Geetha was twelve years old when her family sent her to work.
Before that fateful day, Geetha was as free as a happy bird flitting about and spreading joy in her quaint village.
She was the most vivacious child in the village, always up to some harmless mischief which sent her parents and friends into peels of laughter. Her effervescent laughter was infectious. But the mother had a responsibility. According to her, girls should not be seen or heard too much, for their own good. She loved her little girl and protected her fiercely. But Geetha was always sternly told by her mother to be quiet and “behave like a girl”, to which Geetha’s response was a hearty laugh and a prompt escape out the door. With the little that the young couple was able to earn, they lived contently. Geetha was even enrolled in the village school and it was her most favourite place on Earth after her mother’s lap.
Tragedy struck when Geetha’s father Sathish – the bread winner of the family, fell seriously ill. A treatment at the town hospital could save him but it required money. Money that they didn’t have. Lakshmi desperately requested assistance from the villagers, when she was approached by a kind man named Ravi who sympathized with her plight. After some thought, he made a proposition to her. An easy loan could be available to her, under the condition that Geetha be sent to work in a flower garden in the neighbouring village. Her food and lodging would be taken care of and the family would receive a weekly income too, till Sathish could work again. Torn between her husband and sending her beloved daughter away in exchange for an advance, Lakshmi finally chose the latter.
Geetha was perplexed when the plan was proposed to her. She did not want to leave her father’s side, especially not when he was sick, and she was not comfortable leaving her family and friends. The middleman plied her mind with fancy images of the flower garden where all she had to do was gather and pack bunches of colourful flowers. She would have fun, besides being able to help her father get well again. After some more coaxing, the girl gave in to the middleman’s false claims and her mother’s plea. Lakshmi swore to come get her once her father was well again. An advance of Rs. 20,000/- was given in exchange for the precious little girl. An emotional embrace and several promises later, Geetha found herself on a bus with the man who was escorting her to her ruination.
Days passed with Lakshmi devoutly nursing her husband back to health. The middleman Ravi was back, and hung around to avoid triggering suspicion immediately. While constantly feeding her small amounts of cash, he assured the mother that Geetha was happy and safe and that he would take the parents to see her, once Sathish was cured completely.
A few days later, Ravi was nowhere to be found. Filled with terror and panic, the parents approached the police and searched the neighbouring villages for Geetha.
She had disappeared without a trace.
Days and months passed without any news about the whereabouts of their child. Finally, three years later, Lakshmi and Sathish heard that a young girl was found working in a brick kiln, who was possibly Geetha.
The parents rushed to the indicated place hoping to find Geetha well. The sight that met them was the opposite of it. An emaciated girl was bent over a stack of bricks. Her bony fingers spread wide over the huge, rough bricks, as she held one brick in each hand to stack it neatly. The over-sized kurta top she wore was torn on the sides and bore sweat stains due to profuse sweating while working in the sweltering heat. Her hair lacked oil and nutrients as a result of poor nourishment, and hours of labour under the hot sun had turned her hair into a messy mass of coarse, sun-dried tangles held back by a single rubber band. No, this couldn’t be the same daughter who had been full of life and joy and could make everyone around her smile!
Part of the devastated mother wanted it to be Geetha, while the other just hoped that it was not her. Lakshmi drew closer to the scrawny person fearfully. The poor mother’s worst fears were confirmed when Geetha turned and limped painfully towards them. There was no spring in her step, no silly song on her lips.
She was finally, exactly how her mother had wanted her to be. Quiet.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) 2016 report, 763 children were trafficked in India. Out of the 334 cases examined by the courts, only 4 cases ended in conviction and 18 cases were acquitted or discharged.
(The above story is partially based on true events.)