1988, when Ajeet Singh when he was only 17, he attended a relative’s wedding, where he saw a woman dancing. He later learned that she was a sex worker. Moved by the family’s plight, he adopted the woman’s three children, ending the next generation in prostitution. The children stayed with him for a few years, but later returned to their mother.
But Ajeet did not lose hope. By that time, he had started working in Varanasi’s red-light district to understand the problems faced by sex workers.
This laid the foundation stonea non-profit organization dedicated to combating child prostitution, second generation prostitution and sex trafficking in North India.
“I have been exposed to incidents of girls/women engaging in commercial sex and aware of their exploitation by pimps and brothel operators. The first rescue experience came in 1999 when rescuing three children and victims of sexual abuse from Banda, Uttar Pradesh, where the victim’s father was the perpetrator himself,” says Ajeet Your history.
After that, the first major rescue came in 2005 in Varanasi’s red-light district, when Ajeet realized that education/charity work alone is not enough to prevent sex trafficking and child prostitution, and that he must tackle prostitution’s structural roots. At. This first rescue was successful in rescuing 49 women and girls, including minors, from various brothels in Varanasi’s red-light district.
“Guria has pursued this case and convicted seven prominent brothel operators up to 2016 and the trial of the remaining defendants is still pending after 17 years. This head-on collision with the criminal nexus along with the education/compassion services offered in the Varanasi red light area as part of our end-to-end holistic strategy made it the first child prostitution-free red light area in India,” says Ajeet.
Ramala, a Nepalese from Varanasi’s red-light district, is one of the women rescued from human trafficking. She says, “Lordyeah has continuously fought for us and now we are much safer from the tyranny of the police, pimps, human traffickers, brothel owners, criminals and others. We were taken to this hell as little girls, but luckily there are no younger girls in the meat trade now.”
Rescue and rehabilitation in India is a complex process, Ajeet acknowledges.
“Initially, the police usually deny the crime, delay the rescue and avoid registering the complaints. We often have to turn to the higher authorities for rescue, or make petitions to the courts, or exert pressure through public support. Also, especially for brothel rescue, we need to conduct reconnaissance operations and collect spy camera evidence from underage girls staying in brothels.”
After the rescue, the victim is temporarily accommodated in an emergency shelter and his medical statement is taken before a magistrate. Ultimately, the child will be placed with family or in a home, depending on the availability of guardians and the child’s consent.
“However, we do not stop at this point of recovery and continue to provide the victim with free legal assistance, witness protection and livelihood support to ensure victim justice and a precedent are set. To win the case successfully, we must also appeal against releases of traffickers from the District Court to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court, oppose sham custody, conduct sham trials, have brothels seized, stand as witnesses, challenge bogus protection orders/acquittals, act against victims or guria, face threats and attacks, etc.,” he adds.
At times, Guria even conducts home inspections and counseling of the rescued survivors who have been restored to the state shelters, on orders from the state.
According to a study by Guria, about 94 per cent of the missing children are of lower caste/minority and 53 per cent of the families of these missing children had an income of less than 2,000 rupees a month. They come from the marginalized and vulnerable rural conditions usually hand-to-mouth, and their human trafficking is fueled by their economic and social impoverishment.
The girls are trapped by kidnapping, threats or use of force, coercion, deceit, deception, abuse of power, etc. Uttar Pradesh has one of the highest rates of emigration, which is subtly converted into sex trafficking and hence the state is an origin/transit/destination state for human trafficking.
Ajeet says she likes gender inequality, traditions of the Bedia and Nut communities, etc., and religious practices Devdasi are still very prominent in pushing girls into prostitution.
To date, Guria 5,185 people rescued and rehabilitated from slavery, including commercial sexual exploitation in brothels and debt bondage.
life after rehab
Guria faces a number of rescue, rescue and rehabilitation challenges.
Despite the provisions of the law, guidelines and orders of the Supreme Court, Neha, Education Center Coordinator, Guria, points out that the police refuse to report rape and sex trafficking cases and the complainant is therefore forced to report by court orders – but the erring police officers get off scot-free.
Furthermore, despite the information provided by the victims/Guria/parents of the victims about the placement of other underage girls in brothels, the authorities in charge of rescuing such victims neglect to retrieve them and act abusively or aggressively.
Police did little to respond to attacks on human rights defenders. There are 24 reported attacks on Guria India team especially Ajeet. These are just a few of many other challenges in rescue and rehabilitation.
Despite this, Guria has been involved/nominated on key government committees including Member of Central Nodal Agency on Combating Human Trafficking – Government of India; the State Advisory Board of the Government of Uttar Pradesh for the effective implementation, assessment and advice of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012; the Government of India’s Inter-ministerial Committee for the Drafting of Comprehensive Legislation on Various Aspects of Human Trafficking and others.
She also draws attention to the fact that Guria is still struggling with local authorities/police due to widespread corruption and impunity during implementation.
Neha explains that despite the social stigma that arises during rehabilitation and reintegration, most girls have returned to their families.
“The girls are happier since they were rescued from slavery. Wherever possible given the family’s situation, we have also provided subsistence support, supporting the victim families’ existing businesses (goat farming, animal husbandry, poultry, tea shop, general store, egg and greengrocers) or helping them start small new businesses establish or take up government/private jobs/self-employment (army, navy, government teacher, customs officer, attorney, manager, social worker, florist, ticket examiner, accountant) and professional training and we have also helped the victim’s family to apply for government compensation” , she says.
Karni, who received support from Guria for her livelihood and witness protection, says: “With my move of residence and the fixing of my doors and windows, it is now safe. I am no longer afraid and will certainly fight in court for everything I suffered and my parents were beaten.”
interventions and after
Guria’s continued efforts have resulted in many interventions and changes. Some of these include India’s first sustainable area free of child prostitution in Varanasi’s red light district, ratified with the 2019 International Mother Teresa Prize for Social Justice.
It has also created India’s first ever cultural group of 30 women in prostitution performing traditional music and dance as a means of awareness and dignity, including income generation for the performers. They have performed at prestigious venues across India including the World Social Forum
She launched a global awareness campaign Freedom Now against human trafficking in over 20 countries. Guria has also built a 42,000-strong rural women’s organization to prevent human trafficking in high-risk areas.
Guria is currently raising funds in partnership with GiveIndia to free women and children from the sex trade.
“While most of GiveIndia’s support so far has been directed towards the legal labor and feeding of the children of the Red Light Area Education Center, Give India has also helped us with ration distribution, village education and livelihood support. Overall, we are pleased that this form of crowdfunding effort would expand our reach in the community and promote sustainability, which would uphold Guria’s stance of raising tough questions at the state, which is responsible for preventing sex trafficking and child prostitution.” says Ajeet.
Speaking of fundraising, Priyanka Prakash, Director, Head – Online Giving & Marketing, GiveIndia, says: “GiveIndia stands for the rights of the weak and we are delighted to join Guria in his noble cause. GiveIndia’s fundraiser is an attempt to increase Guria’s ability to work with greater power. We can all do our part by donating generously to the fundraiser.”
Ajeet would like to continue working and replicate Guria’s successful holistic end-to-end strategy that achieved India’s first child prostitution-free red light area in Varanasi, probably the largest conviction of 41 traffickers/brothel owners in a single sex trafficking case in Allahabad, total rescue of 5185 people from the Slavery, 805 bail refusals, 260 brothel seizures, 122 total convictions, conversion of grassroots interventions into 14 PILs and 2 High Court/Supreme Court enforcement actions, witness protection of 321 survivors and more.
“The only yardstick we follow that needs to transpire is ‘lives need to change,'” he says.