April 17, 2009
INTERVIEW WITH SUNITA DANUWAR
DUNHAM: Sunita, thank you so much for taking time to speak with me – particularly since this is Nepali New Years day, when everyone is on holiday. We are here in Kathmandu at the office of AATWIN and also Shakti Samuha. You, along with fourteen other girls, founded Shakti Samuha in 1996. Why was it founded?
SUNITA: In 1996 India enacted a law that made it illegal for girls under the age of eighteen to be involved with the sex trade. Many brothels were raided at that time and underage girls were rescued. Of the 500 girls rescued, 128 were from Nepal. I was one of them.
Our organization rose out of decision to dedicate ourselves to rehabilitating survivors of sex trafficking.
DUNHAM: When you were a girl, you were drugged, abducted and sold into a Bombay brothel. Please tell me about your childhood and how it came about that you met such an awful fate.
SUNITA: I was born in a remote area of mid-western Nepal: Dailekh district.
DUNHAM: What is your birth year?
SUNITA: I’m not really sure. My citizenship certificate says 1976, but that may be off by two or three years. My father was involved in politics and was respected in our VDC. I had ten siblings, six of whom died in childhood, leaving three girls and one boy. My mother was of conservative beliefs: My brother was the most important child in her eyes because, if he died, there would be no one to conduct her funeral rites. This is very important in Hindu society.
When I was approximately five years old, my mom took my siblings and me with her on a long journey. She said we were going to my older sister’s house – my sister was already married and living to the south in Bardia [Midwest district along the Indian border]. My father was away at that time: He had gone to the district headquarters for some political function. He had no idea that my mother was planning on leaving. We were children, so we followed our mother without question.
There were no vehicles. We had to walk a great distance. Some Jumlis [natives of Jumla district] were acting as our guides to Bardia. But because we were walking so slowly, they eventually abandoned us. We were so hungry. There were no houses around. At some point we found a roadside teahouse. My mom almost begged for some food, to save our lives. The innkeeper took pity on us and fed us.
My father, who in the meantime had discovered what my mother had done, caught up with us at that teahouse. We saw him approaching from a distance and my mother tried to hide us, but he found where we were hiding. He scolded my mother. “Why did you do this? If you wanted to visit your daughter, I would have taken you. Now look what you’ve done to the children! They’re worn out, their feet are swollen, and they are hungry.”
My mother kept silent. But the next day, we all continued to Bardia, including my father
Once in Bardia, my mother refused to go back to Dailekh. She said the place was cursed by a witch and that, if she returned, my brother, her only remaining son, would die. The problem was that one of my sisters had been left in our village in Dailekh, so my father returned to the village, sold our property, and came back with my sister to start a new life in a different district.
My parents decided to set up a teashop as a means of making a living. This was in the adjoining district of Surkhet. The teashop was a success because it was on a main east-west road. There were lots of travelers who passed by each day. Gradually, my father worked less and less and, finally, he stopped working altogether. Every day he took 2-3000 rupees, disappeared, then came back late at night empty-handed. This went on for some time: we worked and my father spent all the money we had worked for. It made things difficult.
One day after my father left the teashop, my mother told me and my brother to secretly follow him -- to find out where he had been going each day and what he was really doing. We followed him some distance until we reached a Badi community [Badi signifies a prostitution caste]. He went into a Badi house. We peeked inside a window and saw my father and a woman together, naked. We rushed back to our teashop and told Mom what we had seen. She ran to the Badi house and saw my father and the woman with her own eyes. She couldn’t take it. There was a big fight. Finally, she forced my father to sell our teashop and to move away from there. We migrated to India.
We went through so many hard times in India. Initially, we settled in Himanchal Pradesh, or maybe it was Jammu or Kashmir. Wherever it was, I remember that the land produced a lot of potatoes. We got involved in potato farming. My father had a job collecting potatoes from all the farmers. There were many seasonal laborers who came down to this place from Dailekh, my home district. They found harvesting potatoes.
