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A Stop on the Writer’s Journey

 

 

Anne Ch. Ostby

   By: Anne Ch. Ostby

Sometimes, life shows you a stop on the journey, and forces you to get off the bus. Makes you stay there and see what’s going on. It forces you to get your priorities in order; compels you to take stock of how you spend your time and your life’s energy.

Meeting the Nat women in Forbesganj, Bihar, was my stop. The first time I met Meena, Fatima and the others, I was unaware that this would be the first step of a long trek that would eventually lead to me writing a novel. Intrigued and impressed by the work of Ruchira Gupta and Apne Aap, I had accepted an invitation to visit their centers. Ruchira’s ambitious challenge for my visit became, ”You can write a book about it!” This at first seemed too daunting, but a book was what eventually developed. A chance meeting in Tehran in 2007 led to the researching, writing, and publishing of Town of Love, a fictional account of human trafficking and inter-generational prostitution based on countless narratives shared with me by the women in Prem Nagar, Kolkata, and the Apne Aap staff working with them.

We have all heard the stories of trafficking. We have seen the documentaries, read the news articles. So why did Forbesganj become such a sudden stop on my journey? A stop that changed me as a writer and a human being? Because, in Prem Nagar it was the heart of the mother that spoke to me. Having three daughters of my own, it was the anguish of the fellow mothers that I encountered that brought the tales of the women on to the pages. When I asked any one of them about their dreams for their daughters, the answers were almost always the same: ”I want a different life for her.” I realized in those moments that I could not just listen to their stories and then get up, thank them politely, and walk away. I realized their stories needed to be shared; again and again, in different formats and different forums, until the cruelty and indignity of human trafficking is exposed, talked about and condemned by all.

So I kept coming back. I kept asking questions, kept nagging the incredibly patient, incredibly resourceful Apne Aap staff for help with details on everything from food and crops to the meaning of names. I kept listening to the women. And though the stories of Tamanna, Amina, Rupa, and Fauzia may not exist exactly as you read them, the essence of them is painfully, brutally true.

Their stories have traveled a long way now. From its first publication in Norway in 2012, the book has reached audiences in Australia, New Zealand, the US, the UK, Slovakia, and India (English version: Prem Nagar, Supernova Publishers). It has been presented at literary festivals and events in Norway, Australia and Fiji, and the Prem Nagar women’s stories will soon challenge audiences at the Ubud Writers Festival in Indonesia.

I am both sad and proud to be presenting these stories. Sad that they exist and demand to be told, but proud and grateful that the incredible and courageous women who I met trusted me to tell their stories. And I will keep telling them for as long as it takes.

Town of love 1

Buy Anne’s book “Town of Love” on Amazon today.

The Diary of a Social Worker

May, 7th 2014

This is the diary of Shweta Khattar- Jr. Program Officer at the Delhi Field Office in Dharampura. Last week Shweta partook in the rescue of a 15-year-old girl who had been forced into prostitution by her abusive husband. This is Shweta’s telling of the events.

“Prem Nagar Centre is around 8 kms away from Apne Aap’s Delhi field office. The center is within the village community of Perna, which practices intergenerational prostitution wherein young girls are married off early at a bride price, which the groom’s family pays to the bride’s family. Once the girl has her first child, then her own family members push her into prostitution. Through this method, the girl is exploited and the family recovers the money.

In April 2014, a teacher at the Prem Nagar Centre was approached by one of the girls, *Rachel, who complained of being sent to her in-laws forcefully. After being beaten by her brother, she complained again and explained her painful story:

When *Rachel was 12 years old she was married off by her parents, and her mother-in-law forced her to serve the clients at the family’s home-based brothel. One day, *Rachel hid in a train’s bathroom and ran away. She reached her former home in Prem Nagar hoping that she would be safe. To her shock, her brother beat her black and blue; her mother scolded and threatened her; and her family forced her to serve clients. Her mother warned her that regardless of where she stayed, this is what she would have to do.

Her fate was being decided by ruthless people who had put a price on her body. This is when she approached one of the teachers at Apne Aap’s center.

The teacher brought the picture to Apne’s field coordinator and me. On 10th April (the day of elections in Delhi), *Rachel started calling the teacher, pleading for help because she was being forcefully sent back to  her in-laws. Apne’s Aap’s community mobiliser and the teacher engaged with *Rachel, rushing to talk to her at the center. Finally, a complaint was written down on Rachel’s behalf, which she signed.

The Apne Aap staff took up *Rachel’s case relentlessly. However, beyond the staff’s best efforts, *Rachel was sent back to Patauda to live with her husband and in-laws.

But we didn’t give up.

On 25th April, we scheduled a meeting with BBA, a prominent India NGO that fights child trafficking, to understand the legality of *Rachel’s case and seek their support. On May 5th, a team of 8 people left Delhi to rescue *Rachel.

A police force was arranged for us, and the protection officer was called right away. We left for the rescue at 2:30p.m. A convoy of 4 cars arrived at 3p.m. and *Rachel was identified and rescued. Her husband was taken into custody.

*Rachel was shining her brightest smile looking at us. She was brutally beaten an hour earlier by her husband, but at that moment, she was filled with joy to see us. She knew she had been saved and went in to put her dupatta on, ready to leave behind the shackles of her brutal family members.

It was 3:10 p.m. – everything had changed in a split second.

Since her rescue, *Rachel has been placed into a safe children’s home, and Apne Aap is filing charges against all of the accused in the case.

On the day of *Rachel’s rescue she told our Apne Aap staff: “I knew my didi would come and save me, I had complete faith and you did”. 

