This is a story that deserves a happy ending but for that, the apathy of society and the administration will have to be overcome. Will a mother’s cry be heard?
This is a story of a mother who lost her daughter. It is not the first such story in the world, and definitely not the first in India’s capital city. However, this is a story of a mother who doesn’t know who or what she has lost her child to. It is the story of a frantic mother’s search, a quest for justice.
Jaya,* originally from Guwahati, Assam, was trafficked to Delhi almost 20 years ago. At that time, she had two children, a 10-year-old son and a daughter Seema (all names changed), only a few months old.
At first, Jaya didn’t know why she had been brought to Delhi. The man she was sold to kept her in his house for months, making her do domestic chores. Soon after, she was forced to move to a brothel on GB Road, and has been doing sex work ever since.
Like all mothers, Jaya did not want a similar fate to befall her children, she dreamed of a better life for them. Having already lost five children soon after their birth, Jaya lived only to see them grow up and prosper. As Seema started to grow older, Jaya tried to look for schools or hostels, where her daughter could grow up with a semblance of a normal life, away from the kind of life that she had to live.
This proved to be difficult for the family. At first, Jaya sent her daughter to live with her sister in Assam, regularly sending money for schooling and living expenses, as her sister had her own two children to look after. A few years later, though, the aunt turned abusive towards Seema, and the girl begged her mother to bring her back to Delhi.
Jaya’s first husband had left her when her children were still very young, and she married Kamal (name changed), a rickshaw-puller, whom the children always considered their father.
Jaya rented a room in Meerut, where she kept her daughter with her second husband, visiting them whenever she got a break from work.
In the 18 years she spent in Delhi, Jaya made a few friends in the same profession, all of whom were looking for a means of educating their children.
They came across a woman named Tulsi,* who claimed to know of a boarding school in Delhi that would take in these children, while their mothers went to work. Parents were allowed visits on holidays, when Jaya would cook Seema’s favourite dishes, so her daughter would get a break from the hostel food she kept complaining about. However, Seema did say that they were being taught well, and studies were progressing well. This of course, was a relief for Jaya considering all the traumas they had endured as a family.
A few years later, though, Seema, along with a friend, were expelled from the school due to “behavioural issues”. Despite Jaya’s repeated requests to give her daughter another chance, the school authorities refused.
This eventually led to Seema’s admission into Light Life Freedom Home, another institution that was brought to Jaya’s attention by Tulsi. This is run by an organisation that claims to rescue children from trafficking and abuse, but gives suspiciously little online in terms of credentials.
An article published by Save Your Children also came across this finding in 2017, where they mention the lack of any online presence of this home, when investigating the case of two Nat children who were separated from their family by this organisation. Once Seema was brought to this home, her meetings with her mother became extremely restricted for the first few years, with barely 10 days of holiday once a year, despite having been promised one meeting a week. Soon enough, these meetings fizzled out altogether, and here is where things started to get really suspicious. No matter how many times the parents requested it, one of the founders of the home, both of whom are lawyers, did not allow these parents to meet their children — either they refused pointblank, or madesome excuse to keep the children away.
In one of her earlier meetings with Jaya, Seema had confessed to her mother that she was afraid of the caretakers at the home. Seema also told her mother that on joining, her gold earrings were confiscated by those who ran the home. And she was made to do household chores instead of attending classes.
One day, all the angry parents decided that they had had enough, and proceeded to the home to demand that they be allowed to meet their children. On arrival, they could see their children playing on the terrace. But as soon as the children noticed their parents and started to get excited, they were ushered into a room and locked. The owner then called the cops to have the parents removed from the premises.
Jaya reveals now that the people of the locality also expressed concern about the intentions of those that run Light Life Freedom Home, telling them that they should not have entrusted their children into the care of this supposed NGO. According to them, every three or four months the police come to the home, but no apparent action has been taken against them.
This was a struggle that continued for three years. About six months ago, when Jaya attempted to meet her daughter again, she was informed that her daughter had fled along with a friend, and the authorities at Light Life Freedom claimed that they held no responsibility for the same as Seema had turned 18, and was no longer a minor. And since Jaya could not provide proof that she was Seema’s mother, they were not obliged to help her find her daughter.
What needs to be understood here is that families like Jaya’s have very limited means, managing day to day with only basic amenities. It isn’t hard to believe that amidst trying to make a living and give her children a comfortable life, she did not think to have Seema’s identity proof made. Such people live with significantly less means and awareness than the average middle class Indian, and NGOs should take such things into consideration before taking on the responsibilities of children coming from such difficult circumstances.
This is when Jaya decided to take matters into her own hands. She went to three different police stations but received no help from any of them. She approached the Juvenile Justice Board, where she received less than cordial treatment from the authorities. She was asked whether she was interested in getting her daughter back or the money she spent in admitting her daughter into the NGO-run home. Understandably, this angered Jaya and she got into a scuffle at the court, but managed to come out of it unscathed. “I have spent enough time on the streets to not be scared of threats from these people,” she says, “Main nahi darti (I am not scared).”
In addition to this, the police station currently overseeing the case had reportedly refused to accept the complaints filed by Jaya, claiming that the same complaint for two missing girls had already been filed by the owners of the NGO, and they were already looking into it. Jaya with the help of her legal counsel had to finally Speedpost their complaint to the SHO for it to be given attention. The complaints filed by Jaya, and the NGO, appear to have various differences in details, including the age of the two girls who have gone missing. Besides this, the reports vary in several other major details as well — including how Seema came to the home, and how long she stayed there.
Between her visits to the police stations and the courts, she was put in touch with Bachpan Bachao Andolan, whose founder Kailash Satyarthi famously got the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for child rights. BBA took on the case, assigning Jaya a legal counsel. “Why are children not a priority for the government?” asks Bhuwan Ribhu. Director of Bachpan Bachao Andolan. The court hearing is set to take place on July 6. The police officer in charge declined to go on record regarding anything about this case, until the court hearing takes place.
Jaya, an extremely brave woman in her own right, is earnestly gearing up for this hearing, in the middle of managing a family and keeping her job. It is not only Jaya who has lost her daughter, India has lost a citizen. Seema is one of many unfortunate people who are lost every day and go unnoticed.
One can only hope for a positive outcome from the legal proceedings. One can only hope that Seema is reunited with her family, and that Jaya has taken one small but significant step towards bringing justice for all such families.
* Names have been changed to protect identities