Anita (name changed) lives in Chennai. She is a part of NalandaWay’s Project Sakhi-Chennai cohort, a comprehensive programme to help adolescent girls from severely disadvantaged backgrounds, complete college education and become financially independent. Anita’s father is deaf, works as a coolie, also a drunkard. Her mother works as a maid in a few homes.

Anita was selected into the programme when she was 13, while studying 8th standard in a government school. She is 15 now and is preparing for her tenth board exam. She is a gifted Math student and wants to pursue research.

We have given all our Sakhi girls a laptop and smartphone, and during the lockdown, our classes in academics, art and life skills, also moved online. Anita has always been a studious, creative, participative and natural leader, but we saw a sharp decline in the last eight months. She was irregular to classes and became unresponsive.

During our parent connect calls we found that her parents never participated. In the later part of last year, we noticed a 30 something-year-old man coming to our calls. Anita called him ‘uncle’. When schools reopened for a few months, we noticed this man dropping Anita in his bike. We grew curious. Other girls in her cohort informed us that they had noticed Anita crying during school hours and had also complained of body pain. We were worried. We decided to investigate this further. We did a recce to her house address only to discover that they had moved out. After some probing, we located her new house. She was living with her father who was drunk most times and the man. Her mother was not to be found. His name was Subash. We kept a close watch on Anita and kept talking to her, but she remained unresponsive.

A month ago, in the middle of the night, we received a porn video from Subash in the parents’ WhatsApp group. Our quick-thinking colleague deleted the video and deleted the group. But we realised that we had to go on the offensive and swiftly. After the incident Anita, Subash and her father became quiet. They had changed houses again. We were worried about her safety.

With the help of her school authorities, teachers, her relatives we tracked them down. Subash remained defiant, he even said that he was living together with Anita, a 15-year-old. Anita seemed unusually quiet. On further investigation, we found that Subash was a washing machine mechanic and had visited Anita’s house for the first time a year ago. Subash kept visiting the house and started having an affair with Anita’s mother. Slowly he had begun to make his advances towards Anita. In a dramatic turn of events, Anita’s father with Subash’s support threw Anita’s mother out of the house.

It’s now just Subash, a drunkard father and Anita, in a small house, all during a lockdown. He had been gaslighting Anita, abusing her both sexually and physically.

We also noticed that Anita was shivering and couldn’t stand for more than ten minutes.

We had to rescue Anita but she was completely in his clutches. We started talking to the devil, we made him believe that if he supported Anita’s education we would not come in his way. In two days, he spoke a lot. In one of the calls, he confessed to sexually abusing Anita. Our blood boiled. We recorded all the conversations.

We made an official complaint to Child Line 1098 and to the local police station. Before Child Line could reach their house, he had kidnapped Anita from the house and went underground. We kept calling. Subash picked up, we convinced him to let go of Anita. We rescued Anita and got her admitted to the Government Home for Girls.

But Subash disappeared.

The medical examination revealed that Anita was pregnant, two months. Now that Anita was in a safe place, it was time for revenge. We had to put him behind bars under POCSO. We kept pushing the police. After two days, police received a tip that he was hiding near the Puzhal lake. Police chased him, to escape the cops he jumped over the boundary wall, and broke his arm.

When we learnt of the arrest, we were happy, but him breaking his arm made us overjoyed.

Our heartfelt gratitude to our colleagues for their courage, swiftness and commitment. We cannot thank them enough. We are not mentioning their names for their personal safety.

Anita will soar again.