“When the government was confused as to how to go about the operation, it was India’s actor, Suniel Shetty who supported us”, said Charimaya Tamang, one of the women rescued in the operation, in an interview.
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You have seen Suniel Shetty, the Bollywood action hero, come to the rescue of many on the silver screen. But did you know that the reel life hero turned a real-life hero for 128 survivors of sex-trafficking who safely found their way back home due to Shetty’s compassionate gesture?
This incident, which Shetty chose to keep silent about, took place 24 years ago in 1996. It would have remained a secret until, Charimaya Tamang, one of the women rescued in the operation felt it incumbent upon her to tell the world about Shetty’s hand in their rescue. “When the government was confused as to how to go about the operation, it was India’s film hero, Suniel Shetty who supported us,” she revealed in the Vice India documentary – The Forgotten Ones: Human Trafficking In Nepal.
So What Happened 24 years ago?
On 5 February 1996, the Mumbai police conducted a raid in the Kamathipura red light area and rescued 456 survivors of sex trafficking between the ages of 14 and 30. Of the 456 rescued women, 128 were from Nepal. Since most of these women didn’t have citizenship proof, even the Nepal government had apprehensions about taking them back.
At a time like this, when everyone was trying to find a way to securely send the women back to Kathmandu, Shetty heard of the news.
He took the situation into his own hands, helped arrange a flight, and paid for the tickets of all the 128 women to ensure that they reached home safely.
Shetty credits the Mumbai police and his mother-in-law, Vipula Kadri, founder of the ‘Save the Children’ NGO, for the operation. He was also adamant to keep the media out of the loop – a question which he replied to in a recent interview with Radio Sargam, “We didn’t want to glorify ourselves and moreover, we didn’t want to put the girls at risk, especially with the mafia involved in this case.”
After the incident resurfaced, many celebrities took to Twitter to congratulate the actor on the philanthropic act. Jay Bhanushali, who acted with him in the movie – Desi Kattey, tweeted:
Met @SunielVShetty anna so many times but never he had mentioned about this…this is what i call it class love you anna huge respect for you https://t.co/KN22jM1IGL
— Jay Bhanushaali (JB) (@imjaybhanushali) May 11, 2020
A Chance Meeting With Suniel
While talking to Radio Sargam, Shetty also narrated an incident where he had a chance meeting with Charimaya Tamang and was surprised to know that she was one of the survivors of the incident. “She told me how she started her own organisation for sex trafficking survivors and how it has got worldwide recognition. It was truly a special moment for me,” Shetty said.
Charimaya Tamang is the founding member of the Shakti Samuha, an NGO based in Nepal started by the survivors of the 1996 incident which works against sex trafficking and the rehabilitation of the survivors.
With Nepal topping the list in sex trafficking cases in South Asia, NGOs like Shakti Samuha are trying to bring about a change every day. Charimaya Tamang’s Sakthi Samuha which started with just 15 women, now employs over 135 and has received worldwide recognition including the Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2013.
Shetty helped change the lives of 128 Nepali women. Today, they are able to rewrite their stories and build a bright future for themselves, reminding us that sometimes all it takes is an act of kindness to change a life.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)