Anson Thomas, 57, is a one-man army crusading against the mafia running the flesh trade in Mumbai with an annual turnover of hundreds of crores of rupees. A former customs officer, Mr Thomas has made it his life's mission to rescue commercial sex workers and their children. He spoke to S BALAKRISHNAN about his work.
When did you join the Customs department and why did you quit it? I joined in 1989 and took VRS [voluntary retirement] in 2010. Once I went for a church picnic and was drinking with friends when I was openly reprimanded by the priest. The humiliation was too much. It was then that I promised Jesus Christ that I would quit drinking. The priest then sent me to the psychiatric ward of Sion Hospital to counsel alcoholics.
That was the beginning of my social work. One night I was walking from CST to Colaba when I saw several streetwalkers and customers. I was shocked that so many people were exposing themselves to AIDS which had hit Mumbai in a big way then.
It is said that you have done a lot of rescue work in the red-light area of Kamathipura. Tell us about that.
Till date, I have rescued 800 women who were living a hellish existence in the brothels. My work was not confined to Kamathipura but also extended to Sonapur in Bhandup, where the hijras run several brothels. I used to go to these brothels posing as a customer to gather information and then get the police to raid them. Once, I found 18 girls from Tamil Nadu hidden inside a tunnel at Sonapur.
Which has been your most moving experience?
The case of a nine-year-old girl at Bhandup was most moving. She was trafficked and sold to a hijra who forced her into prostitution. When she tried to escape, her hands and legs were tied, her mouth was stuffed with rags, and she was offered for gangrape. Luckily, I could rescue her.
You have also worked among the children of commercial sex workers. What was that experience like?
Being a hockey player, I had good contacts with sportsmen who helped me organise sports camps to wean these children from the red-light culture. Celebrities like Steve Waugh helped me in a big way. Today, some of these kids are MBAs and engineers.
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