As a 14 year old girl in India, I should normally be studying in class 9, playing with my friends and enjoying my childhood. But that's not how my story begins. Born to poor parents in the district of North 24 Parganas in West Bengal, I couldn't do much schooling. Helping in the household chores, looking after my younger siblings and being cursed for being born a girl were part of how my story begins. I was very pretty looking and would often get noticed by young boys and men.
I was forced to marry at the age of 14, losing my innocence and childhood. Soon, as a 14 year old I was pregnant. It was not long before little Milika was born and my sorrow turned to great joy. But this was short lived. When Milika was 5 months old, my husband left me for another woman. I had no choice but to go back to my parents. A married girl staying with her parents often makes a society begin to question. This made it difficult to stay there long.
A neighbor by the name of Kasim Shaikh promised to provide me a job and earn at least Rs. 4000 per month in Mumbai. He instilled some hope in my otherwise dreary life. He brought me all the way to Mumbai and it seemed like a dream come true. Leaving little Milika with my parents for care, I followed this man. I was told that I just had to take care of his children - take them to and from school everyday. Little did I realize that he brought me to a Red Light Area and sold me off. I was initially locked up in a room and not allowed to come out of it. It almost seemed like forever that I didn't see sunlight - maybe for a year. I was forced into a life I never could even imagine or wish for my enemies. One day I made an effort to seek help from one of my customers. I asked for his mobile phone and called my parents and told them my struggle. My mother gave me a brilliant idea - to tell a lie that my father is in serious condition and hospitalized. I followed her plan and for some reason they allowed me to go back home to meet my parents. I was paid a meager Rs. 3000 for one year in hell! At home I went through depression and with each passing day kept losing hope. I had the struggle of not telling anybody what happened to me (except my mother) due to fear of being ostracized and the pain of reliving the memories I would give anything to forget. With no other option, I came back to Mumbai but this time to another Red Light Area.
It's been over eight years since I've come back. My daughter is about eight now and growing up to be a beautiful young girl. I'm sometimes afraid that she'll end up like me. I'm not always able to send/keep Milika in school. The first seven months since she came from the village she didn't go to school. The man I live with and call my husband is sometimes here and sometimes stays elsewhere. He doesn't share in caring for Milika. Then after much encouragement from Purnata staff we put her in an English medium school. I could not pay all the fees with all my loans and so she did not get her uniform. Often she would be made fun of by the other children and other times the teachers would scold her for not wearing her uniform. Slowly she dropped out of school, unable to bear the taunts. The staff of Purnata have come forward and helped me put Milika back in school by paying the dues in school. Today she goes to school in her uniform with a bright face and great joy. Milika goes to the Purnata Day Care Center where the staff are preparing to catch her up with what she lost all these months and years. She has a second chance at getting an opportunity into a brighter tomorrow and have her childhood restored.
I'm looking forward to move on from this wretched life, be trained and placed in a job so I can look after my daughter and give her a life she deserves.
(A friend reading Milika's story gave generously to put Milika back to school. Like her, you can help us make dreams and desires of many stories like Milika and Shruthi come true.)