When Serina went missing from her home in West Bengal her father immediately filed a missing complaint. When he heard that Serina must be in Pune, Maharashtra his worst fears were confirmed. She was trafficked and sold into prostitution. In early September 2010, Serina’s parents accompanied the West Bengal police to look for their daughter in Pune. Along with Freedom Firm investigators and local police, they searched the buildings where Serina was last seen. The next morning  Serina’s father accompanied the Pune Crime Branch and the Freedom Firm team and entered the brothel where she was last seen.

After the Freedom Firm operative ‘engaged’ with Serina the team entered the brothel, apprehended the brothel keeper, and a social worker led Serina to safety.  Serina’s father couldn’t recognize his daughter.  The months of torture and abuse in the brothel had changed her complexion and demeanor. As he looked around frantically he felt he’d lost all hope of finding her. When Freedom Firm staff gently pointed out to him where his daughter was, he ran towards her, wept, and asked her how she had reached the brothel.

Undoing Lies
Serina pushed him away and told him she didn’t know him, that she wasn’t Serina but Pooja. Tears welled up in her eyes when Freedom Firm staff told her that her mother had come too and was waiting for her at the police station.  The police asked her what she wanted to do – stay back in the brothel or come with her father. She immediately answered that she would like to go home with her father. As they held hands, Serina must have felt the weight of the world lift off her shoulders. Her father continued to speak to her in Bengali, the only language he knew and the language of home for Serina. But, she replied in Hindi. Her father looked into her eyes and insisted that she speak in Bengali. When they sat down in the car, the brothel keeper, Lata Thapa was made to sit next to them. Her father desperately tried to stoke her memory of home and her mother tongue but the brothel keeper’s presence intimidated Serina. Her father slowly but surely undid lies spoken to her by reminding her of who she truly was. At one point she began speaking in Bengali and told him that she would tell him everything when the lady next to her was taken away.

Fathers like Serina’s are hard to find, true gems in the lives of their children. They expect nothing in return, sacrificing their days in labouring for their families,  providing shelter even though they live in shanty huts and in Serina’s case, sacrificing his entire savings to travel 1200 miles across the country to rescue one of his children. It is a testament to the love of a father and the protection he can provide in a society where girls are mere objects of pleasure and abuse.

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Serina Returns an Empowered Woman
In 2016, Serina was summoned to testify against her brothel keeper in Pune.  Boarding a train, five years after her trafficking must have triggered many painful memories. However, this time the train journey had a different purpose.  This time she was a courageous woman seeking justice and not some helpless victim.  She was going to testify against the person who perpetrated atrocities against her. She knew that without her cooperation the law would be powerless to punish the brothel keeper. Surprisingly, her father, mother, and child traveled from the village to Kolkata, so that her child could travel with Serina to court.  Once she entered the court, Serina was no longer a victim, no longer a puppet of circumstance, she took charge of her life and boldly testified against her brothel keeper, Lata Thapa.

At Freedom Firm we have seen all kinds of fathers; fathers who are vile, greedy, and lazy; they don’t think twice about selling their daughters into prostitution and living off their earnings and we’ve encountered fathers who are compassionate,  gentle and loving.  In Serina’s case we see a father who didn’t give up his search for his daughter, didn’t get discouraged when she didn’t want to go with him, a father who brought his little girl home and finally stood by her when she was ready to take on her abusers.

 What would happen if we were to empower our boys to be men, like Serina’s father – to love, to respect, to honor, to protect – in our homes? Then, would we ever need to empower women at all? Would girls like Serina still be lost, missing, and in prostitution if we had men of integrity, men of character and men of honor?