At times I meet clients who come only once because they want to just talk and feel understood without being judged. Nazia* is one such client. Although I heard her for just 2 hours, the narration of her life will stay with me forever.
Hailing from a lower middle-class family, Nazia and her younger sister, Razia* were brought up by their loving grandmother. Her father had abandoned them when she was about 3 years old, and her mother was pregnant with Razia. That had left her mother mentally unstable. Her mother would often go away from the house unannounced and return after a few days. The girls had got used to their mother’s mental condition and absence.
Life changed when their grandmother died. The girls, Nazia (9) and her sister (6) were shifted to their maternal uncle’s place, in a remote village. Their mother’s visits to the village reduced over time.
While Razia was sent to school, Nazia wasn’t enrolled in one. She was treated as a domestic help and farm labourer by her aunt.
Running away from hunger
Both the sisters would often have to sleep hungry because they were not given enough food. Nazia, recollected that she didn’t mind doing all the work and being illtreated by her aunt, but she could not bear the hunger. Once she unsuccessfully tried to run away along with Razia, thinking that if she got away from her uncle’s house, she would work and earn enough money to be able to feed herself and her sister. At that age, Nazia wasn’t thinking about safety, she was more concerned about surviving starvation.
Having experienced one failed attempt of escaping with her sister, Nazia was determined to somehow get away from her uncle’s house alone, find some work and then return to pick up Razia. She was just 12 years old then and had no idea of the world she was planning to run away to, all alone.
One day, she managed to escape from the house without being noticed by anyone from the family or village. She had just enough money to purchase a bus ticket to take her to the nearest city.
A middle-aged man sitting next to her started talking to her and got to know that Nazia had run away from home and was not planning to return soon. He felt sympathetic towards her and not only offered her food on the way but also offered her a job at his house as a domestic help.
The couple took good care of her, and she was happy. Within a couple of months, their son who was away to pursue education, returned home. Soon he started making inappropriate passes whenever he found her alone. Nazia started becoming uncomfortable and shared what was happening with the lady of the house. As a result, she was sent away to help at an NGO on the outskirts of the city. This was when Nazia’s life turned into a nightmare.
From fire to hell
At the NGO, a male caretaker, befriended Nazia and showed care and compassion to gain her trust. Soon, he started waiting for opportunities to be alone with her.
Nazia realized that the place was not safe for her and shared her concern with a delivery boy who regularly delivered groceries to the NGO. This boy showed sympathy and convinced her that he would help her. She trusted him and eloped with him at the first opportunity only to find herself in the red-light district.
What followed was never-ending inhuman treatment by several people. She was hardly 13 years of age when she was first forced into prostitution.
It was disturbing to hear the description of the torture she had to suffer, when she tried to resist or refuse. However, Nazia was not one to give up easily. She was always working on strategies and looking for opportunities of getting away from prostitution. Sadly, she was too young to understand whom to trust.
Nazia tried to escape a couple of times with help from different people, but she always landed in another red-light district in another city. The people she trusted, were out to make money simply by “selling” her.
Mirage of help
While narrating her experiences, Nazia mentioned that there was one good person that she met during this time, who truly did care for her and rescued her to a safe place with help from some of his friends. He had risked his own life and that of his friends to help her. He wanted to marry her, and she was happy living freely for some time.
Within a month or two, his mother found out about Nazia and brought an end to their love-story. She stopped her son from meeting Nazia or helping her financially.
Nazia was left to fend for herself. Again, she trusted a wrong person who brought her back to the life she had been trying to escape.
This went on for a couple of years till she met Karim* who was a frequent visitor at the brothel she worked at. Karim was in his forties and used to travel from a different city. He would talk well with her and would often ask if she wanted to get out of the place. Once he made some financial arrangements and took her out of there. They checked into a hotel room. She had enough food and comfortable living.
Nazia thought Karim liked her. Within a month, he started introducing her to some high-profile clients. She had to “please” these clients in exchange for her comfortable shelter and food. Although shocked by this turn of events, Nazia convinced herself that this was not that bad.
In her words, “this was a better life because I had a comfortable living and had to please only a few known clients, a couple of times in a month instead of having to please two or three unknown persons every day.”
