It was an ordinary afternoon of January 2020. Akhi (pseudonym) was sitting in a neighbourhood hotel of Rajbari, enjoying a cup of tea and watching the scenario with her friend.
A few hours later, when she regained her consciousness, everything looked blurry. Once she became a little stable, she found herself in a shabby little room with a heavy black door but no window. The dirt on the walls and worn-out paint were screaming out gloom and despair.
Startled, Akhi could not figure out how she reached this room. The last thing she remembered was having tea with a friend from her in-laws' village, who promised her leading roles in movies. Naive Akhi trusted her words and went to Daulatdia from Savar, Dhaka, to be a superstar. She also found it a good way to get rid of her toxic in-laws, who had only tortured her for dowry.
Akhi's thought was interrupted with a voice in an argument. She eavesdropped and heard her friend saying, "I won't take a penny less than Tk60,000." She thought it might be an argument about her paycheck. Excitedly, she concentrated more and soon understood it was an argument about selling her to a broker. After realising this, all of Akhi's dreams were shattered in a moment.
"For months, I cried and requested them to let me go. I have tried eloping countless times, but I did not know where I was or where to go. It was like a maze. After a while, I was exactly at the same place with those same people who brutally tortured me," uttered Akhi.
Still, it is quite hard for Akhi to believe that she is living a normal life outside that maze. On 13 August, she was rescued by the police of Goalando thana, with the help of the national emergency service Bangladesh.
Her sarder Rita (one of the chiefs of the brothel) used to call her olokkhi (unlucky) though she was young, beautiful, and in-demand among the customers. Akhi explained, "She incurred a loss after bringing me to the kuthi (home) because it took me months to accept the reality and attend to customers."
One day, she was randomly sharing her sufferings with one of her regular customers Alamgir (pseudonym). He suggested she call the national emergency number, as a month back another girl was rescued from this same place. Again, Alamgir's words gave Akhi hope
But this did not stop Rita from pushing her to attend customers. "Sometimes three, four or even more times I have attended to customers in a day. Every night I prayed not to wake up in the morning," said a miserable Akhi.
But suddenly she found a ray of hope when she saw one of her distant relatives in the brothel. "The moment I saw him, I ran and jumped on him." She kept on requesting to take her with him. But being scared of disreputation, he did not take her. Though he promised Akhi of informing her mother, and he did.
Fast forward a few weeks later, Akhi's mother came to visit her but not to rescue. Actually, her mother came to visit her, promising Akhi's father that she would not bring her back.
"I was shocked to know that my father had disowned me. It was hard to fathom that my existence does not matter to him. Lastly, my mother promised to take me home but unfortunately she could not pay the pawn the sardar asked," remarked Akhi.
Day turned to night, and night turned to day, her life went on the same. One day, she was randomly sharing her sufferings to one of her regular customers Alamgir (pseudonym). He suggested she call the national emergency number, as a month back another girl was rescued from this same place. Again, Alamgir's words gave Akhi hope. She called the emergency number from Alamgir's phone and explained her situation. But nothing happened.
She was disappointed but did not lose hope. So, the next time he visited her, she called again. This time she shared all the details and addresses. "The moment I received a call from Goalando Thana, I left the place because it was not safe for me to stay there. But I was close to the main gate to be sure that the police found Akhi. I just wanted her to be safe," explained Alamgir to TBS.
When police entered the kuthi, Rita refused to accept Akhi's existence. But when police searched, they found her instantly. However, the whole situation scared Akhi so much that she refused to admit that she had called. But her mixed expression convinced Abdullah Al Tayabir, Inspector of Goalondo Thana, to investigate the case.
"Akhi was stammering and could not answer a single thing straight. This caught my attention so I took her to the next room for investigation and she acknowledged everything," said Tayabir.
Eventually, he arrested Rita and her husband, Sohel. Yet, it took them a few hours as the sardars of the brothel were trying to create a fuss saying it was a trap.
In reality, Akhi was in a trap.
Why are so many girls in this trap and cannot get out of this? Ataur Rahman Manju, coordinator of the rights group Mukti Mahila Samity, tried to answer this query. Manju believed that the sardars usually treat those girls very badly to make themselves feel inferior.
"Akhi is a brave girl; hence she has dared to leave this place. Though we have post boxes and 24/7 workers in that brothel, girls barely share their sufferings with us. If someone does, we definitely rescue them. Till now, we have rescued more than 200 victims from this brothel," shared Manju.
Currently, Akhi is in her home district with her mother and looking for a job for her livelihood. When TBS asked her what punishment she wants for those culprits, she replied, "There is no doubt that I want him to be hanged; maybe for a thousand times or maybe more. Actually, the more, the better it is."