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'Those were the worst days of my life'

  • Published at 02:44 pm December 7th, 2014

A 14-year-old child with olive skin and big black eyes sits in a chair, speaks briefly with her lawyer, and then turns to me.

“My name is Rinku. I am a victim of trafficking. I was sent to there to be forced into prostitution,” she says, her eyes wet with tears.

She described how she was taken to India illegally to be forced into prostitution and how she managed to escape.

Rinku’s lawyer, Advocate Shahin Momtaz of the Bangladesh National Woman Lawyers’ Association, said her client had been traumatised by her ordeal.

“We are trying to give her courage,” she said.

Her tale began eight months ago in March. Between March and November, Rinku was all by herself in India, far away from her family.

Rinku Akhter Simu, a student of class VII, studies at a local school in Niltek Shingashur of Kolatia Bazar in Keraniganj.

On March 15, she came to visit her elder sister Rehana Khatun and brother-in-law Ashraf Uddin at a house in Dhaka Udyan.

There Rinku met a girl, Sathi, wife of Raju, who lived in the next room of the building. Sathi was pregnant.

The man who turned out be her trafficker, Sirajul Islam, 18, son of Ashraf Ali of Natore, was staying in another room of the building.

Rinku told the Dhaka Tribune: “A day after I got there, Sirajul proposed to me. He said he wanted to have an affair with me and wanted to marry me.”

Rinku says she never responded to Sirajul’s proposal.

Her brother-in-law Ashraf Uddin said: “I forbade her to talk with Sathi, but Sathi used to visit our place and bring Rinku over to gossip.”

Sirajul met Rinku at Sathi’s place on March 15.

On March 26 around 7am, Rinku was getting ready to leave for home, as her mother was on her way to pick her up. She went to Sathi’s place to say goodbye.

Sathi offered her snacks, and Sirajul suddenly arrived. He asked her: “Where are you going?”

When Rinku replied that she was going home, Sirajul placed a handkerchief over her mouth and she fainted.

Rinku later found out that Sathi had told Sirajul that if he managed to take Rinku, then he had to pay her Tk500.”

According to Ashraf Uddin, Sirajul paid Tk500 to Sathi, over the kidnapping and trafficking of the girl. Rinku told the Dhaka Tribune: “When I woke up, I was in a boat with Sirajul and two others, Sakib and Moinul.”

“I was crying and shouting, ‘I want to go home,’” she recalls.

Siraj told her that he was taking Rinku to his mother’s house to marry her.

“I cried and said, ‘I don’t know you, why would I marry you? I want to go home. I couldn’t shout properly as I had not eaten since the night before. I was feeling very weak,” Rinku told the Dhaka Tribune.

After getting down from the boat, Sirajul pulled the boat in. On the main road, I saw a man standing with a microbus.

Rinku said Sirajul pulled her hand and kept saying: “I am taking you to my home.”

She walked around 10 minutes to reach the main road. She overheard Sirajul’s partner say: “Do not take this road, there are police there.”

Ibrahim, the person standing next to the microbus, is one of the most notorious traffickers on the border.

With the help of Sakib and Moinul, Sirajul took Rinku to Nabinagar of the Dhaka district. They took a Hanif Paribahan bus around 11pm. On March 27 around 7am, they got down to Benapol and, with the help of Ibrahim, all of them entered India without any trouble.

Rinku said: “There was a pond in the area and big banana trees beside the road. I did not know that I was in India.”

On reaching the main road, Sirajul took Rinku to a car.

After about 30 minutes of travel, the car reached a two-storey building. Rinku did not yet know that she was in the Shibpur, West Bengal.

Rinku’s mother Aisha Begum said: “Sakib, Sirajul and Moinul sold my daughter to brokers for big money.”

Sirajul took Rinku to the first floor of the building, where she saw a woman.

Rinku told the Dhaka Tribune: “I got scared looking at her. She looked horrible.”

