Standing by this small, broken down brick house, listening to the story behind this very special place, the photograph of the old door with its worn out handles demands the question, “has freedom been released here or is there still enslavement?”

The eroded, textured feel of the wood, the roughness of the metal handles, the muted tones of rust and faded wood remind the viewer that this is not a new home, in fact it hasn’t been a home for quite sometime. Sitting in the middle of its village, abandoned and isolated, the property boundaries slowly being violated by its neighbours, I can’t help but see the comparison between this and the dear lady you’re going to hear about.


Sixty kilometres west of the Freeset Business Incubator development centre lies Khargram, found in the top half of the district of Murshidabad, India. Among the many villages at risk of human trafficking, this area is one of the worst. The Incubator took the opportunity to build on the special relationship that already exists with this area, in particular in the villages of Joypur, Serpur and nearby Valkundi and this is where our story begins.


Many years ago, a little girl who lived behind these doors was a victim of human trafficking, having been sold into the sex trade in Sonagaachi – Kolkata’s notorious and largest red light district. For me the photograph, at this point represents enslavement – her own family being responsible for this decision. I like to imagine at some point the door and its handles were smart and new, it is after all a brick house, not just made out of mud, so someone afforded the building in the first place. But when the shining lights of our families – our own daughters – are rejected, ejected – violated – our families cease to shine, much like these dulled, old doors… they stopped ‘living.’

This lady has been with Freeset Bags and Apparel for many years now, having chosen freedom over enslavement when the opportunity was offered to her by Kerry and Annie Hilton – the founders of Freeset – in the early 2000’s. Many things have changed for her but not before years of hardship, entrapment, abuse and fear.

You see, the family who sells the shining lights into these pits of hell, often are on the receiving end of the fruits of their children’s ‘labour’. Many are in fact unaware that their daughters were sold into the sex trade. Knowing their child has secured a job of sorts, they continue to survive on the financial benefits, while their daughter lives in fear and horror – feeling deep rejection and isolation – knowing she can never return to her village home because of the shame and disapproval that comes hand in hand with the sex trade. She is now a sin-worker (the Bengali translation for someone who is engaged in prostitution). She is the lowest of the low. In Indian culture, there can never be any restoration…

Hope and future

Knowing my friend’s new life in Freeset, I also see the photograph speaking a new story to me. My friend learned of our hopes and plans for this area of villages. She then took the opportunity to lead us to visit with her to her village and this building, the very same place that she knew she could never return to. I wasn’t personally present at that first arrival, but these subsequent visits are no less impressing.

How was she able to do this? Through the community and beliefs of Freeset, my friend now has freedom, freedom to return and face the past, without shame. The doors and rusty handles remain the same – worn, hurt, older, wiser. Though they will never be the same as when they were first created, they are in fact no longer representatives of captivity, but freedom – a parallel to our dear friend’s life. She will no longer be the same, but she is now free – a beauty that once eluded her…  like for all of our own lives, there are two sides to a photograph…