Her hands were cuffed behind her back. She was pushed and thrashed. Her gagged up mouth couldn’t even gasp. Breathless, she crawled on the muddy floor, crying, praying for help. Just then, the phone rang. Shreya woke up with a start, perspiring profusely and breathing heavily. The nightmare was back. It never let her sleep, if at all she was lucky enough to get one. Quickly gulping water, she answered the call. An unknown number flashed.
“Hello, Inspector Shreya Nair?” The voice asked.
“Yes. Who is this?” Shreya figured out that the caller was a young girl, probably a teenager.
“Ma’am, the human trafficker the police has been hunting for, Khalid, will be visiting cafe KC, Malad, today morning 7am.” The voice whispered.
“Who are you? And how do you know about it?” Shreya was curious.
“That’s not important Ma’am. Nab him before he escapes.”
The call got disconnected.
Shreya was puzzled. Not that she hadn’t received anonymous calls before, but never from a young girl. She wasn’t sure whether to believe the caller or not. But she saw honesty in the tone. Shreya trusted her instinct and called up two of her trusted officers.
Crime branch Inspector Shreya Nair was a brave officer, well known for her integrity, intelligence and shrewdness. A well respected and no-nonsense officer, she had won numerous accolades and was an inspiration to other women.
The threesome waited in plain clothes outside the cafe. At around 7, Khalid arrived with three shabbily clothed children. Their faces were expressionless and worn out. He handed them tea and biscuits which they devoured greedily. Khalid was caught off guard. Upon interrogation, he said the girls were his distant relatives. A couple of slaps later, he admitted they were from his village, whom he had promised to offer job. Few more kicks, punches and a broken tooth later, the truth was spilled out. He had ‘bought’ the girls to ‘sell’ them in this city.
The next day, the bold headlines in newspapers read “Human trafficker arrested. Inspector Shreya applauded for perfect timing.”
But Shreya was still clueless about the anonymous caller. She doubted her to be one of the rescued girls, but she was wrong. The girls belonged to ‘Dayanidhi Orphanage’, from where Khalid had abducted them to be sold as slaves. They had lived in the orphanage since young, and hence weren’t aware about their parents. Dayanidhi orphanage was run by a social activist cum philanthropist, Dayasagar Patil. He was a well-known figure and had strong connections with the local politicians.
The girls were handed back to the orphanage.
Shreya decided to call it a day. Sitting on her rocking chair, she turned on her favourite music. Mohammed Rafi sang melodiously. In this world, only he had the power to lift her spirits. “Yeh Duniya Yeh Mehfil Mere Kaam ki Nahin” echoed her melancholy. The chilled beer calmed her nerves. It also helped her sleep, which was deprived since long. Her mobile beeped. It was her maternal uncle, Dr. Rajan, a renowned cardiologist.
“Congrats Shreya. You are all over the television. I am proud of you as always.” Dr. Rajan beamed with joy.
“That’s media, uncle. Today they will praise me, but tomorrow the same people won’t shy away from maligning my image.” Shreya replied coldly.
“You have problem with everyone, right?”
“Hmm. I don’t belong here…” She took another sip.
“Why do you waste your life, Shreya? Don’t you want someone to share it with? With whom you can talk about anything and everything; with whom you can share your beer!”
“Uncle, please don’t start it again. You know very well I just don’t want to marry!” Shreya thumped her tumbler on the table.
“Relax, dear. I didn’t intend to irritate you. Had your mother been alive, she too would have desired this.” He paused and sighed. “Anyway, you are mature enough to decide. Goodnight.”
Shreya closed her eyes. “Din Dhal Jaaye Haaye, Raat Na Jaaye”. Mr. Rafi read her emotions, she felt. After her parents’ demise, her uncle had raised her. He had every right to advise her, but marriage was unimaginable. Her dark past and inner demons gave her unsolicited company.
Two days later, Shreya got a call from the same girl.
