In the midst of the morning chaos at home, the incessant ringing of my mobile was irksome. I wanted to ignore the call as I had chores to complete but my toddler brought the handset to me, urging me to receive the call. I sighed and looked at the screen. It was an unknown number and I was ready to give a piece of my mind if it was someone asking me to open a new bank account or get a personal loan. However, the soft, friendly and familiar voice at the other end caught me off guard.
“Didi, how are you? Did you recognize me? It’s me – Revathi!”
It took me a few moments to figure out which “Revathi” was on the line. And then, I gasped. Yes, it was her! I was hearing her voice after more than 2 years and compared to the last time we interacted, she sounded a lot more cheerful and placid.
After exchanging pleasantries, she ecstatically informed me that she had secured a job for herself at a reputed chain of hotels and had shifted to my city with her family. She was single-handedly taking care of the household expenses, her ailing mother and the education of her 8 year old sister. She had also made some friends and was content leading a “normal” life. She ended the conversation by thanking me, leaving me moist-eyed and giving me so much to reflect on. She had no idea how much I wanted to thank her for being the woman that she was and for inadvertently encouraging me to be the woman that I am today.
My thoughts raced back to March 2013 when I had met Revathi for the first time. This was when I was a volunteer with an NGO that rescues and rehabilitates human trafficking victims by training, counselling and shaping them to be confident individuals who can lead an independent life. I was supposed to conduct a motivational session with a few survivors as a part of a workshop. To be honest, all this sounds great on paper but truth is that it is far from easy to counsel anyone who has gone through such immense pain, trauma and torture. It was then that I truly learnt the difference between sympathy and empathy, beyond the dictionary.
Revathi was the eldest in the batch and her story, like everyone else’s, was heart-breaking and harrowing. She was sold by her abusive father for a few thousands to a flesh trade dealer and was forced into prostitution. Her experiences at the brothel made me feel so discomfited and miserable that I could not fathom how she managed to survive. But, she was determined and played a key role in the rescue operation carried out at the brothel. One of the police officers involved in the mission had posed as her customer and had taken her into confidence. After being successfully rescued, she was relieved to be back to her world, but it then hit her that our society may not allow her to even breathe at peace. She was the only survivor during the workshop who spoke at length to me and we connected instantly. She was the only one who asked me, “Didi, what can I do now for a respectful living?”
To me, that one question was a life-altering one. Here was a woman who was almost out of a living hell, whose soul was violated by some horrible beings, yet she was looking forward to resurrect her life with a positive approach. Nothing and no one could kill her spirit! She gave me one of the biggest lessons of my life – that life will not always be fair to you and will sometimes push you to doldrums, but it is only you who can make or break it; that if you choose to take your life in your own hands and make the most of the opportunities knocking at your door, you can face any battle.
I had taken a break from my stint with the NGO post childbirth but I had heard that Revathi had left the rehabilitation centre to return to her hometown after her father’s demise. But, she wanted her family to be away from the wagging tongues and contemptuous looks, which is why she shifted to a different city to start life afresh.
Salute to women like Revathi who fight our hypocritical and patriarchal society every day, who refuse to get bogged down by life and who rise above all odds to be the women they want to be. They inspire me and make me believe that a woman has the power to change her own life.
Anupama's Note: The name has been changed in the article to protect the privacy of the survivor.
Views are author's own