KOLKATA, INDIA – The crowd stirred in their seats, eager for the dance performance to begin. A police officer from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), a major police force in West Bengal, India, stood to address the room. While a law enforcement officer seems an unusual emcee, this show was an exceptional one: The 19 dancers about to perform were all sex trafficking survivors.
The officer explained that the CID was hosting the dance performance as a way to honor these brave trafficking survivors, and to support the thousands of other girls like them, still waiting for rescue. The heavy red curtains rolled back, and the girls danced onto the stage. Each girl was adorned in glittering red and gold fabric. Triumphant bells hung from their waists and ankles. For the next half hour, their dance told a story from the epic Indian tale of Mahabharata, a love story about a warrior princess.
"We have talents and positive qualities we can show people. It's my favorite part: being on stage and showing them my talents." – Sex trafficking survivor
Over 300 people clapped and cheered as the dancers exited the stage. Proud staff from IJM and the aftercare homes where the survivors live were joined by friends, family members and other police officers from the CID. The girls excitedly hugged one another and posed for pictures. The real celebration was just beginning.
It was a pivotal moment for many of the girls, who have battled feelings of shame and the deep effects of trauma since they were rescued from exploitation. After the performance, one girl explained that once girls like her have been sold for sex, "our families won't take us back." Proudly, she added: "But even we have talents and positive qualities we can show people. It's my favorite part: being on stage and showing them my talents."
The concert had been months in the making, with many practices and rehearsals. But as Smita Singh, director of Mahima aftercare home for trafficking survivors explained, this was much more than a performance. "It truly shows that encouragement, love and the correct guidance will allow these survivors of the worst kind of abuse to bloom and take a confident stand in the community."
Another housemother from Transition Home beamed as she helped the girls in the green room, as if the trafficking survivors had become her own daughters: "I felt so proud," she said, "It is a dream come true." Images have been obscured for the protection of these IJM clients.