14th Lane, Kamathipura, Mumbai,

“Maximum one more day, this tiny creature would not be able to fight more.” Madam told Raghu.

“Yes, Madam ji.

“When fear is not easy to instil, we need to break their spirits to fight, as broken spirits are easier for us to deal with.” Madam said philosophically.

“Yes, this small girl was difficult to handle.” Raghu replied, caressing the bite mark on his hand.

Badki was in a dark wooden box, which had a hole in one of the sides, just big enough to pass a small glass of water. She had never thought that her neighbour, would bring her to this filthy place. “Mumbai is a big city with many working women. They don’t care about money; they just want a trustworthy maid. Badki is twelve now and is the eldest one. She can work.” This is what her neighbour had said. Life was not easy for Badki’s family as her father was a poor daily wage labourer, who had eight mouths to feed. Her parents readily agreed to what their neighbour said. Badki was very happy to go to Mumbai, her favourite actor Shah Rukh Khan’s city, but instead, she landed in Kamathipura, a red light area of Mumbai. Her body, her innocence, her parents’ trust and humanity, all were sold to a brothel.

Badki crawled in vain to another end of the box to save herself from getting wet from her urine. The stench was making her nauseous and churning her empty stomach.

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 Next day,                                                                                                          

Madam was right. Badki lost the fight to hunger. She was taken out from the box, fed and bathed.  

“Raghu, she needs injections for faster growth, make an arrangement.”

“Yes Madam ji, but don’t you remember that rich foreigner, who was asking for a child? She can entertain him.”

“No, the client wanted a smaller child. You start giving her injections and make her ready as soon as possible. There are many men obsessed with virginity and ready to pay fat cash. We will have an auction for her and think of some sexy name for her, ‘Badki’ can’t work here.”

“Laila, Rosy, Rani…”

“Rani…’Rani’ is perfect; it will match her royal beauty. 

 

After 3 months,

 

Rani was dressed up like a bride. Her body had fattened now. Her swollen chest and full buttocks made her like a grown woman. She was in the centre of the room filled with men. Rani, whose mind was still of twelve years’ old, couldn’t understand anything but those men’s leering eyes were making her uncomfortable.

After some time Rani was taken to a decorated room.

“Tonight is a special night for you. A guest will come, you behave nicely with him.” Madam told her before leaving the room.

The guest, as old as her father, entered the room. 

Closed door, sharp pain, muffled screams, rolling tears and the ‘special night’ was over.

After that night, she was shifted with the other girls. There were cage-like rooms on the ground floor and each room was shared by four to five girls. They only went out of the room in small cabins on the first floor to serve their clients. Slowly Rani adopted the lifestyle of Kamathipura. She learned how to do makeup, how to wear a saree which shows the exact amount of skin needed to attract potential customers. She became a friend of her roommates. All of them were away from their families and needed someone to share their stories with. Usually their stories included their families and clients. For them men were bastards who only came to them because they couldn’t fulfil their fantasies elsewhere. Their fantasies were weird and disgusting. The one thing common among all girls was that – no one was there from their own will. They were abducted, tricked or forced into prostitution. Rani was the youngest among them and hence the busiest! She served around ten clients per night. Life was good for her only if she didn’t complain about her body pain, the cigarette butt marks on her body, clients’ denial to wear condoms, and free and forced service to some policemen as well pimps. 

***

A school in the small town of Himachal Pradesh, 

 

“Radha *Mausi, tomorrow we are celebrating Children’s Day, please help us in decoration.”

“Yes Miss, I will come after giving the tiffin to Richa.”

“Okay Mausi, it’s good that your daughter is studying in the same school where you are working.”

Radha smiled and left.

It had been almost two years in this school for Radha. She was a hard-working woman with a pleasant personality. Everyone was very happy with her.

 

That night, Radha’s house,

 

Richa was reading her Geography chapter. “Mumbai is the capital city of Maharashtra….” She stopped and said to her mother, ”Mummy, our teacher was telling that Mumbai is called a City of dreams. After I grow up, I will go to Mumbai.”

“Stop talking about Mumbai and sleep now.”

“Mummy, have we been in a big city before coming here? I vividly remember seeing lots of traffic, people…”

“Richa, please sleep now. We have to get up early. There is a Children’s Day celebration tomorrow, what will you wear?” Radha asked.

“My new red frock.” Richa said with excitement.

She slept soon but Radha couldn’t sleep. The mention of ‘Mumbai’ took her back to the 14th Lane, Kamathipura.

***

Rani would never forget that night. After serving a client she returned and found Munni, her daughter, crying.

Munni complained to her that Raghu had given her an injection.

 No…I can’t let this happen to my Munni. She will not do what I am doing. She will live a dignified life. 

Rani rushed to Madam’s room. Rani held her feet “Madam, please spare my Munni. She is a child. Please tell Raghu not to give her injections. She will get married and make her home one day. I am here; I will work double and will earn more.”

“Rani, don’t daydream… Munni is eight now and a prostitute’s daughter will become prostitute only. Who will marry your daughter? Don’t you remember the day when you had run away and reached your parents? What did they say after knowing the truth- “there’s no place for you here, we have to live in the society!” And then you had to return here. If I hadn’t accepted you again, you would have been on the road begging and getting raped everyday without getting anything in return.”

“Madam, I owe my life to you but please spare Munni.” Rani pleaded.

“Rani, don’t waste my time, go and teach Munni how to serve clients.”

Rani got up, wiped her tears and said firmly, “Munni will not become a Rani.”

Rani picked up the wine bottle from the table and banged it hard on Madam’s head. She couldn’t scream and collapsed on the floor. Without looking at her, Rani rushed back to the room, picked semi-unconscious Munni up and ran out of the building using the secret way, which was used at the time of police raids. Luckily, it was open at that time. They reached the highway and climbed a parked truck in front of a *dhaba, and hid behind cartons. Rani didn’t know where they were going when the truck started to move, but she was determined to go away from this place. By changing vehicles, playing hide & seek with drivers, and by offering money once, after three days of travelling, they reached a small beautiful town in Himachal Pradesh. It is said that fortune favours the brave. When the school trustee Nirmala Devi found them in her school compound, where they took shelter, and enquired about them, Rani grabbed the opportunity to build a new identity to start a new life.

“My name is Radha and this is my daughter. My husband has died and my in-laws threw us out of the house as they don’t want any burden.” The innocent face of the daughter and the worried look on the mother’s face were enough and in India, this was a believable reason, so the kind-hearted lady didn’t ask any further questions and employed Radha as a caretaker of her small school.

***

“On the occasion of Children’s Day, our children will speak about their role models” a teacher announced.

Children spoke about Pt. Nehru, Virat Kohli, their favourite teachers… Richa said, “My role model is my mother. I want to be like her when I grow up and be a good and selfless human being. My mother is my SHEro.”

Everyone applauded while Radha wiped her tears of joy. She had never thought that she could also be a role model and her name would have taken with the likes of Nehru and Gandhi.

If life is a journey, her journey from Badki to Radha was not smooth but it is said that “Not all storms come to disrupt your life; some come to clear your path.”

Glossary:

*Mausi- Aunty

*Dhaba- A roadside food stall

Links used for reference:

https://www.youthkiawaaz.com/2016/03/sex-workers-of-kamathipura/

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-24530198

https://uk.reuters.com/article/bangladesh-prostitution/bangladeshs-teenage-brothels-hold-dark-steroid-secret-idINDEE82I04I20120319

***

Photo by: Mayank Bansal

***

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