In the meantime, I was so eager to study! and I constantly asked my father to let me go to school. But he told me that it would be impossible because we were always migrating. “We don’t know where we will be tomorrow,” he would tell me. My father had passed his SLC, so he promised me that he would teach me enough so that, at least, I could read and write the alphabet. He kept his promise.
As I said before, the reason we became migrants was because of my mother’s belief that my brother had had a curse cast on him by a witch in our hometown. We kept moving because she wanted to protect my brother. But in the end, it didn’t do any good.
One day, my father’s youngest brother showed up and, soon after, left with my brother. We had no idea where my uncle took him or what that uncle of mine had said to him to persuade my brother to leave. My mother was beside herself.
Another one of my father’s brothers made a living by bringing seasonal laborers from Dailekh to our potato farm. Later we realized that he had secretly made a deal with a Brahmin – a deal that would change my life: He had sold me to the Brahmin for 3000 Indian rupees, promising him that he could have me as his wife. I must have been around twelve at the time.
Meanwhile, my father was trying to find out where his brother had my brother. Psychologically, my mother was is a very bad way. She became very quite and withdrew into herself. Then, there was more sad news: My paternal grandfather died, so my father left to attend to the funeral rites in Nepal.
One day, while my father was away and while my mother was working in the potato field, the Brahmin arrived. He found me in our house alone and cornered me. He told me that he had paid my uncle 3000 Indian rupees to marry me. The Brahmin was around 35 years old. He told me that I was his wife and then he raped me. Then he left.
When my mother found me, I was crying and I told her what he had done to me. She said that the only thing we could do was to wait until my father returned from Nepal, and then he would do whatever had to be done.
My father loved me. He treated me as if I were his son, not a daughter. I always helped him in his carpentry and masonry. When he returned, he said that the only way to protect me from the Brahmin—who would surely return – was for the family to flee.
We abandoned all of our possessions, including the potato crop. We were ashamed of what had happened to me and didn’t want our neighbors to know. We left for Nainital [India], where it was now rumored that my brother had been taken by the uncle.
After walking for many many hours through jungle, we arrived at small town, got on a bus and drove to Manali or maybe Kulu. Anyway, Nainital was still far away and we had run out of money. My father found a job in a rock-crushing factory. His plan was to earn just enough money to continue our trip to Nainital.
It so happened that there were two young Nepali guys who were also working at the rock-crushing factory. They carried big rocks onto the back of the tractor. They tried to ingratiate themselves with my family. We had no idea at the time, but later it became clear that they also acted as sex-trafficking brokers.
The two young guys succeeded in getting close to my mother first. She began to trust them and ended up telling them our entire story – all the things that had happened to us --the story about my missing brother, about the fact that we had no money, and that once we saved enough money we would continue on to Nainital.
The young guys acted like they sympathized with my mother and told her how they, too, had fallen on hard times and were forced to work in the rock factory. They said, “We should travel with you, when we get ready to go the Nainital.” A week later, with my father’s pay, we headed out for Nainital and the young guys came with us.
I had a not-very-good-feeling about these guys. They kept trying to get close to me. They told me that if I was looking for a job to help my parents, they could help me. But I kept avoiding them. During the trip, we stopped to spend the night in a roadside lodge. That night the two guys offered me some sweets, but I refused to accept. Then my father told me, “They are behaving like brothers. What harm is there in accepting their sweets?” So I reluctantly took the sweets because my father insisted.
And I don’t remember anything after that. I passed out.
When I came to, I was in a brothel in Bombay.
Everything was foreign. My parents weren’t there. The room I woke up in was completely strange. There were strangers around me and I asked, “What am I doing here? Where are my parents?” One woman told me, “Your two brothers brought you here. They have gone out to buy some clothes for you. You stay here and they will be back soon.”
I was completely confused: I had only one brother. How could I suddenly have two brothers? I told them, “I don’t have two brothers”. But they convinced me to stay there until the guys came back.
