we wanted to improve things and be creative, the bureaucratic system stops us. We keep fighting and fighting, but at the end we are humans. We give up, we resent this place, we hate it. We try to prove ourselves, show that we are capable professionals, but while we suffer from the system, foreigners are being brought to work as “professionals” “! and we leave!

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The Invisible Army

September 10, 2009 at 11:02 am (cheap labour, Ethics, Human Rights, poetryreading, Prose Poems, Qatari culture, Society, work)

 

The Invisible Army

They wrap their dry faces with dirty cloth

And if they are lucky, a plastic helmet

 

The sun is squashing them, like we squash a moth

And we leave them lying dead, burning, till we collect them at sunset.

 

They are canned in the bus

Then canned in their rooms

 

They have no expressions

They were wiped out

By the sun, by the dust, by the law, and by us

 

They try to run away from the burning sun

They try to remove the never ending dust

But there is nowhere to run, from the dust nor the sun

 

All you can see behind that never ending yellow dust

Is their broken souls, through their eyes, looking at the shiny cars

 

 They are not as human as we are

For they are nothing but workers

We don’t want them in our shopping malls

For they are polluters

 

We choose not to see them

We choose to forget about them

 

This invisible army that builds our country

Remains invisible behind the never ending yellow dust and bright burning sun

construction-worker-dubai 

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White girl or brown girl, which one you like for your son?

August 27, 2009 at 12:46 am (arranged marriage, Diary, Everyday life situations, gender discrimination, Human Rights, Qatari culture, Society, women)

Few months ago an incident happened that made me think of a lot of things. Things that I have repressed because every time they come back to surface they make me boil. Few months ago my mom told me that there is a family who is interested in me and my sister and want to ask one of us her hand in marriage for their son.

–         Last year when you went to the desert camp with your sister, there was a woman who saw both of you and asked about you.

–         Were you speaking to aunty Dalal?

–         Yes

–         Are you serious? I do not want anything from her side

–         No she has nothing to do with this

–         And they saw us at the desert camp! (I said that in a sarcastic tone)

–         They don’t live in that area at all they were just visiting your grandmother. Don’t worry they are modern people

–         Ok

–         Yes they saw you and you sister and they said that they want either the white one or brown one for their son!

–         Seriously! What are we sheep, white one or brown one!

–         They do not know your names so that’s how they described you.

–         I wont take anyone who didn’t study abroad

–         He is studying in London now

–         Now? What is he? A kid or someone who failed?

–         I do not know, he might be taking a course because he works in RasGaz.

–         I do not know whatever

–         Ok we will ask about him and see

–         Yeah whatever

I tried to be easy on my mom because I know how important this issue is for her. Few weeks have gone by and I thought that they forgot about it. But, my mom called me once when I was going out shopping with my friend Aysha, ironically, shopping for her wedding!

–         Those people called her and want to visit us this weekend.

–         They want to come check on the merchandise?

–         No, they said they want to visit, what am I supposed to tell them no

–         Ok

–         So I want to know if your going to be free this weekend

–         No I am always busy. I already have plans

–         All days

–         Maybe Saturday night. But mom, this is so weird I feel like a sheep or an object being auctioned. And I am not going unless my sister will be there

–         Yes of course that is why I wanted to check with both of you

I tried to be as normal as possible with her. It was so obvious that she was excited and happy, I didn’t want to take this moment away from her. Later she texted me saying that they will come on Sunday. I texted back saying that I have a French lesson so I am going to be late. I was picturing different scenarios in my head, I was thinking too much until I got a headache. I had to let it out, I needed to speak with someone. So I shared my thoughts with my friend Aysha who was shopping with me.

–         Aysha, I feel like I am going crazy here. I cant bare the thought that I might end up with someone I don’t know.

–         Now you know how I felt before getting engaged to someone I didn’t want.

