As the bus crossed a dense forest in Jharkhand’s Simdega on Sunday, 19 February, the 17-year-old girl’s face lit up. “Yeh dekho, yeh Palash ka ped hai (Look at this, this is a Palash tree),” she said. The fiery red flowers decorated the afternoon sky and assured her that she was in fact near home, her ghar.
It’s been a long journey for the child, who was rescued from her employer’s home in Haryana’s Gurugram on 7 February, with cuts, bruises and burn marks on her body. The employer couple was arrested, and the minor was shifted to a hospital in Gurugram, where she was under treatment for 12 days.
On Saturday, 19 February, she boarded a Ranchi-bound train from the New Delhi Railway station (NDLS), along with her mother, three police officers of the Jharkhand Police’s Crime branch’s Anti Human Trafficking Unit (AHTU) and a member of NGO Shakti Vahini.
But she was not the only rescued minor in the train. Four more girls – teenagers – who were employed at Delhi-NCR homes as domestic helps boarded the train with her. Like her, they too had been rescued by police and NGOs and were now being sent back to their villages in Jharkhand’s Simdega district.
The Quint follows the minors back home to Jharkhand after they underwent a traumatic few months in Delhi-NCR. These are their stories.
On Saturday afternoon, at the railway station in Delhi, the minor clung to her mother’s side. At 4.10 pm, the train left the station.
For the first time since The Quint first met her at the Gurugram hospital on 10 February, the minor bore a smile on her face.
She clutched on to the drawing books that were given to her by an NGO and kept to herself throughout the journey.
Around 9 am Sunday, the train reached Ranchi, and the girls boarded a bus to Simdega. “I had forgotten what my village looks like. The houses are small and simple here… In the city, there are only big houses and tall buildings,” said the minor girl, as she looked outside the bus window on Sunday.
While some bruises have healed, she still has a bandage that covers her forehead and right ear.
The city caused her endless pain. For the five months that she was employed at the Gurugram couple’s house, she was allegedly beaten up with “spoons, forks, hot vessels,” and was “not allowed to speak to anyone over the phone.”
As the bus reached closer to her village on Sunday afternoon, the minor said, “I left my clothes in that house (in Gurugram) and never went back to pick them up.”
Her childlike innocence came back to life on the rickety bus ride to her village. She put her head out of the window, and the wind swept her hair aside. “I missed the wind, the sunshine, the forest, Palash trees…,” she said.
Soon, the bus stopped at the Circuit House in Simdega, where the girls had lunch, and met the District Child Protection Officer (DCPO), senior police officers, and members of Shakti Vahini.
For now, the minor will stay at a hospital where she’s undergoing treatment for her wounds. The other girls were sent to a protection centre where they will stay for a few days before being repatriated with their families.
‘Never Got a Rupee For the Work I Did in Delhi’: Another Rescued Minor
When the five girls got onto the train in Delhi on Saturday afternoon, they did not know each other but soon realised that they had more in common than just a Delhi-Jharkhand train ride.
Each of them was brought to Delhi from Jharkhand to work in the last few years. These journeys changed their lives overnight.
Over train meals, the five girls became friends and shared their excitement about going back home. Looking out of the bus when it reached their district, a 16-year-old girl said, “I am coming back after years. The memories are becoming stronger as we get closer to home… In Delhi where I was employed, there was a lot of work and no emotional connection with the people.”
She worked as a domestic help at a home in Delhi’s Janakpuri for three months. “I was not mistreated but felt like a stranger.” In November 2022, she said she ran away and went to a Delhi police station nearby. “I was taken to a shelter home from there,” recalled the teenager.
She had left school when she was in class VI and wants to return now – “but outside the village.”
Meanwhile, another 16-year-old girl who was trafficked in 2017, said that she doesn’t remember who took her to Delhi. “I worked at homes in Noida, Pitampura, and Ashok Vihar but I never got paid a rupee. My employers always said that they are paying the agents but I never got a rupee from the agents either,” she said.
In 2021, she ran away and took an auto – to anywhere. “I told the auto driver that I have no money as I am on the run. He took me to some NGO. The bhaiya and didi there heard me out and asked me to stay at the NGO only. Now, my case is in court,” recalled the girl.
The five girls come from tribal communities. While one belongs to the Rotia tribe, two of them are Santals, and the minor rescued from Gurugram belongs to the Gond tribe.
Throughout the journey, the Gurugram minor looked out of the window hopefully. The bandage around her ear had become loose and she kept holding on to it throughout the bus ride.
While her mother looked at her and smiled every few minutes, there were only a few words exchanged between them. Her mother said, “She will stay with me now. We will not send her back to work.”
At the Circuit House, the officers asked the girls if they ever planned on going back, to which they all said no. They advised the Gurugram minor’s mother to “not get swayed” if anyone offers them money to close the case.
Now, efforts are being made by authorities to enroll the girls in school. At the Circuit House, the girls ate a hearty meal of rice, daal, and vegetables. In between small bites of roti and daal, the Gurugram minor said, “It’s nice to have home food again.”
(This is part one of the The Quint’ series on trafficking of minors from Jharkhand to big cities.