Freeset, one of our Kolkata businesses, has just celebrated its tenth anniversary – ten years in the business of setting people free, and the story of freedom continues.
You wouldn’t think it would take long to drive the 30-odd kilometers from Berhampore to Khargram but it did. Navigating huge potholes on a road lined with broken-down trucks parked unashamedly in the drive lane combined with speeding buses that couldn’t care less what side of the road they should be on encourages great care.
The change of pace is immediate on reaching Khargram. The villages are much the same as other villages in Murshidabad – small plots of land with families living in mud homes struggling to provide enough for themselves. And, like many in Murshidabad, Khargram homes are missing family members too.
Poverty forces fathers, mothers, sons and daughters to migrate in search of work that will provide enough money to send back home to the village. Without this outside support many families would never get by. It’s become part of village culture.
The culture in Khargram, however, has no age limit on when a family member is old enough to go. Simply put, decisions are made based on survival, with the knowledge that every generation needs to make sacrifices so the rest of the family can eat. It’s noticeable, though, that daughters – young girls, 10, 11, 12 and up – seem to be the ones sacrificed the most.
A conversation within the community suggests there are no sacrifices at all. “Trafficking of young girls doesn’t happen in our village. Of course it happens elsewhere, but not here, not in our village.”
I first heard this from the local headmaster, who did concede that many of the girls dropped out of school when they were very young. And where were these girls now? Some are married, some work at home, some have gone to the city to be housemaids, still others had gone to Kolkata and Mumbai to get work.
Next stop, the village police station and an interesting conversation. Same question about girls, same answer – “doesn’t happen here.” The conversation was cordial enough, the hospitality excellent, the denial – in a word, extreme. As we talked I counted in my mind how many Freeset girls I know who had come from this village alone. I got to six and yet I was told quite emphatically, “No girls end up in prostitution from this village.”
We took a short walk, just a few hundred yards from the back of the police station to Asha’s family home. Surprised by our visit, Asha’s grandfather (pictured, with his youngest granddaughter) greeted us and was immediately anxious for news of Asha.
Being careful not to share too much, we listened to the family story. Asha’s father left when she was just a baby and her mother was with another man soon afterwards. Unable to care and provide for the whole family on his bus driver’s pension, the grandfather allowed a friend to take his 11-year-old granddaughter to Kolkata. She would be placed in a good home as a housemaid.
As the conversation continued, Asha’s grandfather began to cry. And then he asked a question: “But Asha wasn’t sold, was she?” And again, “My Asha wasn’t sold, was she?”
Please continue to pray for our work amongst the women of Kolkata who have been sold into this dark industry. One at a time, we’re helping them to find freedom.