My name is Kashi*, and I was born in Mumbai, India. When I was 5 years old, I was taken from my family and sold to a man named Naresh* who lived in Kolkata.
I was told to do chores around the house, washing dishes, sweeping, and tending to the needs of Naresh and his family. I was such a small girl, and sometimes I would get very homesick and cry, wondering when I would go home. But when I cried, they would lock me in a dark room, sometimes for an entire day with no food or water.
Every time I raised my voice or objected to my work, I was beaten into silence, and I was not allowed to leave or speak to anyone outside of the family. No friends. No school. No birthdays. No life.
Sometimes I would get angry and wonder, “Why have I even been born? What is the purpose of my life?”
Some days, Naresh’s brother and his sons came to the house. His sons would misbehave with me, and even though I tried to resist, they forced themselves on me.
The boys told me that if I tried to speak up and call for help, nobody would believe me. And they were right. Who would believe me? Who would listen to me and take my side? By the time I was 15 years old, I had been raped many times.
Around that same time, I was asked if I wanted a real job. I thought this was my opportunity to leave this life behind me, so I said yes.
Naresh’s wife took me to a place called Sonagachi, which is a red-light district. There, I saw other girls my age talking and negotiating prices with older men.
That day, I was sold for the second time in my life. This time, to a brothel.
Suddenly I started crying, “Please let me go from here! I don’t want to do this work!”
Hours later, I met one “customer.” After that, I had to meet with 15-20 customers every day. If I refused, I was beaten with a broomstick, a metal pipe or anything they could find.
I was scared to lose my life.
I didn’t think anyone was looking for me.
After several months of being in that dark place, police and IJM showed up and brought me out. They told me I was safe, but I didn’t trust anyone. I thought maybe I was being sold for a third time.
But the social workers from IJM came to meet me regularly, spoke to me, would ask me questions about what has happened with me. They believed me when I spoke to them, and they helped me testify in court against the people from the brothel, even though it was extremely difficult.
If I were alone, I could have never come this far. My IJM friends worked so hard to make sure I felt safe, and with their support, I never feel alone.
There is a fire burning inside of me when I think of my past experiences. I can hear a voice yelling from the fire saying to me, “You have to fight. You must save other girls.”
I want one thing: what I have gone through to not happen to any other child.
The fight to change society and protect other girls—this is my fight now, and I know I will complete this fight and win.
I will not be known as a girl who has gone through bad things. I will be known as a girl who has overcome bad things.
My name is Kashi, and I will hold my head high. Always. I will not let it come down. This is who I am.
*A pseudonym and stock photos. Kashi’s story is compiled from interviews conducted in May and June 2020