MUMBAI, INDIA – IJM Mumbai got a call from the Kolkata police department. The police had been looking for Sundari,* a teenage girl who had gone missing three years earlier. Her brother had been the one to report the case, and he had refused to give up hope.
After months and months of false starts and dead ends, the Kolkata police believed they had finally found Sundari – she had been trafficked from Kolkata to a red-light district outside of Mumbai, nearly 1,000 miles away.
Since the Kolkata police had worked with IJM to conduct dozens of rescue operations in their region, they knew the IJM Mumbai team would have the on-the-ground expertise to assist them with this complex operation. The Kolkata police boarded a train, along with the Sundari's brother. As they started the journey – a 36-hour train ride – the IJM investigators and social workers in Mumbai prepared for the operation.
IJM set up a meeting with a high-level Mumbai police officer, and when the Kolkata police arrived the rescue team was ready for action. As soon as they got to the brothel where they believed Sundari was trapped, the police spread out around the building. A team of IJM staff, police and Sundari's brother made their way up the dark staircase to the fourth floor.
As soon as Sundari saw her brother, she "literally jumped for joy," according to one IJM staff member. Then Sundari burst into tears and ran to him. She had not seen him for three years, and could not believe he had been looking for her all this time. As he held his long-lost sister in his arms, he kept repeating, "don't worry, don't worry."
Police, visibly moved by the tearful reunion between Sundari and her brother, asked her and another girl with her about their life in the brothel. It was clear they wanted out.
IJM Mumbai’s Police Liaison held the hands of both young women as they walked out of the dark brothel. She felt them trembling. She spoke softly to them, explaining they did not have to be afraid. Sundari and the other girl said they had not seen the sun for three years.
IJM Mumbai's Police Liaison held the hands of both young women as they walked out of the dark brothel. She felt them trembling. She spoke softly to them, explaining they did not have to be afraid. Sundari and the other girl said they had not seen the sun for three years.
Police arrested two suspects who will face trafficking charges if indeed they were running the brothel where Sundari and the other girl endured unspeakable violence.
Back at the Mumbai police station, the brave survivors answered questions. They gave harrowing reports of the brutal brothel, which operated on a "token system." A brothel customer would buy a token and get ten minutes with a girl, meaning the girls were raped by multiple men, multiple times in an hour. If they did not comply, the girls were beaten.
The police treated both Sundari and her friend with compassion and respect as they collected information. They spent their first night in a temporary shelter, and two days later they were on a train headed back home to Kolkata.
Sundari was eager to return home with her brother, and IJM will continue to support her so she can thrive in freedom. The other young survivor has been settled into an aftercare home for minors, where she can get the care and counsel she needs.
*A pseudonym has been used for the protection of this IJM client.