KOLKATA, INDIA – In a small, crowded courtroom on a rainy afternoon in Kolkata, a five-year battle for justice ended with a resounding victory. Two brothel managers and the man who trafficked 15-year-old Renuka* from Bangladesh to Kolkata were convicted and sentenced to prison.
"On the darkest nights, this day will be a beacon of hope," says IJM Kolkata Field Office Director Biju Mathew, "In this work fighting sex trafficking, there are huge challenges. We see violence and despair. But every day, we can decide to persevere because we know that justice is possible."
The conviction is a significant milestone in the fight against sex trafficking. And for Renuka, the teenage girl who was tricked and trafficked by the now-convicted man, it is another marker in a journey of great healing.
More than five years ago, Renuka was smuggled across the border and sold to a brothel where she was raped by approximately 10 to 15 men a night. In 2007, IJM worked with police to rescue her from this nightmare she feared would be her reality forever. It was IJM's first successful rescue operation in a brothel in Kolkata.
“In this work fighting sex trafficking, there are huge challenges. We see violence and despair. But every day, we can decide to persevere because we know that justice is possible.”
– IJM Kolkata Field Office Director
After spending a year in an aftercare home for trafficking survivors, IJM helped repatriate Renuka, and she returned to her supportive family in Bangladesh. IJM also supported the case as it moved slowly through the court system, persevering through many obstacles. Over the course of the trial, the judge changed twice and the prosecutor assigned to the case changed as well. These turnovers significantly delayed hearings and slowed the trial. The defense counsel stalled too, trying to confuse and distract with various appeals.
But the greatest challenges came when Renuka decided to testify in the trial. She wanted justice so that no more girls would be trafficked or abused like her. In 2009, she traveled back to Kolkata for a hearing to testify before the court. She resisted bribes and even thugs who threatened her. She was determined to share the awful reality of what had happened to her. The IJM lawyers who helped Renuka prepare to share the truth said that the judge, defense counsel and even the prosecutor were shocked by Renuka's courage and strong testimony.
On August 27, 2012, the truth prevailed in the courtroom, packed with onlookers and advocates, all curious to see what would come of this case that had dragged on for five years. All three perpetrators were sentenced to prison and ordered to pay a fine to Renuka.
The conviction was particularly significant for the man who trafficked Renuka across the border, who received the maximum punishment under the law. For the vast majority of cases in West Bengal, the trafficker is never caught, let alone convicted and put behind bars for a decade.
Renuka is now a strong young woman, living with her family in Bangladesh. "This is an historic case for my team," says Mathew, "Every single lawyer, social worker, assistant and intern who has worked here over the past five years knows this case. Many of us know Renuka. It has been a long fight, but today, we can say with great joy that we have prevailed."
*A pseudonym has been assigned for the protection of this IJM client.