Sometimes circumstances rob a young person of their childhood and force them to grow up too fast.
That is what happened to Abla*. The eldest daughter of a simple villager, Abla, was 13 years old when her father announced it was time she married. Abla’s family was poor and one less mouth to feed would benefit them all.
Abla’s father asked her if she liked any of the village boys. Of course she did, and she pointed one out. She even found herself looking forward to her wedding day and the developing of her friendship with this young man.
The day arrived. Her head covered by her wedding sari, young Abla – barely a teenager – looked into the eyes of her bridegroom and was shocked. The eyes leering back at her were not the eyes of her young friend; they were the eyes of an older man.
The marriage went ahead and, as is local custom, Abla was taken to live with her husband’s parents where life was dictated by her new mother-in-law. Anxious to create a good impression and uphold family honour, Abla tried desperately to please her husband and his mother but it wasn’t easy.
Then things became worse. A few months into her new life, Abla was sent to a field. There she saw a group of young men. They gathered around and looked at her threateningly before one spat out the words, “Your mother-in-law has sold you to us for the afternoon. You are ours until we say you can go.”
Gang-raped, Abla was filled with shame. That shame meant she could return neither to her family home nor to the home of her husband. Hiding on the outskirts of the field until dark, she fled to her uncle’s house.
Her uncle took her in for a few days before sitting her down and suggesting a new start. “Abla,” he said, “you have brought shame on us all. It would be best if you leave the village. I will find you a job in Kolkata where you can begin a new life.”
The job her uncle – her own family – had in mind was prostitution. Abla’s new life was to stand in line and sell herself to strangers; men who, for a few rupees, robbed her of her childhood.
When people ask why Freeset is setting up businesses in Murshidabad, the answer is “Abla.” It is so Abla and girls like her can find freedom rather than be trafficked.
These days, just down the road from Abla’s village is a renovated movie hall. From inside comes the click-clack sound of shuttles speeding backwards and forwards creating beautiful fabric. The women working the looms smile and in their eyes can be seen glimpses of hope as new freedom journeys begin.
This is Freeset Fabrics, our latest freedom business. The word is spreading and more families are sending their daughters to ask for work. You see, where once there was fear, there is now hope. Abla is part of the Freeset family also. Working in Kolkata, she’s 46 years old now. She is also a woman of faith and vision with the largest smile and a burning desire to see women set free from the sex-trade. Her life transformation is an inspiration to others, a tangible hope for those still in line, and for those vulnerable in the village.
* Not her real name.
Annie works in Murshidabad helping women like Abla find freedom
Support our work
A significant number of the women who find freedom through Freeset in Kolkata come from the region of Murshidabad. It seems logical to set up a business there to stop the trafficking to the city. Freeset Fabrics, the first Murshidabad business, is up and running and offering freedom to young women like Abla. To find out more, and about how you can support our freedom work, email [email protected]
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