In February of 2009, I left America to live amongst the poorest of the poor, to attempt to understand the depth and complexity of injustice and poverty. I arrived late in Kolkata, sleepy, yearning for knowledge and left even more perplexed with the world.
I learned to love the people I encountered yet learned to hate some of the cultural norms the country accepted.
We walked the streets of Sonagachi, the largest red-light districts in Kolkata, India, and one of the largest in Asia.
I’ll never forget the day we walked by a girl no older than 15 trafficked from Nepal, tugging at the bottom of the short skirt she was forced to wear, trying to lengthen it to cover her bare thighs. Dark make-up surrounded her frightful eyes yet she was forced to smile as if she enjoyed being exploited over and over again. She did not ask to be trafficked out of her country and forced to have sex, to be raped, by men she didn’t even speak the same language as.
This memory saddens me. I am thankful for organizations within India employing staff who are from the area and know the local language and cultural norms who are better equipped with relevant knowledge and skills, are present on the ground to help rescue and restore these young girls and women who are being exploited.
Apne Aap is an anti-trafficking organization in India fighting hard towards rescuing and restoring victims of sex trafficking (you can read more about the founder, who I’ve seen speak before, and their work in Half the Sky)… local police are now harassing the staff and family members which isn’t a surprise since corruption is cavernous within the system.
“One night aunty was drunk and sleeping and her brother was in another brothel. I ran away as fast as I could. I saw a police man on the road and told him my story. He promised to help me. He and his three friends raped me. I returned to Sonagachi and found a new aunty.”-Munni
Police are known to make commission off of the earnings of brothels, informing madams of possible raids so they can hide underage children. Police are more concerned about their personal gains, financially and sexually, and not at all about the well-being of the girls and women being exploited. Instead, police are aggressively harassing the Apne Aap staff members who are struggling to help victims of crime. This is illegal and people need to be held accountable.
Although we may not physically be in India to have our voices heard, we are sitting at some device with internet capability. We can electronically sign a petition where key stakeholders who are influential are informed about the issues at hand. Seriously takes a minute to do this. Staff at Apne Aap take the time to advocate on behalf of these women and I believe you have the time to advocate on behalf of the staff…
More information from the petition is below:
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Activists working for Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an Indian anti-sex trafficking organization that has has been instrumental in putting traffickers in jail and rescuing 25 girls from home-based brothels in Araria, Bihar have been subjected to wrongful confinement, arbitrary arrest, humiliation, harassment and obstruction of movement in the last six months by the Superintendent of Police, Araria, Shivdeep Lande. Should no action be taken against SP Lande, Apne Aap will be unable to challenge traffickers in the district or continue its anti-trafficking operations as the staff are now terrorised both by the police and traffickers. On the night of February 11th 2012, the police illegally detained the 15-year-old daughter of Fatima, a staff member of Apne Aap, in a police lock-up all night. On February 12th, the police falsely claimed in a First Information Report that two Apne Aap staff members -Soumya Pratheek and Manish Swarnakar-accompanied them on a raid. On June 1st, the police arbitrarily arrested the organization’s Principal Researcher in Bihar, Sri Mohammed Kalam,and kept him in jail for five nights, after which he was given bail by the judiciary. On June 2nd, the SP humiliated Md Kalam by parading him in front of the media with handcuffs and ropes around his wrists. Also on June 2nd, the SP announced to the media that his deputy had filed a station diary against the Founder, Ruchira Gupta and State Coordinator, Manish Jha. These acts expose the collusion between the police and traffickers and the urgent need for protection of Apne Aap staff members by holding the police accountable for their illegal actions.
WHAT IS THE PETITION DEMANDING?
We call well-wishers worldwide to demand from the Home Minister of India:
1. SP Shivdeep Lande of Araria be fired from his position as Superintendent of Police
2. Charges be dropped against Shri Mohammad Kalam, a known anti-trafficking activist and Chief Investigator for Apne Aap
3. Humiliation, harassment and obstruction of movement end towards Apne Aap founder, employees and their families
4. Protection of Apne Aap employees to carry on with anti-trafficking work