“Shreya Ma’am, I have another information about Dayanidhi orphanage.”
“Who are you? Look, I cannot proceed without knowing you.” Shreya insisted.
“You can trust me, Ma’am. Wasn’t my last information helpful?”
“Yes, it was, and thank you for that. But why are you hiding from me?”
After a moment of silence, she spoke.
“Fine. Just one more time. After this, I promise to meet you.”
“Alright, I believe you. What’s the information you have?”
“Unlike its name, Dayanidhi orphanage is filled with merciless people. There are some kind of suspicious activities happening often.”
“What makes you feel so?” Shreya was inquisitive. She too had a similar inkling when she had visited there with the rescued girls.
“The matron is an evil lady. She’s a cold-blooded criminal. Do you think Khalid had abducted those girls without her knowledge?”
“Hmm. I too have my doubts. Well, I will definitely probe into this. Thank you for your…”
The call was disconnected.
Shreya visited the orphanage on the pretext of meeting the rescued girls. Though she didn’t receive a warm welcome, an official meeting with the girls couldn’t be denied. After a round of casual talks, she tried to dig up some details about the matron. However, the girls were tight lipped. Their uncomfortable body language and hesitation amalgamated with fear spoke louder and conveyed the message. She also noticed that the children were living in a depressing environment and looked unclean. Upon questioning, the matron calmly explained that everything was fine, and that Shreya was overthinking.
That night, Shreya had an unexpected visitor.
“I have kept my promise, Shreya Ma’am.” She said.
Shreya was pleasantly surprised. She had recognised the voice.
“My name is Sapna.”
She looked around 14 or 15-year-old. As they spoke, Shreya felt an instant connection with Sapna. She felt weird. Never before had she felt any kind of liking or attachment with anyone. Her uncle would mock her, calling ‘Stone Cold Shreya’.
Sapna said she belonged to the same orphanage, but requested her identity to be kept secret. She had managed to escape and now stayed with her aunt in the slums.
“Please don’t ask how I landed there. I am ill-fated. There are many like me.” Sapna spoke sombrely. “Some mornings, we find few girls missing. But whom to ask? They are not answerable to us. They make us work all day- cleaning the floors, hall, toilet. Still we get beaten up for even minor mistakes. And dare anyone complains! I strongly feel that girls are smuggled out at night.” Sapna was lost in deep thought.
“Tomorrow night something is going to happen, Ma’am. Please save the girls.” Sapna pleaded.
“What’s going to happen? And how do you know?”
“I have my sources. Please don’t ask me anything else. I have to leave now.”
Shreya was amazed at Sapna’s bravery; her escape and her will to save her friends.
As expected, the next night, four girls were forcibly being taken away from the orphanage by few men. The matron was present there too. She was immediately arrested along with the goons. The girls testified that they were going to be sold abroad.
Mr. Patil was arrested. News channels were flooded with the scandalous news. Loud debates and discussions took place which didn’t lead to any solution. With his political backing, he was bailed out easily.
It was noon when Dr. Mandeep, Shreya’s close friend who also worked with Dr. Rajan, called her.
“I have some shocking revelation about those rescued girls, Shreya. The medical reports have come. They were not only sexually assaulted, but one of their kidneys is missing too!” Dr. Mandeep spoke in a deep voice.
Shreya was shocked. The matter was getting more serious and dirtier. Sex racket and organ trafficking. Where is this nation leading to?
Shreya looked out for Sapna. She wanted to have more information from her. Was Sapna, too, a victim of this? Shreya shuddered at the mere thought. She didn’t know why.
More mystery brewed in, when Shreya discovered that there was no girl named Sapna living in the orphanage. Some girls had been living there since long time, but they didn’t know of any Sapna. Shreya grew restless. Who was Sapna? What was she seeking?
