Almost 1,400 traffickers have had cases filed against them and many are in jail, thanks to Ajeet Singh who has been waging a war to free minor girls from their clutches. Read how he broke the complex system of sexual exploitation in Varanasi.
Ajeet Singh was just 18 when he attended a wedding in his home town near Varanasi in 1988. It was here that he saw a nautch girl performing at the wedding.
“The way people were looking at her and treating her was something that shocked and deeply saddened me. It was then and there that I decided to do something to free girls like her from such a profession,” recalls Ajeet.
This was not just a passing thought that Ajeet had that day. When the girl finished her performance, Ajeet went up to her and asked if he could take care of her children and give them an opportunity to study and lead a better life.
It wasn’t easy for an 18-year-old boy who was still in his first year of college to take on such a big responsibility. But Ajeet didn’t think twice and actually adopted the three children of the girl.
“Of course my decision was not welcomed by my family or society. I faced huge opposition from everyone. But this is what I wanted to do,” he says.
He then went ahead and started teaching the children in his spare time and helped them come up with life goals that would take them far away from the dark streets on which their mother lived.
In addition, he started going to the red light areas of Varanasi to teach the children of the women who worked there. But he soon realised that the problem was much more complex than he had thought.
From giving education opportunities to helping girls lead better lives, Ajeet has been a constant support to the girls in Varanasi.
“The whole profession and system are so complex that providing mere education to the kids or spreading awareness about health, HIV, etc., cannot solve it. The issue is slavery and the need to abolish the system of sex trafficking. It is only then that girls can be saved to lead better lives,” he says.
It was time to take a more aggressive approach, Ajeet thought. And this is when he started an organization called Guria in 1993 to fight against the sexual exploitation of girls, especially minors. What these girls needed was freedom and he was here to help them.
Ajeet prepared himself to take on the racket. He got a few hidden cameras—in his pen, shirt button, watch, etc.— and started to pose as a customer, only to track the locations of red light areas and the number of minor girls there.
Once he had done the mapping, he collected a large number of volunteers and raided the Shivdaspur red light area of Varanasi. They managed to rescue 15 girls in one day.
Since then he has conducted raids on all the red light areas of Varanasi and rescued over 1,000 girls so far.
Once the girls are rescued, they are sent to government shelters and homes and, after counselling, sent back to their parents. A close track is kept of their activities to make sure they do not end up back in the same situation again.
“Today, I can say Varanasi is almost free from child prostitution,” claims Ajeet.
After he started rescuing the girls, Ajeet decided the next step was to take on the pimps and brothel keepers who played a key role in the prostitution racket. “Even the police did not do anything and we thought it was time to bring this issue out in the open,” he says.
So, apart from rescuing girls, Ajeet started taking legal action against the sex traffickers. Through his organization, Guria, he has filed about 1,400 cases against traffickers and has even landed many of them in jail.
Guria’s work does not end with just filing cases against the traffickers. The organization also tries to ensure that those who have been convicted do not get bail. The team works intensively towards the bail rejection of such convicts—over 400 such bail requests have been rejected due to Guria’s intervention.
“Often, these traffickers who get bail come out quickly and start doing what they did earlier. We make sure they stay in jail for a long time. Some of them have been in jail for about four to five years now,” says Ajeet.
Another area of focus is to get the rescued girls to the court for trials. They are provided witness protection, helped with mock trials, provided counselling, and encouraged to speak up about the wrong that has been done to them. Over 108 girls are currently being protected and hidden at various locations to get them ready for trial.
Guria also helps in rehabilitating the rescued girls and teaching them various skills so they can switch to other professions.
Guria also provided witness protection in courts so that girls can bravely take their stand against traffickers.
Guria is working to prevent trafficking, especially of minor girls.
Educational workshops and awareness campaigns are among the other initiatives of Guria.
“Our idea is not just to provide one-time support. These girls are like our children. You cannot just provide clothing or just food to your children. You have to give them overall support. This is what we do for these girls,” says Ajeet.
Thanks to Ajeet, thousands of girls lead a better life today. Ishita (name changed), a 17-year-old minor girl was kidnapped from near her house in Varanasi in 2009. She was taken to New Delhi by the traffickers and was raped repeatedly by numerous men inside a locked room. She was then taken to Surat and was gang raped for several days. Ishita’s horror did not end here. She was then taken to Mumbai where traffickers planned to sell her to a third party. This is when the Guria team intervened and rescued the girl from the claws of the traffickers. They did not just bring Ishita back to her family but also got the lead trafficker arrested and made sure his bail was rejected. The case is under trial in district court.
What may appear to be a simple success story wasn’t easy to implement at all. Ajeet had to face challenges from all sides—from family members who went against him for choosing to work in this field to brothel keepers who would go to extreme lengths to make sure Ajeet did not succeed in his mission.
“I have been attacked so many times and given death threats. Even my family did not support me. A lot of people raised question about my work but I was determined to save the lives of these girls,” says Ajeet.
Also, the network of brothels is so complex that many girls always speak in favour of the brothel keepers.
“They are brought up in that environment, they are scared and never speak against them. When it comes to minors, we do not listen to them and sometimes have to pull these girls out of the brothels,” he says.
With a team of 25 members and hundreds of volunteers, Ajeet continues his mission to eliminate this profession entirely from the streets of Varanasi. He gets support from CRY and individual donations, which help him conduct rescue operation and organise various workshops.
In the future, Ajeet wants to continue with his mission to make sure no girl is forced into this dark profession.
To know more about his work, check out his website.