Rescue those who are sentenced to die; save them as they stagger to their death. (Proverbs 24: 11)
Lakshmi was sitting alone on the concrete floor, her face buried in her bent knees. She had lost count of the days long ago. If not for a small hole in the ceiling, she would never know when the never-ending day came, and when the never-ending night came to replace it. Life had turned into an infinite hell, and there was no way out – no light, nobody to help her. She spent her days hysterically calling for help, pounding the soulless closed door with all of her might, or crumpled on the floor sobbing inconsolably. She realized with horror that she was doomed to her captivity.
Lakshmi grew up in a village not far away from the capital city of Bhubaneswar in Orissa, and her family was very poor. She was the third daughter, which was very, very bad. Lakshmi’s mother already had disappointed her family’s expectations three times, because she bore not a long hoped-for boy, but the third unwanted baby girl, who would become a tremendous financial burden to her already poor family! No doubt, all women bring bad fortune – you feed them for twenty years, save up a dowry for them, and finally give your daughter and all that the family had been saving hard for their whole lives to strangers – her new husband’s family! Nobody can make any sense out of girls – why did their family gods punish them by giving them a third daughter?!
The despondent parents held tiny Lakshmi in their arms ruthlessly discussing the future of their unfortunate child. What should they do now with their third daughter? Should they break her fragile back? Or should they drown her in a bucket of water? Maybe they have to go to a town and throw their unwanted girl in a dump, and later they could tell their neighbors that she was stolen? Maybe they could strangle her with a small pillow in the dark of night? Or is it simpler to stop breast-feeding, because anyway there is not enough milk for the girl? Maybe they should take their daughter to a witch, and she would give their girl some juice of a poisonous plant, and then they could tell their relatives that the girl died from an unknown illness? But something happened in her parent’s hearts, and they chose not to dispose of her.
As much as Lakshmi could remember, she was always blamed that she was a useless girl. Who would want to marry her, if her parents were not able to collect a traditional dowry for her? Indeed, according to Indian tradition, her two older sisters must marry first, paying a rich dowry to the families of future husbands. After that it is unlikely that her parents could find enough money to marry her also! So Lakshmi’s childhood was poisoned by absurd reproaches from her parents and by constant talk of how things would be different if she was born a boy!
Time passed, all three daughters grew up, and Lakshmi’s two older sisters were married to some poor guys. Her parents gathered the dowry with great effort from the time the girls were born, and now all their savings were irrevocably given to the families of their husbands. Unlucky Lakshmi stayed at home with her aging parents, awaiting her fate with fear and confusion, dreaming to discern her future.
Maybe her parents would decide that she should become the “son” who was never born in their unhappy family. Then Lakshmi would be sold for some money to a Hindu temple to become a “devadasi” – a temple dancer married to a Hindu deity, and a concubine of some Hindu priests. She would give birth to her children, and maybe, if she tried hard, her gods would reward her with at least one son!
Or maybe something unusual would happen to her, as it happened to a young girl named Rishpa from a neighboring village. Rishpa’s parents had five daughters, and they were unable to raise a dowry for the youngest girl. But one day some stranger knocked at the door of their house, and he liked their daughter so much that he even paid a lot of money to her parents to marry Rishpa. Now Rishpa and her husband live in the capital of Orissa in Bhubaneswar. Rishpa is very lucky, though the neighbors say really bad things about her – but evil tongues are always trying to discredit someone else’s happiness. The people say that Rishpa went back to her parents, but they got angry with her and sent her back to her husband. But Lakshmi must pray to her almighty family gods, and then maybe she will be as lucky?
Then one day, Lakshmi’s parents – trying not to look into the eyes of their third daughter – sparingly told her, “Your wedding will take place in a week! Get ready.” Oh, gods, you answered! Lakshmi’s heart either sank with happiness or shrank with fear, because she would meet her husband for the first time only on their wedding day. She had not even seen a photo of her future husband, though this had recently become customary. What if he is old or sick? What if I don’t like him? Maybe I will be lucky, and my husband will be as young and beautiful as I am?!
But whatever her future husband would be like, after their wedding she would do her best to give birth to a son or even lots of sons – but no daughters! Lakshmi would not share the fate of her chronically unhappy mother, she would only give birth to boys, as much as it depended on her. Only boys! Lakshmi would be grateful to her husband for the rest of her life, because her parents did not pay any dowry, and her fiancé wanted to marry her so much that he even paid some money to her parents!
