Forty-year-old Anson Thomas works as an officer with Mumbai Customs. And, when he isn’t on duty, Thomas can be spotted strolling around the red-light areas in Mumbai, spreading messages against prostitution. Some people detest and abuse him for his guts, while others applaud him. He takes all of it with a smile.
Not just about the stars
His journey began, as a personal mission to give up alcohol, in 1991; today, it has turned into a full-fledged campaign against human trafficking. The Mumbai Customs hockey player has made it his life’s mission to fight against human trafficking at all levels. To spread this message, he has roped in several sports stars. But he doesn’t ask them for money or use their starry image for better donations, he takes the help of their iconic status and positive image to motivate traffickers, children and prostitutes in the red light areas to fight against prostitution and work for better future.
“Kids’ faces light up when a sports star visits a red light area. They’ve grown up among negativity drug abuse, violence, prostitution, illiteracy and physical abuse. Most end up either as prostitutes (girls) or as brokers. They have never seen anything positive in their life. So, when Sachin Tendulkar or Steve Waugh drops by, it gives them hope of a better life.” His sports background has helped: “I can reach them in a way a fan can’t.
There’s an instant connection. Every sportsperson I met, has helped my campaign,” he reveals. Thomas has brought on board several well-known cricketers including Steve Waugh, Nicky Boje, Harbhajan Singh, Murali Kartik, Joel Garner and Ian Bishop. A few days ago, Tendulkar and Kartik endorsed his T-shirts against human trafficking. “I have met Sachin in the past. This time, he was busy with the England series; yet found time to support this cause; Kartik also joined in,” he adds.
Many a hurdle
For 20 years, Thomas has been doing everything in his capacity; often, pretending to be a customer, and visiting brothels to reach the girls. At times, he’s been caught, and had to flee from the scene, to save his life. But each time, he returned, and with the law. His attempts have helped in rescuing over 700 girls from brothels. He has helped rehabilitate several children from red light areas. He, however, regrets that had it not been for bureaucrats and the nexus between the police, politicos and human trafficking agents, the number could well have been above 7,000.
What lies ahead?
But being rescued from a brothel doesn’t always lead to a promising future “Many girls, even after being rescued, fall back into it because of fear of an uncertain future, unemployment or lack of proper rehabilitation,” he says. That was when he decided that more than rescuing girls, concrete measures had to be taken to stop the flesh trade. “I have a simple question for the government: You can act swiftly against terrorists and finish them within three days, why can’t you eradicate brothels running right next to the police chowkies (Kamathipura)?” he asks.
Stars with a heart
Steve Waugh: I was in Sydney for an Olympics conference, when I met Steve Waugh for the first time. He had come to watch a hockey match. I looked at him and challenged him to visit India to meet the children from red light areas. To my surprise, he agreed. That same year, when the Australian team toured India, I contacted Steve, and he was able to meet children along with others from the Australian team. He has been helping us since then.
Murali Karthik & Harbhajan Singh: Both visited Kamathipura in 2007, and ever since have been helping his campaign. Both Murali and Harbhajan often take time to speak to children and motivate them to look for a better career. Murali has also agreed to help in his T-shirt campaign
Sachin Tendulkar: I met him at the Wankhede Stadium last Saturday while he was practising. Usually, people are not allowed, so, I had to use my contacts to get inside. When I told him about my mission, he agreed, instantly to help. He signed a couple of T-shirts for me on Sunday.