KOLKATA, INDIA – When IJM first went with police into the heart of Kolkata's largest red-light district to rescue a young teen named Sashmeeta*, she was hidden away in a locked room.
The chances of a girl being moved once police have been looking for her by name are extremely high. But when the rescue team returned three weeks later on November 22, Sashmeeta was still trapped inside the same building.
IJM Kolkata Director Biju Mathew added, "This brothel knew police were looking for a minor. They kept her anyway—they thought they were above the law. The fact that we got Sashmeeta out of this 'untouchable' brothel shows how things are changing in Kolkata. The rule of law is proving stronger than even the most audacious brothels."
The Vanishing Moment of Rescue
The red-light district where Sashmeeta was being sold for sex is teeming with brothels and more than 10,000 sex workers. Minors are mostly hidden—sometime behind layers of makeup that belie their age, other times physically locked behind closed doors. Once the IJM team found her, they knew they had to move quickly to get Sashmeeta out.
When the small team of police and IJM staff showed up at the brothel in early November, they saw Sashmeeta for a fleeting moment. But she was quickly whisked away and hidden where she could not be found even by the experienced rescue team. The opportunity to bring rescue vanished—the team was devastated, but refused to be defeated.
Taking Risks Because Sashmeeta is "Worth It"
Three weeks later, IJM proposed a new plan to police. There were more risks now to re-enter the maze of brothels, but as Biju stated simply, "Sashmeeta is worth it."
On a Friday afternoon, the rescue team entered the building. This time, they found Sashmeeta before she was hidden away. IJM social workers explained what was happening—that she was not in trouble, she was being rescued.
Police arrested one man who was working in the brothel, and they gathered other evidence that may be used to build a case against the brothel managers.
In the car, Sashmeeta sipped juice and opened up to the social workers. She spent her first night in freedom at a temporary aftercare shelter, and IJM will help her settle into a permanent home where she can receive the ongoing care she needs. Sashmeeta also told IJM that she has a birthday coming up in December—and this year she'll be free to rebuild a life of strength and hope.