–         Don’t you love your husband

–         I do, we get a long very well. But it is still hard

–         I feel like I am going to cry.

and I really felt like that, because by looking at Aysha I felt like I was looking at myself in the future. Then we both were quiet, each one of us was gone to another world with her thoughts. Aysha probably remembering the past, and I picturing the future. I was her past and she might be my future. Then we changed the mood and laughed about it.

–         I really think this way of getting married is weird, I feel disgusted by it. I really do feel like a sheep you know

–         Why do you think its weird, it is normal here this is the way it has always been.

–         I know, but the fact that they came to pick either me or my sister is disrespectful. As if we have nothing to do but to wait for their son’s choice. Anyways, I am sure they wont like me. I do not even             have to try hard, I can just be myself hahaha

–         Hahahaha yeah you can do that.

–         But you know what bothers me the most.

–         What?

–         We have to go through so many things just because we are girls. Life is very unfair for us simply because of our gender. And what I really do not understand is that women accept this injustice,                 embrace it as part of their belief and pass it on to their children. Why would they do this to themselves? Why don’t they break the cycle?

–         But when your parents say no to something is because they are under pressure from the society.

–         I know and I understand that, I am not questioning my parents, I am questioning the pressure itself, the society.

–         But you did study abroad and you can go out

–         Yes, but it came after tremendous effort! I had to fight, I got those things after being emotionally and psychologically exhausted. Why? Everything is just given to boys!

–         You know parents would say that boys can take care of themselves

–         You know just like I do that this is not true, we took better care of ourselves than boys ever did. The only difference is that they have more muscles. This is what it is  all about, physical power

–         Yes, and because they have this advantage they can take care of themselves. That does not change the fact that everything is given for guys without even asking.

–         I have been mad about that since yesterday, LOL I just wanted to share my thoughts with you.

Then I called my sister, we laughed about the issue and exchanged our thoughts. We totally agree with each other. Then she told me the story of her friends Manal. Manal is a computer engineer like my sister. Her dream was to work in QP. After graduation she got engaged and was very happy about it. My sister expected to see her in QP but months has passed and Manal didn’t show up. Then she met her once at the Ritz Carlton. Manal told her that the reason she didn’t show up is because her husband doesn’t want her to work in QP with men. She is an engineer for God’s sake! What does he expect! My sister was surprised that she agreed to his demands. Now she is staying at home doing nothing. She even applied to the central bank and he refused even though the office she was going to work in was female only except for their boss. I thought “he is sick”. No one thinks like that unless they were really mentally sick and dirty, doesn’t he trust his wife?  and why does he treat her like a property? Then my sister shocked me when she said “he is keeping her hanging while he is studying abroad having all the fund and freedom, he wants her to wait until  he finishes to decide in her matter”. What a pathetic thing to say; to decide on her matter!

As if she is not mentally capable of deciding on her life. No one is protesting about this non-sense, not even the girl. My sister told her “you signed a contract with QP, they have paid for your studies for 5 years, you cant just leave like that”. Manal said “my husband said he will deal with them”. My sister said “when they take you to court, its your name and your matter not his”.Manal told her later on that she is actually heart broken for being controlled and treated that way, and not happy with him, she doesn’t know what to do. And this is their engagement period, they didn’t actually live together yet!

The day came and the guy’s sister and mother came to our house. I don’t know anything about his except that he works in Ras Gaz! My sister and I sat next to each other. We were quiet the whole time. Luckily my auntie and grandmother were there to keep them entertained. The older sister asked my sister “so, where do you work”. My sister said “QP”, the lady looked like she chocked on her tea. She asked me then “where do you work?”. I told her, and she was happy that it was not a mixed gender place. Then she asked “oh really, this is good. How long have you been working there?”. I said “I started right after graduation from UK so about 2 years”. She said “aha”. And that was it. Apparently they didn’t want  girls who are “too exposed”.

My sister and I were very upset when they left. We told our parents that we don’t want to be put in such situation again where someone come to pick either me or her. They should have decided already on that before they come. At least those people did not ask that we must wear niqab, leave work and stop driving cars like others have before we even agree to marry one of their sons !!!

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