But the “two brothers” didn’t return. A few days passed, and still they didn’t come back. I fell into despair. All I could do was cry and shout. I was only thinking about my parents. I told the people to let me go, that I would somehow find my parents on my own, without anyone’s help. But they wouldn’t let me leave.
Some time passed. One day a fat Nepali lady came into my room and informed that I had been there for a long time and that now I must do dhanda. [In Hindi, “dhanda” means sex-related work.] But in Nepali “dhanda” means “household work”. I thought household work was what she was talking about. So I told the fat Nepali woman, “But I don’t know how to do household work! My mother always does the cooking and washing, so I’m of no use to you. Let me go!”
It was only then that she told me that I was in Bombay. I was completely shocked. I passed out I was so shocked. You see, I had once overheard my father saying that, in Bombay, Nepali girls were sold into brothels.
The people who were keeping me in the room didn’t care how long or hard I cried. One day, the manager, who was supposedly the husband of the fat Nepali women, barged into the room and came at me with a long Nepali khukuri [curved knife] and threatened me – he said he would cut me into pieces and throw the pieces in the road if I didn’t do dhanda.
I told him, “I don’t care if you kill me, cut me or burn me alive. I will never do dhanda.”
I managed to resist for about a month and caused a lot of trouble for them.
One day, the two young guys who had drugged me and sold me suddenly appeared at the brothel. They headed off in the direction of the toilet and I followed them and waited for them to come out. I went crazy. I beat the hell out of them. The manager was nearby and he came up and beat me, then locked me in a room. Later I found out why the two Nepalis had returned to the brothel. It had nothing to do with me. They had brought another girl – a nine-year-old girl – and had sold her to the brothel. Just like they had sold me before.
Soon after, the owner of the brothel sold me to another brothel in Bombay for twice the money. In the new brothel, I put up a fight and resisted for one week. But there came a moment when I could resist no longer. I was forced to have sex. And that was that.
DUNHAM: The new brothel: what was it like?
SUNITA: There are two types of brothels in Bombay. One is called a pilos, which is small -- one room with beds separated by many curtains. In a pilos the girls grab customers off the street, then they take them inside to one of the beds.
The other kind of brothel is called a bungalow. That’s where I was. In a bungalow, there is a fixed rate, per hour, per day, per month and up to six months. For an Indian customer for an hour, it would cost 3-500 rupees. For a foreigner, the cost would be 1,000-1200 rupees. In bungalows, there are beautiful girls with nice bodies; the customer comes and selects the girl he wants. It was a big house where I was. There were 40-45 women living there.
DUNHAM: How did you cope?
SUNITA: I was having these feelings. I was drowning in self-pity. I started to realize the hopelessness of my situation. I saw new girls arriving – children arriving – I couldn’t go to talk to them or in any way comfort them. If I had tried to do that, I would have been tortured. There was always punishment if I didn’t do what they told me to do. If I refused to have sex, I would be tortured – pinched everywhere – they would do anything that came into their minds that might hurt my body. And also the way they talked to us…they talked to us as if we were animals. That’s what my life turned into: day after day.
One day, after five or six months in the new brothel, I suddenly had a premonition that something very big was going to happen. I couldn’t sleep the whole night, in spite of the fact that I was so tired. I was confused, scared. Finally, just before sunrise, I passed out.
Now as it happened, the owner of the brothel hadn’t bought me; instead, it was one of the prostitutes in the brothel who had bought me – that sometimes happens. Originally, she had been trafficked as well. Anyway, that morning, she knocked on my door, which was strange. She had never knocked before – no one every bothered to knock on my door – and there she was, standing in the doorway. In the brothel, my name was “Usha” [Sanskrit for “dawn”]. The prostitute said, “Usha, get up and dress. You and I are going to the cinema!”
Nothing like that had ever happened to me before. I wasn’t even allowed to approach the gate, or go outside -- let alone go to the cinema! Security was always tight. The gate was always locked. When clients came, the guard would open the gate for them, and then he immediately locked it, once they passed through.