 

*name has been changed.

Curie Review Interview with Founder and President, Ruchira Gupta

Curie Review

 

Jillian Dunham:  You made a pretty major mid-career change, from being a BBC journalist and a documentary filmmaker to an activist who created Apne Aap. Was there something in that point in your life that pushed you to make that change?

Ruchira Gupta: Anger and outrage. As a journalist, I had covered war and famine and hunger and conflict, but when I spent time inside the brothels of Bombay and spoke to the women and saw what I saw, I’d never seen that kind of deliberate exploitation of one human being of another.

What angered me further was the attitude of friends, politicians, police officers, that if these women were not prostituted, women from good families would be raped, that ‘men would be men.’ War, hunger, and ethnic conflict were considered evil, but the daily commercial rape happening in brothels was normalized, justified and even romanticized.  I thought, I can do only so much as a journalist. I wanted to do more. Continue reading…

 

Press Release

Juvenile Justice, Rape and Death Penalty: Apne Aap Organizes a Talk in the Wake of the Recent Judgment on Dec 16 Rape Case

New Delhi, 24th September, 2013: Apne Aap Women Worldwide committed to work towards the empowerment of girls and women today organized its third session of ‘Terrace Talks’ at their head-office at India International Centre, New Delhi. The talk was chaired by Advocate Anant Kumar Asthana, child rights lawyer, in Delhi High Court. The discussion revolved around ‘Juvenile Justice, Rape and Death Penalty’.

The interactive session was organized to reach out to law students, academicians and activists to discuss the relevance of existing Juvenile Justice System and Law in the background of 16 Dec Gang Rape Incident and involvement of a juvenile in it. According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, crimes committed by juveniles constitute only 1.1% of total crimes reported in the year 2012 while for the same period, the juvenile delinquency in England and Wales was 15% of total crime. Total offences reported in Crime in India in 2012 were 23,87,188. Out of these, a miniscule 27,936 offences were committed by children. Total 35,123 out of 44,83,36,000 children in India were arrested (not convicted) for these offences. Out of the total 2,75165 violent offences, children below the age of 18 committed 8779 violent offences. Of these 2856 were relating to Murder and Rape. The total number reduces to 1698 offences which were committed by children within the age range of 16-18 years in the whole of India.

The session further delved around the context of the current debate to ensure severe punishment is meted out when it is a case of serious offence. But the question that needs to be answered is should we actually change the juvenile justice laws even though the Indian figures of juvenile crime are miniscule.

The trial of the juvenile who has been booked for the gang rape and murder of the 23-year-old woman in the high profile December 16, 2012 rape incident has brought the juvenile justice system in India under the scanner again. The teenager was 17 at the time of incident.

The  National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data figures reveal the rise in the number of juvenile criminals across the country, but another alarming fact that has come out is that the age of offenders has also plummeting. The point to be highlighted is that these are nominal figures in the context of the total population and the need to change the law is not justified. This view has been upheld by Indian Supreme Court in August 2013 in Salil Bali Case. This raises concerns as to if youngsters are not afraid of committing crimes due to a rather lenient juvenile justice system? Or is it so because the juvenile justice administration system and correctional facilities are not fully equipped to ‘reform’ the convicted teens?

Participating in the discussion, Dr. Abhilasha Kumari, Director Apne Aap Women Worldwide said, “We feel society has to take responsibility. There should be a space where people are allowed a chance to reconnect with society. What is `that age’ when a person can take responsibility of his/her actions? Yes, people should be held responsible for the crimes they commit but isn’t society equally responsible for creating context which turns them into juveniles. This is often overlooked.”

Juvenile convicts are handled by Juvenile Justice Boards, which are supposed to provide care and create an environment that enables young people to reclaim an active and meaningful social life. But no such system is currently visible, however well articulated it may be in the law.

Elucidating on the juvenile justice laws, Anant Kumar Asthana highlighted despite the juvenile justice law prohibiting adult treatment of children, the practice of police showing children as adults and causing arrest and incarceration in adult jails continues unabated across the country. Speaking at the session, he said “Before we blame children, we need to retrospect as to what we do to our children. We can’t be an active doer of wrongs against our children and then ask for punishing children for their deviancy. First you give what children are entitled to and only then you get a right to question them. As of now we all have no moral right to be arrogant. We are all collectively guilty of betraying our children.”

He further added, “Where is the question of holding them accountable? Society and adults have to share responsibility.”   He said that the understanding that by incarcerating children in jails and by subjecting them to severe adult like punishments, offences by children will reduce is misplaced and in fact this will be counterproductive as  more and more children will be then loosing opportunities to reform.

The session concluded with the audience discussing various measures to implement the much needed juvenile justice reforms.

About Anant Kumar Asthana –

Anant Kumar Asthana, as a lawyer has earned the reputation of being one of the country’s most trusted authorities on a number of causes he has championed, particularly in the area of child rights protection. Asthana’s recent case resulted in a landmark Judgment in 2012 from the Delhi High Court directing Police to stop treating juveniles as adults. Due to this judgment, Jails of Delhi are searched every month by a team of National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and those who appear to be juveniles, are referred for age inquiry. The Delhi High Court’s recent direction to the Delhi Government to frame guidelines for the prevention of sexual abuse of children was prompted by Asthana’s petition. Having graduated with a law degree from Aligarh Muslim University in 2007, Asthana got his training in activism from Tibetan poet and freedom fighter Tenzin Tsundue and learnt the nuances of public interest litigation from senior advocate Colin Gonsalves.