Mother and wife
After about a year and a half, Karim shifted Nazia to the city where he lived. He arranged for her stay at a working women’s hostel and employment as an unskilled worker in one of the nearby factories.
For the first time after she was a child, life appeared stress-free and simple to Nazia. She would meet Karim over weekends. She started developing feelings for him and felt indebted towards him for giving her a life that she always wanted. Nazia got pregnant with his child.
Karim was a married man but didn’t have any children. He married Nazia (his second marriage) and shifted her to a house close to where he lived with his first wife. He took good care of Nazia, and she was happy to have a home and finally belong to someone who cared for her.
She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, Gudia*. Was this the end of Nazia’s miseries? Life had different plans.
By the time Gudia was six months old, she was taken away from Nazia by Karim. He wanted to raise the baby with his first wife. Nazia said Karim and his first wife took very good care of Gudia, but she was left alone to deal with the emptiness and shock of her baby being taken away. She realized that all the care and affection that she was being showered with was only because Karim wanted a child.
Provider from abroad
Before Nazia could deal with what had happened, he started getting her passport and other papers ready so that she could travel overseas to work at a night club and dance bar. Nazia resisted for some time, but finally had to give in.
She started working overseas and visited Gudia twice a year. Karim and his family started depending on her financial support and enjoyed the gifts she would get for them, on every visit to India. She tried to convince herself again that she was in a better place because dancing and singing was better than what she had to do earlier. Nazia also received attention from Karim and his family since she was fulfilling their material needs. This attention felt good to the young mind.
Nazia had accepted her new life in a new country, made new friends and started enjoying their company. But that was not meant to last for long.
After a couple of years, she received a call from Karim that his first wife had died and that she should return immediately to take care of Gudia. Nazia had to wind up in a hurry and was not sure what she would have to do to support herself and Gudia, after returning to India.
Yet another turn
Her new contacts included an elderly gentleman and his wife, who had compassion for Nazia. They offered to support her financially and take care of Gudia’s education so that Nazia didn’t have to work anymore.
Gudia was in kindergarten at that time. Now she is in college. It has been over a decade but Nazia’s kind-hearted guardians have not stopped supporting Gudia’s education. They offered to pay for Nazia’s education too, but she didn’t want to attempt that.
They stopped paying the extra amount for her upkeep a few years back when they realised that the money was being used more by Karim and his family members for their comforts, rather than Nazia’s support and security.
Today, Nazia is living with Karim and Gudia in a quiet suburban neighbourhood, where nobody knows about her past. Karim supports the family by working a little and by selling certain investments he would have made with Nazia’s income.
Life goes on
Nazia is in her late 30s and is leading a normal life from society’s point of view. But, emotionally, life for her is not normal. She is struggling to let go of her past. She is on medication for depression and anxiety.
She says, she has worked on herself over the years and has been able to forgive most of the people who have wronged her, taken advantage of her, used her. However, she is not able to forgive one person in her life, and that is Karim.
How could he use her after being married to her? She was his wife and yet he took her child away from her. He made her work in night clubs and dance bars, knowing fully well what she might have had to undergo. She is struggling with these thoughts and struggling to suppress her anger towards him.
Living with him is a constant reminder of what he has done to her. At times, she becomes violent due to these thoughts. Karim has apologized multiple times, but that doesn’t convince her enough to forgive him.
Nazia is hoping to one day be able to work on her anger against Karim. She wants to be at peace to be able to enjoy life. Nazia said she felt peaceful after the session with me, but both of us knew that it was just a temporary relief. She felt heard, understood, and not judged during the session.
Nazia often wonders where her mother is and worries for her. She yearns to see Razia, but doesn’t want to meet her because she is fearful of causing trouble in her sister’s life considering her own past.
She remembers all those people who tried to help her in life. She always prays for them to be safe and happy wherever they are and wishes for life to give her an opportunity to meet some of them again, just to thank them.
It can be very difficult to feel grateful when one has been wronged multiple times by so many people. But for Nazia, gratitude comes naturally towards people who have helped her.
Nazia will be remembered by me, with admiration, for having hope, compassion, and gratitude to offer in spite of the hardships she has faced. Nazia is a survivor. I salute her for her courage, determination and fighting spirit!
Disclaimer: *To protect the identity of the subject, personal details, including the names have been changed.