Times 2

In this Rajastan village, every girl is born to be a sex slave

By Liz Hazelton

In a fetid shack swarming with flies, an old woman with a ravaged face is weeping so uncontrollably she struggles to speak. When she does form words they are jerky and awkward, a string of incomprehensible denials. No, she does not remember. It was a long time ago. She does not understand how it happened.

Eventually, distraught, she wanders out into the filthy yard where chickens peck fruitlessly at the dry earth.
It is deeply uncomfortable viewing. This old lady, so reduced by age and experience, has just been confronted with the hideous tradition at the heart of her community.

Her daughter -- like virtually every other woman in this small Indian town -- is a prostitute, sold into the sex trade when she was little more than a girl. Twenty years on, she is the sole provider for her decimated family, including the mewling baby lying in a wooden crib.

The child belongs to her dead brother. It is a terrible irony that he was the man who sold her into sexual slavery and destroyed her life. The footage is part of a new CNN documentary Trapped by Tradition focusing on the town of Bharatpur, in the ancient state of Rajasthan.

It is fronted by the actor Anil Kapoor, best known in the West for his role as the quiz master in Slumdog Millionaire, and one of the most famous men in India. Several months after his visit, he is still deeply disturbed by his encounter with the family.

'I didn't expect it,' he says. 'The condition of the house and the way they were living...'
For a second, words fail him. Then he continues: 'The mother came and sat down and I started to speak with her. I asked her was she aware of what had happened, that her daughter was trafficked.
'You could see that she knew. She doesn't want to remember. She is completely not functioning. She is in a kind of time warp. She can't forgive herself.'

The film is part of CNN's Freedom Project, a year-long initiative which aims to expose the horrors of slavery in the 21st century. And though the subject is heartrending, Kapoor's rapport with the community makes it deeply moving.

'I am very well-known in India,' he says, explaining the ease with which he persuaded people, including vulnerable women on the periphery of society, to talk. 'They know who I am and they've watched my films. I suppose I'm like a brother or a friend so they trust me.

'That is why they open up to me.'
It was not the 51-year-old actor's first visit to Bharatpur. He travelled there two years ago as part of his work for the charity, Plan India, which protects children against abuse and exploitation.
The initial experience was so shattering, he describes himself as 'completely shocked.'
'It's a kind of tradition,' he explains. 'The society and the family do not see anything wrong. It is an obligation.'

Two years ago there were very few women in Bharatpur. Most were in Delhi or Mumbai, trafficked at a young age to sell their bodies and sending every penny back to support their families.
Plan India launched a programme to educate both the community and shatter hundreds of years of tradition which have blighted thousands of lives.

Just 24 months on, it is already producing results.
'You can see the difference,' Kapoor says. 'There are schools there and they are trying their best not to send their girls away.

'There's still a long way to go but things have changed.'
He puts this down to a co-ordinated approach between the community, Plan India, the government and the police.

'There are some who are very responsible and are ashamed of what has happened,' he says.
'But there is a certain section of the town who still want to keep this tradition as if there was nothing wrong. It is these people who have to be punished.'

If the story of Bharatpur is heartbreaking, it is also one of hope.
Kapoor, who has starred in more than 150 films, highlights a young girl who tells him she is hoping to train as an actress.

She is the sister of the woman trafficked by her own brother so many years ago.
(Trapped by Tradition airs today at 12pm (GMT) and Tuesday September 27 at 10.30am (GMT) and 6.30pm (GMT) on CNN International.

© Daily Mail, London

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