THE ‘Wall of Blessings’ is the most uplifting place at the Rescue Foundation’s rehabilitation home for sex trafficking survivors in Kandivali, Mumbai. The sex trafficking survivors, when they are ready to leave home for a new chapter in their lives, dip their hands in different colours and leave their handprints on the wall.
For Triveni Acharya, a former investigative journalist and the co-founder of Rescue Foundation, the ‘Wall of Blessings’ represents hope for all the sex trafficking survivors. The Mumbai-based nonprofit has rescued over 5000 sex trafficking victims in various parts of the country in the last twenty years.
The birth of Rescue Foundation
It all began with an incident that changed Triveni’s life forever. A little over twenty years ago, Triveni and her husband Balkrishna Acharya were visiting Mumbai’s Kamathipura area, known as the city’s red-light district, when she came across a very young girl sitting alone and looking lost. When she asked the girl if she was looking for her mother or wanted any other help, Triveni learned that the girl was from Nepal and had been forced into sex work.
“I had been an investigative journalist in Mumbai for over ten years and I had seen a lot by then, but I was not prepared for the shock I got on that day,” Triveni says. When she probed a bit more and got more details about the sex trafficking of young girls and women, Triveni and her husband, a former military man, plunged in and started rescuing girls with the help of social workers and police. Sometimes the victims are as young as four or five years old.
As they rescued more and more girls in various parts of Mumbai, Gujarat and other places, they felt the need to rehabilitate sex trafficking survivors. This meant housing the survivors and providing them food, healthcare, psychological support, education, vocational training and legal aid. Rescue Foundation also takes care of girls and women who are HIV positive, or even pregnant, when they are rescued.
Sex Trafficking and India
Human trafficking is a huge issue in India. According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, the government’s anti-human trafficking units registered over 1,700 cases of human trafficking in 2020 with sexual exploitation for prostitution being the top reason. The report says that 4,709 victims, including 2,222 below 18 years, were trafficked across the country in 2020. The actual figures are manifold, as the official data only relates to cases that have been investigated.
Triveni faced a personal tragedy when her husband died in a mysterious accident while returning from a rescue operation. Since 2005, the responsibility of the Rescue Foundation has been on the shoulders of Triveni.
The foundation has four care homes in Maharashtra and Delhi where human trafficking survivors are rehabilitated and many girls are repatriated to their families. Rescue Foundation also facilitates the repatriation of rescued sex trafficking survivors to countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, and even Uzbekistan.
Volunteers of Rescue Foundation, police and other government agencies work closely to investigate and find out brothels where trafficked victims are often kept under detention. Sometimes the volunteers risk their lives while rescuing the girls and women. Triveni is often at the forefront.
“Our mission is to stop the trafficking of minor girls and women for sexual exploitation and enable them to live a life of dignity. I will be the happiest person if there’s not a single trafficking survivor in our homes. That’s the day when I will feel that India is free of the sexual exploitation of girls. But until then, we need to keep fighting,” she says.
But unfortunately, the number of sex trafficking cases has been rising for the last few years. In fact, Triveni was busy rescuing many girls even during the pandemic.
Although many generous donors and organisations have been funding the Rescue Foundation for years, the going has been tough for Triveni. While she wants to expand the facilities at the care homes so that the nonprofit can accommodate an increasing number of sex trafficking survivors, Triveni is struggling to do so because of a lack of funds.
You can help Triveni rescue and protect many more young girls and women from human trafficking by donating to Rescue Foundation.
(The article was updated in April, 2022)
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Kumara has been a professional journalist for over 15 years with stints in The Telegraph and Reader’s Digest. He grew up hating maths and physics. He is a post-graduate in history. Kumara believes that cricket and Seinfeld have answers to most questions that life throws at you.