Following the directions of the Bombay high court (HC), two Turkmenistan students who were stranded in India owing to the lockdown since February, were able to return to their country on Sunday.
The students, who are studying in Pune, had approached the HC, as they were kept in a shelter home at Mumbai’s Kandivli area after being rescued from a hotel at Andheri in a raid against human trafficking. While the magistrate had allowed the students to go back to their home country in February, their departure was delayed owing to incomplete documentation and non-availability of flights due to the lockdown. After the students informed the court that there was a flight available for them, the court directed the authorities to expedite the procedure and allow them to return home.
A single bench of justice CV Bhadang, while hearing the petition filed by the two foreign students, was informed by advocate Sujit Pathak that the women came to India to pursue the Bachelor of Arts course. While one of them enrolled in a Pune college in 2018, the other joined last year. The duo knew each other and resided in a rented room.
In January, they received a call from a mutual friend who invited them to Mumbai. The two students met the friend in a hotel, but soon thereafter, the social service branch of Mumbai Police raided the hotel and rescued them both, along with an Indian woman. It was only when they were produced before the magistrate court did the authorities realise that the caller had tried to trap them into a prostitution racket.
Thereafter the custody of the two students was handed over to two non-governmental organsations – Save the Child India and Rescue Foundation – which work to rehabilitate women rescued from prostitution rackets. The duo were kept in a shelter home at Kandivli. On February 10, after perusing the inquiry reports by the officers concerned, the magistrate passed an order allowing the repatriation of the two students to their home country. The students, however, challenged the order as they wanted to complete their education, but the order cast aspersions on their antecedents and restrained them from returning.
After their appeal was rejected later the same month, the students decided to return to their country and booked tickets. However, as the exit formalities were not completed, they could not board the flight. Though one of their friends in Pune sought their custody, it was not permitted and hence the students had to continue staying in the shelter home.
Pathak informed the court that due to the lockdown, the students were able to travel only in July, but their flight was cancelled. The stigma they faced and their stay at the shelter home was causing the students mental agony and hence, Pathak sought their repatriation at the earliest, as well as setting aside of the February 10 order.
On August 28, after the court was informed that a flight was available for the students, the judge directed the authorities to ensure that their exit procedure from India was expedited.
According to Pathak the students boarded a flight on the night of August 30 and had managed to leave after spending more than 200 days in the shelter home for no fault of theirs.