Because Pooja made a promise, she could not back down. So she stood there and received the spitting, the hurling of insults, the pushing and shoving and physical threats. She stood between a nine-year-old child and her mother, father, and grandmother. This family had been profiting off this nine-year-old girl for years. At the expense of her education, health, and future, this family had been receiving the profits of sending her out to beg in the streets. And now they were upset that their mode of profit was being blocked by Pooja. But like I said, Pooja couldn’t back down because she made a promise. She had forced the family to appear before three judges to fight for the child.
This promise had been made just two hours earlier, and Pooja could not break a promise that was so recently made. Pooja had travelled with this child, named Akela, by train to bring her before the judges. During their travels, Akela had seen a well-dressed woman waiting to get on the train. And Akela did what came instinctively to her, the only thing she had been taught to do, forced to do, she stretched out her arms and cupped her hands together in the gesture of one that begs. Pooja saw this and with tears streaming down, she took Akela by the hands and led her away. And Pooja then sat her down, looked her in the eyes and told her that she would never have to do this again, that her life was now going to be different. They held hands and walked into the court.
And at the court, before three judges stood Pooja and Akela on one side and this family on the other side. And as the family began arguing to get the little one back, the courts looked at the medical reports of Akela that Pooja had submitted. A medical checkup was taken for Akela once she was rescued by a few policemen that had seen her alone in the streets a few weeks earlier. The judges looked at the reports, read it slowly, then looked at the family and asked them how this little one, at the age of 9 had contracted the HIV virus. Mother, father, and grandmother stood there dumbfounded, they seemed to have no idea. It is when the courts decided that until further investigations are conducted, that Akela would be under our care, that they erupted. And they focused their fury on Pooja. Before it could get worse, other social workers that were waiting at the court came to her aid and helped Pooja and Akela get out.
As Pooja sat in my office retelling this story, I couldn’t help but look with great admiration and a bit of wonder. Pooja came to BTC when she was just 6 years old; she has had her own struggles and sadness; her mother had died in the Red Light District when she was just a little girl herself. But through the ashes, has come a 22 year old woman with a Masters in Social Work and heart of courage and compassion. The one who once did not have a voice of her own has now become a voice for the voiceless. It is nothing short of divine to witness beauty and strength rise from the ashes of pain and suffering to stare down and threaten evil and darkness. It is both beautiful and powerful to behold.