She remembered the slums Sapna had spoken about. The one behind her society. Immediately she set out in search of the mystery girl. It was night. The dark lanes were dim-lit. Amidst the barking dogs and the scattered garbage bins, Shreya walked briskly. Some drunken eyes scanned her from head to toe. She couldn’t find a decent person whom she could ask. After walking endlessly, when she had almost given up, Shreya heard a faint cry, that of a child. With each step she took, the cry appeared closer. All of a sudden, the lane started seeming familiar. The brown and red colour roofed house appeared similar. The half-broken wall on her right had the same name written. How could that be possible? She wondered. Her head started spinning. She sat on a three-legged stool. But she jumped in horror. It was the same stool. Her name was etched on it. She remembered she had only scribbled on that long ago. A part of her screamed to return back home. But another part urged to enter the abandoned house. The latter won and there she was, inside her own house, but in a different city!
A toddler ran out of the room, giggling. Her mother chased her shouting. “Shreya, come back. Have your milk. Don’t make me run, please.”
Shreya stood dumbstruck as she saw herself run to her father.
“Papa, save me.”
Her father, a police constable, and a doting father, embraced her in his broad arms. They laughed and ran away from her mother.
Shreya followed them to the room.
There she saw another scene. Her mother lay sick on the bed. She was being fed by a 17-year-old girl.
“Enough, Shreya. I am full. Has your father returned?”
“He is always busy with work. He has zero responsibility towards his family. As if he will nab all the criminals of this city.” Her mother complained.
Just then, her father entered, worried and tired.
“What happened, papa?” Shreya asked.
“I had mentioned about those four goons whom the police had arrested for molestation case. I was the sole witness.” Her father paused, lost in thought.
“What about it?” Shreya asked curiously.
“Today those four were bailed out. They threatened me with bad consequences. I am worried.”
“Don’t worry, papa. Those rascals will be back in jail soon. You please change and have dinner. I shall go and buy medicines for amma.”
Shreya followed her younger self. She perspired. She wished to shut her eyes and vanish, but that didn’t happen. As if she had to face the fear she was running away from!
On her way back, those four goons abducted her to their den. Her mouth was gagged, and hands tied from behind. Her eyes popped out in horror and fear. The more she wrestled, the more was she beaten. She wanted to scream, to run, to plead, to pray. But helplessly, she could only witness her body being scratched, bit and tormented. The excruciating pain prayed for death, which didn’t show up. Maybe it feared those demons too.
The medicine bottles lay broken, just like her young bleeding body, which lay bruised, battered and naked.
Shreya screamed in pain. Even after so many years, the wounds were fresh. The mental trauma post rape is something nobody speaks of. Only the victim knows. She is raped daily- by those horrifying thoughts, those pitiful eyes of people; the monster devours the soul every single day!
Her mother accused her father. Had he not arrested those goons, they wouldn’t have had seen this day. Daily tiff was common.
The rapists were jailed and sentenced to life term prison. Shreya too, was chained in a lifelong agony. She saw herself in the therapist’s room. Attempts were made to make her realise that it wasn’t her fault, that a normal life was possible. Until the day they discovered that she was pregnant! As if life wasn’t done punishing her. Dr. Rajan suggested they leave the city, lest people get to know.
Shreya is now in a small house in a rural village of Kerala. The house overlooked a beautiful river. Boats were the only means of transport. The kind midwife, Sharada looks after her delivery. Shreya’s parents compel her to part with the new-born girl. Shreya witnesses a vulnerable self, who has no other way than to abandon her baby. Teary eyed, she bids her farewell, as the childless Sharada happily carries her home. That evening, the sun drowned in the horizon, snatching along with it, her hopes and dreams. The hideous darkness engulfed her very existence.
The next moment, Shreya finds herself in a tiny, cosy hut.
“Sapna molu (dear), ivide va (come here).” Sharada called her daughter.
A thousand knives stabbed her heart. Bewildered, Shreya watched in awe.
Sharada is a loving mother, but her husband Venkat is an absolute drunkard, plainly interested in money. Sapna leads a happy life, until Sharada falls sick.