I didn’t know what to think about going to the cinema. If I said “no” I would be tortured and beaten. So I started to get dressed, but very slowly, while I tried to gather my thoughts. They kept saying “hurry up, hurry up!”
I came out of the room in a kurtha-suruwal, but then I changed my mind. I wanted to put something else on. So I went back inside and started to change. By the time I came out the second time, and was heading out toward the gate, the police barged through the gate. (Had I not gone back to change, I would have been already out of the brothel, on my way to the cinema, and I never would have been rescued. Obviously, the brothel owner had been tipped off about the raid and the cinema invitation was just a ploy to get me out peacefully.) The police asked me “Where are you going? Come here!” and told me to step over to the side and stay there. Then the police went inside and brought all of the girls under the age of eighteen outside where I was standing. That is how I was rescued.
DUNHAM: How many of the girls were underage?
SUNITA: Twelve. Of course if a brothel has really young girls, they put them in a separate house called a kholi. They feed the girls with food full of nutrients and protein so that they will grow faster and start to dhanda sooner. Other girls who were under eighteen, told the police that they were over eighteen because that’s what the brothel owner had taught them to say. So they remained in the brothel. Since few of the girls have official documents, it’s impossible for the police to know who is really underage.
DUNHAM: What happened next, after you were freed from the brothel?
SUNITA: We were placed in various Indian government rehabilitation centers. There was no freedom in the centers. We were guarded and couldn’t go out. They were very abusive. We were abused while eating, walking, speaking. We were mentally tortured by all the foul words they called us. They repeated, over and over, how bad we were.
Eventually, some of the girls got released. The girls who were Indian nationals were returned to their homes. The Bangladeshi girls were returned to Bangladesh. It was us -- the Nepali girls -- who weren’t released.
[Note: Though petitioned to do so, the Nepali government refused to allow the Nepali girls to return to Nepal. The government demanded proof, documentation, that the girls were Nepali citizens – something few, if any, of the girls were in a position to provide.]
In the meantime, many of the Nepali girls were so afraid of our keepers, and so afraid that they would be resold to different brothels, that they decided it would be safer to return to our old brothel. They managed to escape from the center.
That left my group of twelve. There were other girls in the center, but my group was all from the same brothel. We were determined not to return to the brothel, no matter what happened. We would take our chances, out on the streets of Bombay, if necessary, but we would stay together as a group.
There was a twelve or thirteen year old girl in the center who was in the last stages of AIDS. Blood was oozing out of her skin. We implored the lady in charge of our detention to do something, to take her to the hospital for treatment. We were afraid that the girl’s blood was going to infect us; we were all sequestered in the same room.
But the lady had no pity. She said to us, “Why are you worried? All of you came from the same place so all of you are going to die the same way. If you see this girl die in front of you, then it will be easier for you when you die. At least you know now what fate awaits you.”
The next day, the AIDS victim fainted while going to the toilet and died. My group could no longer control our anger. We had begged and begged for the lady to help the twelve-year-old but she had just mocked us. She and the whole institution killed that innocent girl.
Anyway, we couldn’t stand it any longer. We were locked in the room but each day a big iron pot was brought into our room. The pot held the roti, which was our daily meal. So after the girl died, we broke the lock on our door by smashing the pot against the lock. We rushed out. And our anger was directed at the lady who had been so cruel. The lady had two daughters and she was just getting ready to take her daughters to school when we ran out.
The first thing we did was cut the telephone wire. Our intention was to fight as long as possible before the police were tipped off.
The center where we were living was located on the main road of Chainpur. We threw everything we could lift and threw it out the windows into the street below. And then we turned our attention on the lady’s private quarters, which was a separate part of the compound. We threw stones at her windows and door. Our intention was to kill her daughters. We really intended to do it. Our only thought was “an eye for an eye”. There was a young dead girl in our quarter and we wanted there to be dead girls in the lady’s quarters. The lady saved her daughters by hiding them under a bed. In the meantime, the police were tipped off, they arrived and charged us with batons, brutally beating us, hitting us especially around the sensitive areas. Many of us passed out from the pain.
