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That day a woman despised and shunned by society, chose to fight for me which my own mother, a respectable woman from a good family, refused to do long back!
The autorickshaw screeched to a halt and I jumped out. As I handed over a fifty rupees note to the driver, he popped his head outside and then turned to look at me closely. I knew the reason behind that look.
Afterall, a red light district was not one of the places which a young, decent woman would want to visit. However, being one of the teachers at ‘Nav Jeevan’, an NGO which worked for the education of the children borne to these women, I was a regular visitor to the place.
Walking through the narrow alleyways, I thought about the first time I came here. It was three months back and nothing like I had imagined. Irrespective of everything that is shown in movies, the scene that met my eyes was that of children playing and women washing clothes and cooking. It looked just like another slum area where people were busy with their mundane chores.
Of course, the place donned a new look once darkness descended. Women decked up in bright and gaudy attires could be see standing in clusters, laughing and chatting amongst themselves. Men, ranging from lewd drunkers to wealthy ones would materialize out of the blue disappearing again with the preferred partner.
Initially when I came here, these women would look at me with awe filled eyes. Maybe because I was the youngest one in my team. There were girls younger than me serving in this profession. Some forced while others doomed to it. Though they all went through the drill, the hopelessness and gloom that sparkled in their eyes from time to time was hard to miss.
I was lost in my thoughts when suddenly I became aware of an eerie silence that was so unlike in this area. The crowded lanes looked almost deserted. Barring a few children, there was no one in sight. Even I found our makeshift office empty. None of my colleagues had arrived yet.
Perplexed, I came outside and saw Rajni standing a few feet away puffing at her beedi. She was my age and one of the girls working here. I had heard that she had been sold to this trade by the man she loved.
I approached her but she turned her back at me.
Seven years old Raju came running towards me.
“Hey! Where is everyone?” I bend down to his level.
“Don’t you know?” He looked at me as if I should have known this much atleast. “It’s Kali Puja today. All the women have gone out to offer prayers.”
Oh! I straightened.
“Didi, will you take the classes in my room today? It’s spacious and Ma is also not there. I’ll call the others.” Before I could consent, he ran away as fast as he had appeared.
I collected the books from the nearby cupboard and sauntered outside. Hardly had I taken two steps when I felt a hand on my shoulders. Startled, I turned around and found myself face to face with a dark, burly man of about forty. He smiled suggestively at me and leered, “Aati kya? How much?”
Before he could complete his disgusting speech, a bangle clad hand held him by the collar and snapped, “Eyyyy!! Can’t you distinguish between a respectable woman and a prostitute, huh?? She is not one of us and don’t you dare cast your evil eyes on her!”
Her chest was heaving with anger and there was murder written all over her dusky face.
“Come with me! Leave her alone.” The man looked frightened but was too wise to miss a lucrative opportunity. Like a docile lamb, he trailed behind Rajni.
My mind whirled into the past refreshing those old wounds which I kept buried inside.
I had been only eight when he trampled my innocence. Confused as well as frightened, I approached my mother. Instead of being compassionate, she admonished me, “Ssshh! Don’t you dare talk about this with anyone. I will take care of it.”
Yes, she did take care of it! From that day onwards, she kept me besides her whenever he came to our house. And he kept coming! My mother neither protested nor attempted to stop his visits. She didn’t let her daughter’s honour and feelings come in the way of her performing the duties of a good daughter in law! After all, he was the eldest and most respected member of our family. My parents revered him and looked up to him for any kind of advice and guidance. It was just unthinkable of accusing him and thereby bringing shame on our family.
Just around the bend, Rajni turned and our eyes met. For the first time I saw an unfamiliar emotion flicker in her eyes. Unlike the hostile glance which she often threw at me, there was understanding and a bond of sisterhood.
She disappeared with her customer and I finally realised what had agonised me all these years. More than the abuse inflicted by him, it was my mother’s or rather my parent’s unwillingness to stand by my side and bring my perpetrator to justice! For them, their family honour was more precious than the dignity of their daughter.
Rajni taught me that more often than not we mistake a diamond for a pebble. However we should remember that a diamond always shines on even if kept amongst pebbles.
Image source: a still from the film Chameli
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