[Survivor Series] I survived child trafficking and am now helping others stay safe

On World Human Rights Day, Social Story presents the Survivor Series to bring you first-person accounts of extraordinary stories of grit, courage, and triumph in the face of great odds. We bring you the story of Ashish Kumar, who survived child trafficking after being sold to a bangle factory.
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I was only 16 years old when I was trafficked from my village in Gaya, Bihar. The person who sold me was from the neighbouring village, and I did not even know his name. He saw that my family was poor, and he convinced me that I would have a better life if I went with him to Jaipur. He said he would take me to a place where I would get to work, earn money to send back home, and study. 

For someone whose family was struggling financially, this opened a door. I listened to him and boarded a train to Jaipur with seven other children. As soon as we reached, this man took all of us to a bangle factory. There, he handed us over to the owner of the factory. I cannot tell you exactly where in Jaipur because I do not remember. 

Once we got there, we were immediately put to work. All of us, in that small room, which was barely the size of two charpais (rope beds). We worked nonstop for 17 hours a day, and slept in the same room in which we worked. We were never allowed to go out. 

Ashish Kumar is now counselling other survivors of child trafficking.

If we did not do the work properly, or accidentally broke a bangle, we were thrashed mercilessly. Every morning, we were given four biscuits for breakfast. This was usually at 9 a.m. Lunch was given at 3 p.m. and consisted of one roti and a little sabzi (vegetable).  

I ended up inhaling a lot of dust while I was working. Slowly, my health began to deteriorate. I began having trouble breathing because of the dust in my lungs. I was terrified I would die there, and that I would never see my two younger brothers, younger sister, parents, and grandmother ever again.  The other children I was staying with were also losing hope. All of us were convinced that we would die in this bangle factory. 

We were constantly beaten and abused. We were ridiculed and even thrashed at the whims of the owner. If any of us had a medical problem, it was overlooked, and we kept getting sicker with no nourishment.  This continued for one-and-a-half years. Then one day, something happened. 

We were a group of seven, and one child was assigned the task of making our food. He used to regularly go and get rations under the watchful eye of the owner. One day, he managed to escape and go to the police. He then directed the police to us, and we were rescued. It all happened so fast. 

Once recused, we were taken to a balgiri (children’s shelter). There, we all underwent a medical examination. I was very weak and unwell. My breath was shallow, and I was having a lot of trouble breathing. The bangle dust had clogged my lungs, and my condition was very serious. I had to undergo two operations just so that I could breathe properly again. 

I began recovering physically, but the horrors of what had happened had not left me. I became very depressed and listless and had to undergo counselling. While I was being counselled, I realised I wanted to pursue my studies again. So, when I returned to my home in Gaya, I restarted my education. I would have reached Class 10 if the lockdown had not happened. 

Another very important event that greatly helped me recover was that the owner of the bangle factory – the man who had relentlessly tortured me for one-and-a-half years – was on trial for child trafficking. There was a chance he would be imprisoned. I appeared twice before the Additional District Judge’s court in Jaipur to record my testimonies against him. 

However, while the trail was going on, the owner, through his network, kidnapped my mother and five of the other children who had also been trafficked with me. He kidnapped them from Bihar and was taking them to Jaipur to record a statement in his favour. 

Thankfully, they were also rescued by the Bihar Police from a moving train (bound for Jaipur) about 100 kilometres away from home. My accused trafficker was finally sentenced to life imprisonment in August this year. His sentence was the first time that such a stringent punishment was delivered for Labor trafficking in India. 

And me? I am working with Center Direct, which is a part of the Indian Leadership Forum Against Trafficking (ILFAT). I am also an ILFAT leader and represent other survivors from my area. My fears have now gone, and I am helping other children realise how to identify a trafficker and how to stay safe. 

I am happy now. 

(As told to Diya Koshy George)

Edited by Diya Koshy George

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