Lakshmi’s wedding was much poorer than the weddings of her older sisters. For some reason, her parents did not seem happy and content despite the fact that they have received a considerable amount of money from her husband. Everything happened so quickly that she could hardly believe that the person sitting next to her is her legal husband and that her marriage was real and not a dream. It seemed to her that she was about to wake up and her fabulous dream would be over. But her family gods had mercy on her, she was really married! Lakshmi liked her husband very much, though he was much older than her. It did not embarrass Lakshmi – she fell in love with her husband who came into her life out of nowhere, and she would do everything possible to protect her accidental happiness by taking care of her husband day and night!
A few days later Lakshmi’s husband decided to go back to his home town Bhubaneshwar, where he had his own small business. Things could not wait any longer – it was necessary to go back home with his young wife. For the first time Lakshmi was going far away from her village and leaving her parents forever. Her eyes flooded with tears when she hugged her parents, but her new status as a married woman made her infinitely happy. She was starting a brand new life full of joy and pleasant family concerns.
The train carrying Lakshmi sped farther and farther from her native village, from her aging parents, from the anxieties of youth. All of her maiden life was left behind, beyond return. It was impossible to correct past mistakes or live her life over again. All the bad and good things remained in the past forever, and it felt right. Something new and unknown was in front of her, and she liked the new twist in her fate. All her life she was taking good care of the family idols – washing them and bringing them rice and flowers in their home temple. It had not been done in vain – the idols blessed her abundantly with a very good husband. Although she was quite afraid of the strange unknown city life, she believed that she would get used to the changes. And the idea that her husband would always be near her, and he would never betray her, gave her great hope!
Her husband had promised that they were going to Bhubaneswar – why the train brought them to New Delhi, the capital of India? And why had her husband changed so much during the trip? Why was he shouting angrily at her and pushing her rudely? Lakshmi felt a growing pain deep in her heart, and she got very much disappointed. She wanted to cry, but she was afraid of losing her husband in the huge crowd on the railway station. So, she just bit her treacherously quivering lip, and continued to follow her master obediently.
New Delhi teemed with roaring buses and trucks decorated with shiny tinsel. It was crowded with bicyclists, rickshaws and motorcyclists exhausted from the scorching sun. Lakshmi had never seen so many homeless cows with dried up udders, skinny bald dogs and huge bulls with ferocious muzzles. The animals were sick with every possible disease, but in spite of this they roamed around freely, shamelessly wedging in the traffic on the road. Everything was strange and unfriendly. Lakshmi was tossed from one side of the road to the other, and the wild noise of the strange vast city made her so frightened that she wanted desperately to return to her village to see the endless rice fields with its quiet wind once more. But it was impossible to return any of these, no matter how much she would miss it.
The rickshaw finally turned down a narrow street and dropped them off at a four-story building. It was no different from the other houses built close to each other, apart from the fact that this house was just in front of an open one wall toilet. The once-white wall tile had been terribly stinking up the area around it for many years, constantly attracting more and more new men to relieve themselves against the wall. The stench spared no one, and Lakshmi repressed a sudden attack of nausea with difficulty. She hastily entered her new house, where she had to live with her husband and raise their children.
Her husband pushed her roughly into a stuffy room, then slammed the door and went away, leaving Lakshmi – along with some other women and children – in complete confusion. She was seated at the table and, like everybody else, got some rice and lentils with Indian gravy. The food was seasoned with various spices, but it was unusual for her taste, and she could not eat it. Treacherous tears dimmed her eyes, and fear and pain swelled in her heart, paralyzing her from inside. It prevented her from paying attention to the other women chatting with each other. But Lakshmi could hear that the language spoken by the women and children was very different from her own language, and she could hardly understand them.
Time passed, and Lakshmi barely touched the food which had long been cold. Still her husband had not returned. Suddenly the door opened with a creak, and she quickly wiped her tears. She anxiously turned expecting to see her husband, but to her great surprise she saw Rishpa. Lakshmi could remember her well – they were from neighboring villages, and both of them were equally fortunate that they got married in spite of having little dowry. Lakshmi was instantly relieved, smiling happily at Rishpa, feeling inside that this young woman would help her understand the situation and would not leave her alone.
But the more Lakshmi listened to Rishpa, the more her fears grew. She could hardly believe that her husband was not a businessman, but a heartless pimp who had no concern for any of the young women from the remote villages whom he married by cheating and paying their parents some money. Then the phony husband brought all of his ill-fated young wives to Delhi where he quickly got rid of them by selling them for a profit to other men, and returning again to a remote village to find a new hapless victim.