Shreya witnesses Sharada on her deathbed with a weepy Sapna beside her. Just before dying, Sharada confesses the truth about Sapna’s birth and her mother, who is now a renowned police officer.
The days afterward are traumatic. Shreya is pained to see her daughter being hit and cursed by Venkat. Finally one day, he decides to take her to Dr. Rajan.
Back in Mumbai, Dr. Rajan refuses to own Sapna. But when Venkat threatens to disclose the truth, Dr. Rajan is compelled to accept her. After paying Venkat a hefty amount, Dr. Rajan calls up someone to dispose-off the ‘burden’.
“Khalid, I completely trust you with her. I don’t want her to be alive and narrate her story and de-fame my reputation. My daughter is of marriageable age. I don’t want to attract any gossips.”
Shreya stands in incredulity, as Khalid drags Sapna along. The poor girl wails in anguish, but into deaf ears.
Khalid sells Sapna to Dayanidhi orphanage, but she is kept in seclusion, lest her truth is revealed. And one day, she is taken to the City Hospital where her Kidney is removed; the same hospital where Dr. Rajan worked. Dr. Rajan, the key agent in the organ trafficking gang, shared his profit with Khalid as well as Dayasagar Patil.
Lack of proper treatment post-surgery leads to internal haemorrhage and Sapna is left to die.
Nothing can be more horrendous for a mother than to watch her child squirm in pain and die an ugly death. Shreya felt a deep pain in the pit of her stomach and bile rising to her throat. She ran as fast as she could. Out of the scene, and out of the past. She threw up till she collapsed. She screamed her lungs out, pulling her hair. All these years, she lived with a dark sorrowful past, but her innocent daughter suffered even more. And for whose fault?
Shrieking like a maniac, she ran. On the railway track, she lay still. Sapna sat beside her.
“How could I let you die?” Shreya shut her eyes.
“Why did you let me go? Why didn’t you come looking for me? Do you know how eager I was to meet you?” Sapna’s innocent eyes shone.
“I was naive and was forced. I did ask that scoundrel Dr. Rajan. But he said you died soon after being taken away.” Shreya sobbed.
“You were vulnerable then. But not now. Is this the time to give up?” Sapna held Shreya’s hands.
“Then what shall I do? Can I live after knowing the truth?”
“You have to! That was the reason I came to you; so that you re-live your past, face your inner demons and emerge stronger. You must wake up from the ashes. Save those girls, Ma. That’s the best you can do for your daughter!”
Shreya’s eyes welled up. She was indeed her blood. That compassion, those nerves of steel.
There was no looking back. Shreya fought with twice her might.
She confronted Dr. Rajan.
“How could you do this to me?” Shreya lashed out.
“I couldn’t disgrace our family name for this illegitimate child of yours.” Dr. Rajan snapped.
“And you decided that she won’t live? I am ashamed to call you my uncle. For monetary pleasure, you carry out illegal and immoral practices, but my child seemed illegitimate for you. Double standard, Wow! I have informed your daughter and she hates you more than me now. Count the rest of your filthy lifetime rotting in jail.”
He slumped on his chair, foreseeing his damned future.
With the help of a professional hacker, Dr. Mandeep hacked Dr. Rajan’s laptop, and the truth spilled out. The secret file with the innocent donor’s details as well as the money involved, for national and international clients in the black market, was exposed. There were also videos of Dr. Rajan and Mr. Patil’s conversation regarding the same. It was probably shot by Dr. Rajan, to be used against Patil, in case he was exposed. This proof was enough to hook both.
They were booked under IPC Section 372 and 373. Both were sentenced to life imprisonment. Dayanidhi orphanage was shut down for good, and the girls were freed. Under Shreya’s supervision, each one of them were safely taken by trusted NGOs.
She too became an active member of such NGOs, that helped eradicate exploitation of children. She even adopted two girls.
Finally after ages, Shreya could sleep.
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