We were dragged back up the stairs, back to our old quarters; only the windows and door were replaced with iron. We couldn’t even look out. Everyone at the center changed after that. We kept asking them to either send us back to Nepal or let us go but they answered back, “Why would we let you go? Your country doesn’t want you and if we release you, you’ll just run back to the brothel.”
Finally, Mr. Gauri Pradhan [now one of three commissioners for the Nepal National Human Rights Commission] and a lady we didn’t know came to the center to talk to us. Mr. Pradhan sat down and we pulled up around him in a tight circle – there about twenty-five us – and we ridiculed him for being a Nepali man. It was Nepali men who had deceived us and sold us – we hated all Nepali men. We asked him how much was he going to sell us for and how much money would he make from selling us.
But after a while, he managed to calm us down and made us believe that he was there for our benefit. He informed us the Nepali government was unwilling to bring us home. But he and the lady with him represent seven human rights organizations that sincerely wanted to bring us to Nepal and challenge the government in its decision to leave us in India.
When he left, we were so happy to know that we were getting out of India. A week later, we were flown back to Kathmandu.
But the mental torture was not over.
When we arrived in Nepal, the media hunted us all the way from airport. They were taking picture in the airport with big cameras. The television networks and the papers published our photos and that really hurt us mentally. How could we start a new life if everyone knew we had been working in Bombay brothels? Being trafficked was bad enough – now the media was ridiculing us.
Twelve of us, including me, were placed in WOREC (Women rehabilitation center). Some girls were staying in Maiti Nepal, SAATHI and other organization. Once all of us were settled in different rehabilitation center, WOREC brought us to Bir Hospital for HIV testing and many girls were infected with HIV.
The girls who were infected started to cry. There were so many mixed feeling. On the one hand we feared death and on the other hand we felt guilty, thinking that it was our fault, that we had brought our fate upon ourselves.
Those of us who were not infected began to focus our attention on those who were: We tried to convince them that it was not their fault and that we might be infected as well, it just hadn’t shown up yet.
When Dr. Renu, [who was the president of WOREC at that time], saw us crying she understood the trauma we were going through. She organized basic health training for us. There were fifteen participants including the twelve of us living in WOREC.
The ten-day training really helped our morale: In addition to basic health and hygiene issues we were also counseled on how to bring positive change in our own lives. We heard seminars on trafficking, human rights and women rights. It was only after the training that we began to realize that we weren’t responsible for being victims of trafficking and that there was no reason for us to feel guilt.
So we decided to form a group to help girls who had faced the same crisis that we had endured. We believed in the power of our group, so we called our organization Shakti Samuha [Nepali for “power group”].
DUNHAM: Was it difficult to get Shakti Samuha recognized as a legitimate organization?
SUNITA: We had to fight with the government for four years before we were officially recognized. The difficult thing was that it was required that at least seven members on the board have citizenship certificates. Those of us who had parents asked them to help us get the certificates, but they refused on the grounds that we were bad girls and that we might later on try to get our hands on their property.
Eventually we overcame that hurdle, but there were other obstacles even after we had prepared all the legal documents.
On the first line of our manifesto, it says that we were girls who had been rescued from India brothels. When the Chief District Officer read that and looked at us and said, “You don’t have the skills or knowledge to run an organization. You need to be educated people, like doctors or engineers. Why don’t you be realistic? You are attractive young girls; why don’t you get jobs in cabin restaurants?
[Note: “Cabin restaurants” is a Nepali euphemism for cafes or bars with cubbies in the back designed for prostitution.]
We tried for four years to get that CDO’s signature before the organization was officially registered. That was in 2000. Finally we could proceed to work on the rights of those trafficked girls who had survived.
