In 2012, police and shelter homes began to request Freedom Firm’s assistance in handling cases of rescued girls. Many girls had been rescued, but there were not enough social workers and staff in most of these shelter homes to thoroughly follow up on each girl. Girls were beginning to fall through the cracks.
We discovered that when there was insufficient follow up, girls were at much greater risks of re- trafficking. They were critically vulnerable.

In 2014, Freedom Firm began to take on more referral cases by sending social workers by asking various shelter homes (particularly government homes) to see if they wanted Freedom Firm’s help.

Annapoorna was one of our referral cases this year. We knew very little about her, just her address, that her family lived in Karnataka, and that she had lived in the brothel for over 20 years. Nothing more!
Our social worker visited her hometown to discover that her father and brother had passed away. Her step-mother and step-sister were the only surviving members. Our social worker was surprised to see they were unhappy to hear that Annapoorna was still alive and that she wanted to visit them. Clearly, Annapoorna would not be welcomed home.

A month later, Annapoorna joined us at the Ooty workshop to learn jewellery making. She was slow, detached from the other girls and wept frequently for the first few days. She made tiny steps of progress at the workshop in spite of being unable to move her right hand. Through physiotherapy sessions she gradually gained flexibility and movement. She learned how to master the easier designs and gradually picked up skills in creating complicated designs.

Although she was making progress in the workshop, and beginning to stabilize in her emotions, she desperately wanted to go home and meet her family. We persuaded her that it wasn’t safe for her to return but she was determined.

Photo: Annapoorna interacting with her neighbours

Annapoorna’s chance to go home materialised in August two months after she joined us. She was excited. Our social worker made all the arrangements and the two set off for her village. Her eagerness to visit her family however did not match the reception at her home. Her stepmother did not welcome her into the house, but instead spoke to her through an open window. Her mother asked her why she had come and where she was for twenty years. She blamed Annapoorna for her father’s death. ‘You have come to get your property’ she accused Annapoorna, and she was not swayed when Annapoorna insisted that she was there to see and speak to her.

The whole affair troubled Annapoorna. Realisation dawned on her that she was disliked and coming back home was risky. Her efforts to reunite with her estranged family were in vain. When she returned to the Ruhamah workshop, she was saddened and disappointed, but told us that she wants to go back home during the holidays. We couldn’t understand. Why would she want to go back to a place where she was despised?

Maybe, home is truly where the heart is. Good or bad. Loved or hated. For Annapoorna home will always remain home, despite being a dangerous and hostile place.

The village and the home is where many rescued girls like Annapoorna feel they belong. Their lives are inexplicably intertwined with the culture and tradition that becomes part of that community. The joys they experience as free individuals in the present and their hope of a better future is not something that can be easily removed by distorted past lives. Their desire for belonging is intangible, but possibly one of the most powerful drives of their lives.