MUMBAI, INDIA – A four-and-a-half year battle finally came to an end in a Mumbai courtroom on January 6, 2014: Two brothel managers and three pimps were found guilty of selling minors for sex. It was a long-awaited victory for the IJM team seeking justice for girls who had been trafficked years ago.
"I was waiting for so many years for this case to be resolved, and I was getting frustrated," said IJM Mumbai lawyer Renita Menezes, adding, "But God has shown us that he is in complete control and that his timing is perfect. We would probably not have received such a favorable ruling earlier."
A long and bumpy road to justice
In July 2009, IJM assisted police with an anti-trafficking operation at a motel that was operating as a brothel. Five minors were rescued and went to an aftercare home. As IJM social workers helped each survivor work through her trauma and plan for a new future, IJM lawyers supported the legal case developing against the traffickers.
Ananti* and another survivor chose to testify in the case. Their decision was courageous, as it meant talking about painful memories in an unfamiliar courtroom. According to Ananti's IJM social worker, "Ananti testified excellently. She was very brave on the stand."
In Mumbai, it is typical for sex trafficking cases to take two or three years to get through the crowded judicial system. The courts are overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases, and judges and prosecutors are transferred frequently.
In this case, several obstacles made the trial last twice as long as is typical:
- The public prosecutor for the case was reassigned many times. Each time this happened, IJM Advocate Renita Menezes or another IJM lawyer would brief the new prosecutor on the facts of the case and ensure he or she understood the sex trafficking laws
- The original judge was also transferred towards the very end of the case. This meant that the second judge had to rely on recorded transcripts instead of hearing direct testimony for all but one witness.
- Getting testimony from that final witness, the Special Police Officer (SPO), was another battle in and of itself. India's anti-trafficking laws require an SPO to be present for the entire rescue operation. The defense argued that there had been no SPO on the operation—a false claim that the prosecutor could easily debunk if the SPO testified in court. At first, the judge denied the prosecutor's request to have the SPO testify. Renita tenaciously fought the judge's decision all the way to the High Court, which ordered that a written statement by the SPO be recorded first. Then, the judge allowed the SPO to testify.
While the evidence of trafficking was strong, Renita and the IJM team were not sure how the judge would rule, given the many twists and turns in the trial.
The day of reckoning
The ruling was finally scheduled for the first week of 2014, though it had already been pushed back several times over the previous weeks. On January 6, Renita entered the courtroom at 11 a.m. For an hour, she waited quietly with the public prosecutor as well as the suspects and their defense attorneys. An air of uncertainty pervaded the room. Then, the judge announced that he would read the judgment later that afternoon at 3:00 p.m.
Relief washed over Renita. She went about other business at the courthouse and was back in the judge's courtroom by 3:00 sharp. Thirty minutes passed. Then, the judge ordered everyone out of the room except for those involved in the sex trafficking case.
The judge announced that he would read out the ruling—just as soon as the court clerk finished typing it up. The anticipation was acute as the clerk typed. Renita searched the judge's stoic face for an indication of what the ruling would be, but found no trace of emotion.
Finally, at 5:15 p.m. the judge rose. He pronounced five men guilty: Three pimps, the motel manager, and the motel supervisor were all convicted under trafficking charges. The manager and supervisor were fined and sentenced to a year in prison, and the pimps were fined and sentenced to seven years rigorous imprisonment.
Justice brings closure
The convictions were not only the first of the year for IJM in India, but they were the first convictions that IJM had secured in this particular court.
All of the survivors have returned to their home states after spending time healing in an aftercare shelter. Ananti was repatriated to her home in Bangladesh some time ago, and she is now happily married.
After nearly five years of pursuing justice through this court, Renita said that the she celebrated what the convictions meant for the girls who had been trafficked and exploited by these individuals: "the ruling brings a painful episode in the lives of the survivors to a close."