We discussed our agenda with one another and based on personal experience, we decided that we would first concentrate on the places that had the highest rate of sex trafficking: the slums and the carpet factories. Our initial drive was to raise awareness among the girls who worked in those areas. At the same time, we began to publicize our organization.
Then we concentrated on the anti-trafficking laws and rape laws that were in effect at that time. They were completely unsatisfactory so we organized road dramas in districts and also on the national level to raise awareness among the locals that laws need to be changed. We even traveled to India, Thailand with our road dramas.
DUNHAM: Why did you target the carpet factories?
SUNITA: The girls in the carpet factories were mostly illiterate and completely naïve of the manipulation and trickery of traffickers. The factories also had children working in them, and traffickers always targeted them. The sex brokers lured them with dream-promises and easily trapped them.
DUNHAM: Were these Nepalese or Tibetan carpet factories?
SUNITA: Nepalese. Most of the factories have been closed down.
Then we turned our attention to the organizations in Nepal that claimed that they were rehabilitating survivors of traffickers. You see, there are so many organizations in Kathmandu that spend a lot of money promoting their programs, making big conferences in five-star hotels, delivering sweet speeches and informing the press that they have helped huge numbers of girls. But in our center, we were hearing an entirely different story: We were interviewing lots of girls who told us that they hadn’t received any help. So who was telling the truth? We decided to do our own study to verify the claims made by the big organizations.
We conducted research in five districts: Sindhupalchok, Nuwakot, Makwanpur, Bara, and Rautahat. The survey concentrated on, “What is the condition of the rescued girls at the present time?”
I still remember one incident, during the survey, in Makwanpur district. There was a woman in the last stage of AIDS. Her family members had kept her in a cowshed with the farm animals. When we discovered her and introduced ourselves to her, she was furious with us because she had grown to be completely cynical about NGOs. But when we told her that we were different because we ourselves were victims of traffickers, she softened. She cried and told us how helpless she felt and she asked us, “What can you learn from me? I’m just waiting for my death.”
That response really touch us because we knew first-hand what she was talking about. She died a few days later.
We concluded from our survey that most of the NGOs were not of significant help. They would have a survivor may spend six to seven months in a rehabilitation center where she would receive training in sewing and tailoring. The NGO would then donate a sewing machine and a few thousand rupees to the survivor and then they would tell her, “Now you are rehabilitated. You have a skill that makes you self-reliant.” And then the survivor would be sent on her way.
But there was no follow-through.
The real situation was that, once they left the rehabilitation centers, most of the girls were faced with the problem of where to go: either they had no parents or they had stepparents. Most of the girls would not be welcomed in the stepparents’ homes. And if they were, they would be badly mistreated. The girls would sell the sewing machines for survival and suddenly, they were back to where they started before the “rehabilitation”.
We presented our findings to the donor agencies and briefed them on the real situation of the rescued girls. Save the Children Norway came forward and backed our projects in the five districts we had covered. We created a district-level network of survivors, through which we conducted trainings, provided [unintelligible] support, education support for both survivors and their children. These projects are still operating in the five districts.
Nuwakot, Sindhupalchok, and Makwanpur districts are still heavily target areas for sex-traffickers; the girls are still vulnerable in those areas. It used to be that the reported cases were isolated in these districts because of the stigma attached to being a sex-worker. But now, because of the awareness campaigns of various organizations, more and more cases are being reported; the woman want to take it to court, they want the criminals who forced them into sex-work brought to justice. In fact, we have so many cases to bring to court that it’s all we can do to stay ahead.
DUNHAM: So you can get them to come forward and take their cases to court?
SUNITA: Yes. We have launched girls clubs (age 10-20) in various communities in the Kathmandu Valley. In the clubs, the girls are trained in self-awareness, ability to make others aware of the dangers of sex-trafficking, street drama performance training, interaction with parents (which includes the formation of mother-child groups), orientation, workshops and conferences. Once the training is completed, the clubs are fully capable of launching their own programs within their local communities. Nine clubs have completed our program, and we are training seven additional, new clubs at the present time. These clubs arise out of the community, but they also interact with the local school systems.
