A heart-wrenching account of a child who gets trapped in a flesh trade circle and her relentless struggle to get out of it, Prem Nagar is much more than a work of fiction. Based on the not often talked about themes of human trafficking and prostitution, this book explores the life and circumstances of those unfortunate women, who get sucked into flesh trade.

The reader gets a picture of the dingy dark lanes of Prem Nagar, of the drudgery of the lives of women who are made to work as prostitutes, the atrocities unleashed upon them and their helplessness. As the author mentions in her note, everything that is important in this book is true. There are mothers who cry tears of desperation over their newborn girls’ cribs because they know the vicious cycle that awaits them—the same fate that lay in store for themselves, their mothers and grandmothers while those who reap the benefits of the human flesh trade, with its violence and brutality, mostly walk free.

The story revolves around Tamanna, who as a child followed an older girl into a truck and crossed the border of Bhutan to India, and is sold to the Nats, a community known to prostitute its women for living. Although she eventually manages to make her escape, her daughter Rupa is left behind. The story takes the reader into the lives of a mother and her daughter trapped in the sex-industry, of a corrupt police force and a casteist society and a world of solidarity with other oppressed women, who help their friend face off injustices, scorn and abuse, to reclaim her daughter.

The book is a depressing read but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Tamanna’s resolve to reclaim her daughter from the clutches of the kingpin of the trade, Jabbar Aslam, gives hope to the other women. The NGO Pukar comes to the rescue of these women by providing them with assistance and legal aid. The modest school established by Eila and the Nat women in Forbesganj, despite widespread opposition, is more than a symbol of this hope.

Sampurnaa Dutta teaches Political Science at Cotton College, Guwahati.

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