Now Rishpa and all those women, whom she saw today, were forced to sell their bodies to other men, giving away almost all their money to their brothel mistress. At least their mistress takes good care of them all. She feeds them three times a day, and all of the ladies have a small room to live with their kids. And it would be really great if Lakshmi quickly agrees with her new profession and becomes “a volunteer” to work in a brothel like all the other women. Anyway, her bitter tears have no power to help her at all, because her con artist husband never loved Lakshmi, and he never will love her. This man loves only the money that he was paid by the brothel owner for Lakshmi’s body and soul. She is unloved, and now no one would ever call her my beloved. She is crushed and thrown away like dirt, carelessly swept out of the house.
Lakshmi refused to work with clients, and for that she was locked in a hot tiny room, where there was no window, and only a small hole near the ceiling opened to her a free slice of heaven. From time to time the brothel mistress kept sending Rishpa to the uncooperative Lakshmi, but she stubbornly refused to become a sex slave to thousands of men. Sometimes she was beaten, but her face and chest were always spared, because the “goods” should remain in perfect condition.
Rishpa was not an enemy and not a friend to Lakshmi, she was a miserable victim caught in skillfully placed traps. Thousands of captive daughters of India have to follow the same path of despair paved with rejection and betrayal. At first they were heartlessly abandoned by their parents and then by their phony husbands. Their hearts were broken, and they were cut off forever from the chance at a normal life. The preciousness of their youth was stolen, depriving them of joy and happiness forever.
Some time later Rishpa managed to escape from the brothel back home to her village. But her parents who should have been the first ones to open their arms, crudely put her over the threshold. She had covered them with shame, and even blackened the reputation of their extended family. Her parents conveniently forgot that it was they who sold Rishpa to a rogue stranger some years ago. Over time, she understood plainly that she had lost her family forever. Uneducated and mostly illiterate, she had no other choice but to go back to the loathed brothel. At least there she had a roof over her head and some food to survive on.
Lakshmi’s will was broken down, causing her to bow under the circumstances and accepting the terrible conditions of her new life. She no longer had a future, completely betrayed and forsaken. Of course, who could ever love her and rescue her from this hell on earth? What else could she do now? This was her destiny which the almighty gods prepared for her. She would walk in the way of shame and frustration to which she was predestined, a sex slave “to serve society.”
Fifteen years of nightmare have passed since Lakshmi was sold into human sex trafficking. She gave birth to five children from different clients, and she could not remember their faces nor their names. Ashamed and trying somehow to shield her children from the exposure to this vice – which occurred in the same room where she stayed with her kids – she gave them some alcohol to put them to sleep.
Lakshmi could see without any horoscopes and fortune-tellers what the future held in store for her three daughters. Initially, their virginity would be sold for nothing to some pervert. That is, of course, if they weren’t raped by any of the clients before the brothel owner would decide to start their career in the red-light area. Lakshmi’s daughters would certainly be caught in the cycle of her own life. They would remain in a brothel, giving birth to the next generation of miserable boys and girls, poisoning them with alcohol from early childhood. Lakshmi’s heart was torn into pieces, lamenting the lives of her dear children. But what could she do? She was useless and unloved, and the “almighty” gods control the destiny of every human being, and no one can ever change it…
Lakshmi’s first son was tall and handsome – her pride and joy. But in time he was destined to become a pimp as her “first husband” was. She had seen that man a couple of times from afar for many years in the brothel, but for now her son was too young for such a “job”. It pained her to see that at such a young age he was already heavily dependent on alcohol, and from time to time he was taking drugs also.
It was decided that Lakshmi’s youngest son would be castrated and become a eunuch, “serving society” by singing and dancing at weddings, house-warming parties or baby showers, and earning some money with his talents along with other eunuchs. Her beloved younger son would move to the eunuch community – who are the third sex people, who walk in women’s clothes and have magical powers to curse or bless young families.
It took another fifteen terrible years. Lakshmi is in her fifties. She is terminally ill and no one needs her any more. Her brothel mistress threw her out to die on the street, because the clients no longer look at the once young and beautiful Lakshmi. At first, she begged along the road. But now she is exhausted, and she is dying as her friend Rishpa died when she was only forty years old. Like thousands of other poor women sold into sexual slavery, nobody will ever remember her.
Who needs children of the streets, cruelly deprived of their childhood and left without a future? The Bible urges us, “Rescue those who are sentenced to die; save them as they stagger to their death.” (Proverbs 24: 11) Can you join us to help us rescue them?