Book documents stories of girls pushed into sex trade

Nirmala Govindarajan's 'Taboo' documents stories of girls pushed into sex trade

Author and social sector documentarian Nirmala Govindarajan’s latest novel, ‘Taboo’, is inspired by underage girls who are kidnapped and trafficked. Her earlier work ‘Hunger’s Daughters’ was born out of her experience documenting India’s rural heartland. ‘Taboo’ captures and writes about real stories of underage girls who were pushed into the sex trade. It looks at the psychological and physiological repercussions of such dastardly acts. In an interview with Metrolife, Nirmala talks about how she got down to writing the book and more. 

How did you come across such as an idea?

A few years ago, I visited my friend Catherine Raja in Ooty, and met the survivors of sex trade who had been rescued and rehabilitated by her organisation, Freedom Firm and their partners.Some of the survivors were HIV+, they were still underage girls when they had been kidnapped and trafficked. Their past travails and optimism moved me to write ‘Taboo.’

What kind of background work and research has gone into the project?

‘Taboo’ is inspired by my interactions with survivors of the sex trade like Sayontika (name changed), a 22-year-old girl I met at Freedom Firm’s Kolkata workshop — a fashion jewellery making unit called Ruhamah Designs. Sayontika had been sold off to a brothel at age eight, by her own sister and brother-in-law. But, on the day I met her, she brimmed with joy, handing me her wedding invite — she was soon to marry the love of her life. The novel draws from these experiences.

What kind of mental trauma and emotions do the girls go through?

When the girls I met were rescued, they had battled with psychological and physiological trauma — many struggled with uncontrollable sexual urges due to constant abuse. During the rescue operation, girl children, hardly over 12 years in age, had already been subjected to eight customers by noon. Some like Sayontika had seen her pimp stab a senior sex worker to death because she had promised to protect her. And then, there is the sense of betrayal with family members who had sold them.

How does the trade survive and what fuels it?

Often, poverty leads people to sell off girls in their own families to brothels. And those who trade these children, more often than not, have allegiance with people in power.

What parts of the country or city are vulnerable to the trade?

Freedom Firm and other anti-sex trafficking organisations conduct rescues in Nagpur and various Tier 1 and Tier 2 towns across Maharashtra, Central India and North Karnataka where it’s more obvious. But, the trade is prevalent across the country, and there have been rescues in West Bengal, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. Just last month, Freedom Firm conducted a rescue in Bangalore.

What were the challenges that you faced when you were writing this novel?

‘Taboo’ is a stream of consciousness, emotional response to the trade. Through the tenure of writing it — the voices, faces, smiles, struggles of the girls I had met haunted me, at times shaking me,  giving me hope to look within and without to tell this stylised story.

Why did you choose to call it ‘Taboo’?

Sex trade is considered a taboo, and often, it is no fault of the girl who has been traded. The title draws attention to this.