Sirajul told Rinku: “You stay here for two days. I will come again to take you to my mother’s house.”

There were 5 or 6 other girls of her age at the building. Rinku did not know that she had been taken to a brothel, where the woman and her nephew’s wife ran the sex business. The woman, she later found out, forced her own nephew’s wife into prostitution.

“The woman asked me if I had had an affair with Sirajul. I said, ‘No. I want to go home.’ Then the woman said, ‘You were not brought to this house to go home.’”

“Then I saw the woman give a lot of money to Sirajul and he left,” said Rinku.

She could not say what the woman’s name was.

The woman asked her if she had any physical relations with anyone before and Rinku said no.

The woman then said: “Then you can be sold for a huge amount of money. Such girls have a high demand in this business.”

Rinku told the Dhaka Tribune: “The woman called someone on the phone. She said she had a virgin. The person talking on the other side of the phone said something and the woman laughed. She urged the person on the other end to come quickly and get me.”

Rinku was taken to the room where the other girls were staying. She was crying when a girl asked if Rinku came here of her own free will. She replied that she had been forced.

Then the girl told me: “You do not know where you are. This is a brothel and all of us here must sell sex.”

“I was crying when the girl said she would teach me how to escape from the place. She give me Tk600. When I asked her why she did not flee although she knew the way out, she replied that she came here of her own will in order to earn money,” Rinku recounted.

It was March 28. The woman in charge was in the wash room. Her nephew’s wife was also absent. Taking advantage of the situation, Rinku opened the lock and fled the house. She ran for an hour and a half until she got to Seyaldah bus stand.

At one point she took a rickshaw for a fare of Tk20 to reach the bus stand. After reaching the bus stand, she bought a ticket for Bongaon in West Bengal, India.

As she was getting on the bus, Rinku’s would-be-madam grabbed her by the wrist.

“You have a lot of courage. Come with me. I will teach you a lesson.”

Rinku was crying and a crowd surrounded them. Rinku told the gathering crowd that the woman was in the sex trade and that she had been forced to come to India.

When the woman tried to escape, she was caught and beaten up by the public.

Javadpur police took them to the police station. The next day, Rinku was produced before the court. But the woman managed to escape by bribing the police.

Rinku was later handed over to Indian NGO Sanlaap.

Meanwhile, Rinku’s parents were searching for her everywhere when a neighbour of Ashraf’s said he saw Rinku with Sirajul around 12pm on the day she went missing.

Sirajul’s phone had been switched off for several days. After three days, Sirajul reappeared and told Rinku’s parents that he had married the girl and she was staying at Natore.

When Rinku’s family called Sirajul’s home, his parents denied it.

Sakib’s brother-in-law, Babu, who lives at the same house, said Rinku and Siraj were in Pabna.

Ashraf and Babu went to Moinul’s house in Pabna. They told Moinul’s father, Abul, about the missing girl.

On March 28, they found Sirajul and beat him up. They then took him to the Gonigacha union chairman, Md Nurul, where Sirajul admitted that he sold Rinku for Tk13,000.

Sakib, Sirajul and Moinul took Tk5000, Tk4000 and Tk4000 respectively. He demanded another Tk40,000 to bring Rinku back.

Sirajul was taken to Dhaka and handed over to Mohammadpur police station.

A case was filed on April 5 against four people including Sirajul. The investigation officer of the case Sub-Inspector Jalal Uddin told the Dhaka Tribune: “Sirajul is an FIR-listed accused. He was produced before court on April 6.”

Sirajul told the police that he took Rinku to Savar for an outing. They were in a love relationship, he claimed.

After remaining in India in a Sanlaap safe house for eight months, Rinku was brought back to Dhaka on December 5.

Rinku told the Dhaka Tribune: “Those were the worst days of my life, far away from my family. I did not do anything wrong, why did this happen to me? Only a trafficked girl can understand my pain. I want justice. I want the criminals to be punished.” 

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