Friday, June 19, 2015

Nafisa's Story

Married, at 18, to a man her family chose for her. The first few months of Nafisa's married life passed quite well. An attentive husband who bought her a lot of jewelry, in laws didn’t seem to be out-and-out monsters. She had hopes of an average, happy life. All that changed in a few months though. Her husband began to assault and abuse her physically. Her in-laws began persecuting her to get money from her parents. When she tried to tell her parents about it, she was advised to “adjust”. She was told to make her violent marriage and home work, as her elder sister had been doing for many years.

Two years later, when the torture became unbearable, she finally left her marital home to return to her parents. She filed a case against her husband under 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). She countered her parents’ resistance to all the “legal mess” by handling her court appearances and legal procedures by herself. But, it proved much harder than she had imagined. Just the cost of regular travels to and from the city to appear before the court was making a huge dent into what money she had. She began to be worried.

This was when she met Bani. A seemingly concerned woman, Bani became friendly with Nafisa and soon asked if she wanted work. It would be domestic help work, to help with her financial needs. The only catch, of course, was that it would not be in Kolkata, or West Bengal. She would be able to visit home once every couple of months. After a lot of thought, and overcoming her parents’ reluctance, Nafisa agreed. She left home to meet Bani at Ballygunge station. From there she accompanied Bani to Howrah station to meet her soon-to-be employers.

On the way there, she ate some sweets Bani gave her. The next thing she knew, she was in a train. Bani was nowhere to be seen, but very much in evidence were her husband and her brother in law. This was her “punishment” her husband said, for daring to file a case against him. “Withdraw the case or face the consequences”. She passed out again to wake up in a brothel in Budhwarpeth, Pune.

Nafisa says she is lucky, compared to many others in similar situations, and she is. While she was at the brothel, she was starved, and beaten, but she didn't have to entertain clients. Before she could be forced to, she was rescued in a police raid. Seven days after she arrived, Nafisa left the brothel to go into a shelter home. From there she was eventually returned home.

Nafisa’s anger and trauma found a way to express themselves through registering a case against her traffickers. Nafisa continues to fight, and takes the initiative to bravely drive her own case. She travels to police stations and courts far from home, through dangerous and lonely routes. When Sanjog began to research her legal case in 2013, we found that no progress had been made beyond the registering of the FIR. There wasn’t even a charge-sheet, and no movement had been made to investigate. After much prodding, in 2014, a charge-sheet was finally filed, and an investigation also began around the same time.

However, none of it took cognizance of the role of Bani as trafficker. Her name was missing from the charge-sheet, and there had been no attempt to locate her. Since Bani was the main link between Nafisa and the trafficking by her husband and brother-in-law, Nafisa filed a Naraazi petition. (this is a protest petition, which can be lodged by complainant against the report filed by police when there are gaps, or when the complainant does not agree with the laws applied, and so on) . After this, the court has ordered a re-investigation into her case.

Today, Nafisa is fighting on many fronts. There is a pressure to “settle” the 498A and the maintenance case she has against her husband, to deal with the family and social pressure to get married again. There is the trafficking case, in West Bengal, and in Pune. She has to travel to pune again, soon. She must give evidence to have the brothel manager convicted and punished.

Every time she has a court date, she loses money not only on travel but also the income from her small shop. She is socially isolated in her village. All the women her age are busy with their homes and children. She is trying to build a relationship, but afraid of being betrayed by the man she trusts. Her husband, recently, has put a price on her head. He is offering a reward to anyone who kills her.

Yet, in the midst of all this, Nafisa is balancing home, shop (set up through the Kaarya Programme run by Sanjog), and her legal commitments. And, the once shy, uncommunicative Nafisa keeps coming back to Kaarya training meets (in spite of the lost money, time, and the extra effort).

She feels that she can guide the “new girls” on what to watch out for when they open their own small businesses. She loves the taste of freedom she gets from these outings, where she can wear leggings, go shopping in Gariahat, get a breath of fresh air away from her mountain of daily stresses.

She can help others change their lives. She is a 'motivator' and a 'reflector' for many of the other survivors and adults who work with her. She can get them to think about their values and mindsets.

“Earlier I did not have courage,” she says, “but my anger and persistence have helped me to be courageous. I realized that only anger and persistence will not help me to grow and be successful in life , money and friends are also important. I have found both money and friends from all of you and that is the reason I have been able to walk this successful journey and for this I am really thankful to all of you. I hope all of you will always be my friends.”

To know more about Sanjog India, and what it does to support girls like Nafisa, visit http://www.sanjogindia.org/