In 2007, Trivani Acharya spent sleepless nights trying to track down two girls who had disappeared after expressing their desire to be rescued from the field of sex trade. She suspected that the girls who were sisters and had come from Bhutan, were in danger. Not willing to give up, she sent two of her staff members to Delhi on receiving a clue that they had been sent there. Twice before this incident, the girls had confessed that they were in the trade by force but had refused to say so in front of the cops. But Trivani persisted; not only did she track them down in Delhi but even brought their widowed mother from Bhutan to make sure that they would return to safety. This entire search took almost 8-9 months. Today, the girls are in their country.
Triveni Acharya has rescued and rehabilitated thousands of lives like these, since 1993. She has an adopted a son named Luv, whose biological mother committed suicide in a brothel. She narrates her story here:
It was 1993 and I was in Kamathipura, Mumbai, for an assignment. It is Asia’s second largest red light area. I was a journalist working for a Gujarati newspaper back then, and a film star was having a press meet in the area. Prior to that day, I had never stepped foot there. Curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to see what the badnam gaaliyan (infamous bylanes) were all about. I randomly strolled into one of the brothels after the press meet. Standing in the hall of one of those houses, I felt a deep sense of disgust. On returning home, I shared my experience with my husband Balkrishna Acharya and he was saddened too.
Like most among us, I too thought that these girls – all decked up in bright lipstick and revealing clothes — were prostitutes by choice. I later discovered that it is not true in most cases.
A few days later my husband asked, “Why are they not allowed to leave if they don’t want to be a part of this business. And what happens if one of them runs away?” A friend of his had fallen in love with one of the girls from Kamathipura and wanted to marry her. She wanted the same. “You are a journalist. You should be able to help her escape,” he said. I told him I’d try.
I got in touch with the cops who along with Balkrishna and his friend went to bring the girl back. Just as they were leaving, 13 more girls came forward begging for help. The cop sternly told us, “Just take the girl you are here for and leave. Don’t take responsibility of the others.” Balkrishna couldn’t leave; he was sensitive that way. So we ended up having 13 girls in our Kandivali home. This was the start of something we had not planned for.
Of the 13 girls, a majority were from Nepal. We reached out to a Nepal-based NGO named Maithi Nepal that rescued girls from sex-trafficking. The girls got a new life after that. My husband decided he didn’t want to give up working for this cause. He shut down his electronic store, which he had started after returning from 15-years of service in the Indian Military. “Triveni, you don’t quit your job. We can use your contacts as a journalist to help more girls,” he said. I agreed.
We worked in our limited capacity for about three years, spending whatever we could from our own pockets. In 1996, we opened a branch of Maithi Nepal in Mumbai because majority of the girls were from Nepal. We would rescue the girls and hand them over to the NGO. A few years later, Rescue Foundation was born to rescue girls from other regions.
For nearly ten years, our home was home to these rescued girls.
In 2003, a noble person donated a seven-storeyed building and Rescue Foundation got its first shelter home in Kandivali. Two years later, Balkrishna died in a road accident. I was certain it wasn’t just an accident. During those days, he would receive a lot of threats. I was broken. There were times I wanted to give up. But then I thought of the 15-year-old girls with HIV. How could I, as a woman forgive people who sell young girls as commodities? I resigned from my job in 2005 to work full-time against sex-trafficking.
I fondly recall my husband saying, “Triveni, we all have to die someday and have no control over how death with come to use. So let’s not worry and continue doing our work.” His words keep me going.
Now we save about 300 girls every year. Some girls are as young as eight years of age.
We have three shelter homes – in Kandivali, Thane and Pune – and the fourth one is about to start in Delhi. Rescue Foundation has 125 staff members and a slew of undercover investigators and informers. Being accredited by the Government of Maharashtra, Rescue Foundation receives some funds from the government. We are working towards becoming self-sustainable through farming, milk production, and selling craft products.
The girls are not in their best mental and physical health when they are rescued. Some are pregnant and some are HIV-infected. It takes one to three years to deal with legalities. Meanwhile, we counsel them and provide them with education and vocational training. At times some pregnant girls decide to undergo abortion, if it is possible. Some give their babies up for adoption, while others chose to keep their children.
I don’t take holidays to unwind. I find sukoon (peace) being among these girls. Their smiling faces give me strength.
Their hugs give me the confidence to fight for a better life for them.
Many of our girls are married. It’s beautiful to see how some boys come forward to marry them. They fall in love and look forward to a happy life together.
I often sing this song for the girls:
“Pochh kar ashq aapney aankho se, muskuraao toh koi baat bane.
Sar jhukane se kuch nahi hoga, sar uthao toh koi baat bane…”
I don’t fear threats, nor do I worry about being attacked when raiding a brothel. The mission will continue with or without me. I’ve prepared my staff to taken over. We have lit the torch for a better tomorrow and we will keep it burning.
Rescue Foundation received a Stree Shakti Award for Women Entrepreneurs in 2008. In 2011, Triveni Acharya won the Civil Courage Prize of The Train Foundation, awarded annually to those “who resolutely combat evil”. She was presented the Asia Democracy and Human Rights Award of the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy by Taiwanese president Ma Ying-Jeou in 2010 and became the Humanitarian Honoree of World of Children Award in 2013. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org