I hurried towards the Metro station.
I am going to be late, I thought.
Motivating myself to walk faster, I accidentally stepped on something. I took a step back and saw a beautiful rose that I had just trampled upon. I looked around and saw a girl looking accusingly at me. Dressed in a frock, probably given to her by someone, she held a bunch of beautiful roses. But, the look on her face showed she wasn’t happy with my careless act. I understood that she belonged to the group of kids who sold roses near Metro stations every day. Hoping to win her over, I smiled. She returned a gracious smile and approached me. Hers was a familiar face, I realised!
Being trained how to sell flowers, she caught hold of the chance, asking, “Didi, ek le lo na (Please take a rose)!”
I knew I didn’t want to buy a rose. But I bent down to face her and said, “Le lungi, pehle aap yeh bataao ki aapka naam kya hai (I will, but first tell me your name”.
She answered, “Roshni”.
Her innocent smile made me exclaim, “Arre, aap toh is gulaab ki tarah hi ho (You are just like this rose)!”
She was a clever girl and returned to her usual line, “Didi, ek le lo na!”
I knew I didn’t want to buy the rose, but wanted to listen to her story. I convinced her to tell me where she stays. She pointed to a tent near a Metro pillar. The roses in her hand and the tent she lived in made me understand that she might have had a troubled past. Without me asking any further, she continued, “Meri mummy yahaa par baithke yeh sab baandhti hai, phir hum bechte hai. Phir hum paise lekar mummy ko dete hai. Woh raat ko paise kisi uncle ko deti hai (My mother sits here and binds the flowers, then we sell them, and bring the money back to her. She gives it away to some man at night).”
I asked, “Aap us uncle ko jaante ho (Do you know that man)?”
She nodded her head cutely, saying, “Na!”
I knew something was fishy, and I asked, “Aap school jaate ho (Do you go to school)?”
She looked at me perplexed, then returned to the ‘uncle’ taking money from her mother, saying,“Mummy hume unse milne nahi deti hai. Woh bahaar aate hai, mummy ko bulaate hai aur paise lekar jaate hai (Mother doesn’t let us meet him. He calls her outside, takes the money and leaves).”
The Sherlock Homes in me welled up and I asked, “Agar aap yeh uncle se mile nahi ho, toh phir kaise pata ki aapki mummy paise deti hai (If you haven’t met this man, how do you know your mother gives him money)?”
“Mere bhaiya ne bataya (My brother told me)!” She said. “Usne chup ke se dekha. Meri ek behen bhi hai. Par woh uncle use lekar chale gaye. Mummy kehti hai ki woh kaam karne gayi hai. Ek raat woh uncle bahot chilaaye aur mummy andar aake bahot royi. Kal toh police waale uncle aake mummy pe chilaaye. Mere bhaiya ko maara. Galat hai na (My brother watched him in secret. I have a sister. But that man took her away. My mother says she has gone to do work. One night that man was yelling a lot, and my mother came inside and cried. Yesterday, the police came and yelled at her. They even hit my brother. Isn’t that wrong)?”
Having heard stories about gangs which force women and children to beg, I felt maybe the ‘uncle’ was a part of such a notorious gang. I wanted to know more, but little Roshni had nothing more to say. She only displayed disgust for the ‘uncle’ in her otherwise innocent voice. I asked if she ever wanted to attend school. She again moved her yed, but this time she nodded a yes. But, the nod stopped quickly as she said, “Par mummy ko akele chodke nahi jaaungi. Mummy ne kaha, thodi badi ho jaaungi toh mujhe woh uncle lekar jaayenge (But I won’t leave my mother. She said that when I am a little older, that man will take me away).”
For a second, I felt goose bumps all over my skin, as I could only assume why she would be taken away. My emotions took over, and I felt terrible. But, I knew sympathy wouldn’t help the child. What would help is a concrete step to rescue this child from the claws of this perilous racket.
Roshni isn’t the only child stuck in this evil. There are others too. What about them? As I kept thinking, she tied up her roses, ran to her friends, and waved goodbye to me.
I was still shocked because of her story. I had read such stories but hearing it straight from a child, who might be taken away, made me shudder.
She went to the other gate of the Metro station and vanished from sight. Her eyes were promising and her voice rang in my ears. I looked at my watch and realised I was getting late. Resuming my previous pace, I rushed for the Metro.
The next day, I was hoping to meet her again, so that I could inform a few rescue workers. But I couldn’t find her. Her friends found me as “Roshni ki didi” and smiled. I asked one of them, “Roshni kaha hai (Where is Roshni)?”
Her friend’s joy suddenly turned to gloom, and she said, “Woh uncle Roshni ko lekar chale gaye, kaam ke liye. Uski mummy Dilli chali gayi (That man took Roshni away for work. Her mothe has gone away to Delhi).” I
looked at the kids, knowing they weren’t of a suitable age to understand where Roshni might have been taken. I realised I was too late; or maybe the ‘uncle’ was early. He wanted to take Roshni away when she grew up, but this sudden action made me feel empty.
The rose I trampled upon the previous day was still there. Withered, it lay there, destroyed by the greed of selfish men and women. It was supposed to be beautiful and its fragrance was supposed to touch hearts. But, it lay there, trampled upon by men who wanted to make big bucks through illegal and inhuman ways. As I walked towards the Metro platform, I realised the rose I saw was beautiful, fallen and trampled upon, never to bloom again.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.