Kamathipura, Bombay, India., Dec. 20 - Just as the night envelops dusk into its fold, sleazy dance numbers begin to add to the atmosphere, a nauseating tinge. It is difficult to walk on the narrow lanes along the cramped shanties without feeling miserable. The rusted grills on the windows exposing the shabby walls illuminating under a murky bulb stand like sentries, a mute witness to the screams of the innocence that gets lost forever in the dark streets of Kamatipura, the infamous red light area of Mumbai, leaving only a corpse that at every night would dress in to gaudy attires, before getting on with the business of satisfying urges of a perverse mind.
Nothing much remains of the woman in the flesh trade, nothing that she could call her own, not even her name. Called by derogatory terms, and commercial sex workers, as the secular NGOs put it, these women could not have believed their ears when someone called them sisters.
Ten years ago, Anson Thomas, a Customs officer from Mumbai found himself at one such by lane of Mumbai‘s sex district. Anson’s journey into the shunned streets began on October 2, 1991 when the pastor of his Church confronted him while sneaking liquor into the church picnic. Anson, then a social drinker, realized that his responsibility not only lies to his family or to his church, but to God as well. That night, he knelt down in his room and confessed all his sins to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Lord I completely surrender to you, lead me where you want to and use me, I am all yours,”— he told the Lord that night, and there was no looking back. The gracious God led him to hospitals where he prayed and shared Gospel with alcoholics, then on to the HIV positive ones. Anson also went into the midst of school and college students preaching to them spiritual values based on the Bible. Rather than telling them to use condoms, he warned them against the ruin of the soul, when their feet led them to the Red light area. Condoms, he told them, does not help in saving the soul.
Be it trains, or the road from Colaba to VT, Anson would fill his bag with the Gospel tracts, distributing them to the ‘sisters’, the term he chose to express God‘s love to the victims of sex trade. And on that night in Kamathipura, Anson stood, burdened with a passion to set the captives free. He was raring to go but doubts were hovering above him, and at that point, of time he prayed to God for strength. It was the spiritual strength he experienced that night which led him to begin a life-changing ministry for many enslaved souls.
And he knew that the ministry was going to be challenging. Be it discouraging the customers or counseling the pimps and the brothel owners, who would at times threaten him with consequences, something that failed to deter the man of God, for he had counted his cost, and carried with himself, the strongest weapon of all that slay all the darkness. The Holy Bible, like a trustworthy friend, accompanied him to his various missions that the Lord Jesus has entrusted upon him. “God is on my side, and I am not ashamed to preach the Gospel’’ he declares with the zeal of apostle Paul.
‘One has to be a powerful witness in order to convict people of your faith’ – with this belief he became friends with children of ‘sisters’, sharing Gospel while playing football with them, even picking the ball from the gutter, astonishing locals by his different lifestyle and behavior.
The plight of the children led him to exhort his Church for three years, drawing the attention of congregation towards the need for the body of Christ to get involved in the rehabilitation of children of Kamathipura. The effort paid off at last. The Mar Thoma Church established the Nav Jivan center in the midst of the red light area in 1994. At Murud village, 56 km from Kalyan in 1994, around 140 children of sex workers are being educated and cared for.
It was not only rehabilitation of children, but rescue of minor girls also that had begun to lay in the mind of Anson at that time. The task was tough. Led by the Holy Spirit, Anson would enter the dens of those unfortunate girls by posing as a customer. Once inside the brothels, he would make discreet inquiries about the minor girls who made a living by selling their flesh.
In the course of his ministry, he discovered that the police were least helpful and had a vested interest in allowing the trade to flourish unimpeded. They very often acted as informers to the brothel owners and gave advance indications about impending raids. Anson knew he had to be tough with erring police officers. He would keep up the pressure by sending protest letters to senior police officers about the unhelpful attitude of the lower rungs.
Finally, the higher police authorities were forced to act. Action was initiated against police stations in the precincts of red light areas, and becoming active in their cooperation to Anson in his mission. His latest rescue was of 16 girls from a brothel in Grant road on the night of December 4 this year.
Today, Anson has his sources in these areas through which he gets to know of brothels and trafficking in minor girls. Today after a decade of hard work, the signs are positive. Anson is a known figure among brothel owners, some of them fear him, and some of them mock him and see him as a threat to their bread and butter. Of course then, there are those whom he had led to a better life, to a new life in Christ.
Every Saturday, at the Nav Jivan center worshippers bursts into clapping and singing; they sing praises in honor of the Lord Jesus; in honour of the One who came to this earth to save the lost. Had He not shown mercy to the woman taken in adultery, while others tried to stone her to death? Did He not tell the woman: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”
It is the same love that drives Anson into the ministry. How he must have rejoiced when at one of the Gospel meetings held at the center, a former brothel owner confessed all her sins to the Savior, with tear-filled eyes. She not only had closed down her brothel but also set free all the girls.
Today Anson is using the electronic media, in interesting and innovative ways, drawing attention of the world to the plight of the ‘sisters’ of Kamathipura. The 38-year old customs officer is alert and watchful ever to save a hapless victim of the evil. He is focused on his mission, not withstanding the long hours spent in the performance of official duty. He does not resent those sleepless nights, when the phone rings demanding his presence at a house of ill repute at an unearthly hour. He is keen that the darkened lives of Kamathipura need the light of Christ as much as the wicked and sinful men outside their territory.