We are also working with other programs: a literacy program for women in Satidevi VDC of Nuwakot; shelters for rescued women – one in Kathmandu, and one in Sindhupalchok.
DUNHAM: How many women can each shelter accommodate?
SUNITA: 12-15 women in Kathmandu and that capacity will soon be increased. 10 in Pokhara. 20 in Sindhupalchok. We would like to accommodate more in Sindhupalchok – there certainly is the need – but we are not receiving any help from the government, so it’s difficult to extend the facility.
DUNHAM: Regarding the shelters: Do you also accept women who have been abused by their husbands, or is it restricted to victims of sex trafficking?
SUNITA: Our priority is survivors of sex trafficking. With the help of TDH here, we are receiving 16 survivors from Calcutta next week. These women are our priority. But, as we are a community-based organization, sometimes a case will be presented to us that we cannot refuse. We accept abused women for a limited time—usually around seven days – and refer them to another organization called Saathi, which specializes in abused women.
The other organization that I’m involved with, Alliance Against Trafficking in Women and Children in Nepal (AATWIN) is an alliance that supports Shakti Samuha to protect the human rights of the victims. Currently, I’m president of AATWIN. There is another anti-trafficking alliance based in Bangkok, called GAATW; I’m on its executive board. It’s a global organization that gives priority to organizations, which were created and are run by victims, not just outside people who want to help that particular cause.
DUNHAM: How is your organization funded?
SUNITA: Save the Children, Aasha Nepal UK, (for the hostels), TDH, and CWS, (for the emergency center in Pokhara.
DUNHAM: Do you have any private donors?
DUNHAM: Do you need private donors?
SUNITA: Yes, we have lots of problems.
DUNHAM: We’ve been talking only about girls. Are there also boys who are trafficked?
SUNITA: Sometimes, yes. Mostly for manual labor. But they aren’t trafficked to India. The boys are trafficked to countries like Saudi Arabia, Gulf countries, Malaysia.
DUNHAM: Do you know how many boys are trafficked each year?
SUNITA: No, but I still remember an incident in which there were 12 boys from Udaypur district [southeastern Nepal]; they were told they would get goods jobs in Saudi, but once they got to Saudi, they had to work as shepherds in the desert. There was no food. Their only sustenance was sheep’s milk. When they complained to the broker that they wanted to return to Nepal, the broker told him he would turn them over to the police. They were in the desert for one-and-a-half years before getting back to Nepal.
There is a lot of that sort of problem. Because of the political instability and the ten-year conflict here, lots of women, children and youth have ended up in Gulf States like Oman and Qatar. And the women and children often end up being sold to the brothels. We conducted a regional workshop last year to find out the current trafficking trends. Today, the brokers first convince the people to go abroad, then they help the Nepalis get genuine citizenship papers, then they help them get passports, then they take them to India and on to the Gulf states like Oman. Once they get there, they’re forced to become sex workers –either that or forced to become household workers, where they are forced into sexual activities with the house owner or his guests.
I know of one case recently, in which a girl from Jhapa was trapped is sex work, couldn’t take it any more, and finally jumped out of a third-story window. She fell to her death.
DUNHAM: My last question is what happened to your family?
SUNITA: The sad thing is that it’s been twelve years since I’ve seen any of my family and I am not in contact with any of them. I don’t know where my parents are. I don’t know if they ever got to Nainital. I don’t know if they ever found my brother. I don’t even know if they’re dead or alive. I don’t know if the Brahmin is dead or alive.
The only good news for me is that my uncle who sold me to the Brahmin is now dead. When I was told about his death, I was advised to mourn him. Instead I went to a butcher shop and bought a kilo of meat and had a big party and invited all of my friends.
Because of that man’s greed and treachery, because he sold me for 3000 rupees, my whole life was ruined.
Because of him, I went through hell.
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