In the society I live in, it is not an unknown fact that people do look down upon sex workers and their children. I find it very ironical because it is a community created by us as and when we need and at the same time disown and seclude it.
Every woman, man and child deserves what is rightfully theirs – Right to Dignity and Equality. I wish to create a space in the society’s heart to own and respect that which it intentionally or unintentionally disrespects and dispossesses.
Kat-Katha, an NGO working on the education of the children of sex workers of Garstin Bastian (G.B.) Road, was kind enough to partner with me on my project and it was through conversation with Gitanjali (who leads the organization) that I got to visit the center on March 6th with 8 volunteers who were interested in the issue and some of whom later became the core group.
The objective for this visit was to spend time with the children and interact, build rapport and get to know the place and get an initial insight into their lives. The idea was to also challenge ones perceptions and apprehensions of visiting a ‘bad’ place * and especially so because children of ‘good’ families shouldn’t go there. I wouldn’t deny the fact that a lot of my own perceptions / stereotypes were broken as well while certain others were strengthened. And so was the case with the group of volunteers who accompanied me. The day was spent talking to Gitanjali about Kat-Katha’s history and its work, about the children and the women living there. That was followed by a day spent on completely fun activities – dancing, creating stories and, yes, and playing some local games.
The objectives of my project were
- To sensitize the university youth (UY) about the children of (and) sex workers and their right to dignity and equality.
- Examine the perspectives of the UY how they view sex work as a profession and what impact does the profession of a mother have on her children and
- Analyze the impact of social apathy towards these children from the lens of value systems.
- Breaking stereotypes and reasoning out.
- Impact Assessment and,
- Have a group of young people carry on the process of sensitizing more people through various media and /or take up individual projects on the same issue.
Kat-Katha used to also take free sewing classes for the women, who made wallets and earned money from it. It gave them a sense of pride to know that they could earn money even besides sex work which is their primary occupation. Some young women who also attended the classes left it when they came to know who all were trying to feel empowered along with them. The donors of sewing machines took them back when they came to know for whom they were being used. They wanted young women to get empowered NOT sex workers, who were also young women. The place where these sewing classes and teaching were taking place was taken away when the owners came to know “who” was coming there.
The sex workers stopped coming for the sewing classes for the above reasons and also to ensure their children could continue their studies. Kat Katha got a new place and lost it too for similar reasons. At present the NGO is teaching the children in brothel no. 49 on the Garstin Bastian Road (G.B. ROAD), the official and well known red light area of Delhi. The road has around 64 brothels with women from different religions and states of India and beyond. Some of the children go to nearby schools and some wish to go to schools. The ladies of G.B. Road are warm, kind hearted and loving. They accept every new person with open mind and heart. The question is… DO WE?
Some telling quotes
“In a place as sensitive as a brothel, one doesn’t really need to ask questions to get answers. Silence speaks, expressions speak and random comments speak.” – Abhinandan Jain, KMC
“Today I loved those kids and their spirit and talent. They can do so much; just need a little push in right direction. They put their voices up and had great smiles on their faces. From them I learnt that one can dream big anywhere in this galaxy, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and that we should never feel sorry for ourselves. I always thought sex workers would be intimidating but today I realized it’s not true and that they are very loving and all they want is love and respect. I always respected women, but after today my respect meter has gone up. I would like to go there again and contribute in my limits.”- Ravinder Singh , LLB. Student
- The core group organized a workshop cum discussion space in north campus, university of Delhi on march 13th with more young people from the colleges on values, how we perceive the society from the lens of those values, stereotypes, how we judge what is right and what is not linking it to the children of the sex workers and how the place of their birth determines how we look at them, how even quality education, right to participation and right to their dignity get violated time and again.
- Some Key Questions for the workshop: Can we start opening up to everybody? Accept everybody? And include them who are secluded for no plausible reason, by the law? Can we respect and raise our voice for creating awareness and acceptance for sex workers and their children?
- The workshop was followed by a walk on the G.B. Road aimed at creating a social audit as to the facilities there and how safe it is for children on everyday basis, and how similar or different it is from any other street in Delhi.
- The intention was also to get out of our comfort zones and step into the shoes of people living and working there (sex workers, hardware shop owners).
- Ice breaker activity and introductions
- Rapid fire to get instant replies on certain words we had thought of – G.B. Road , occupation, red light, sex work, sex workers, brothel (We believed that the most instant responses come from the perceptions and judgments we form from the knowledge we have or may not have and values.
- An example of a boy named Ramu, 11 years old , living in a brothel was given and participants were asked to create an image of his present and future.
- Both of the above exercises were done to list down the stereotypes and the answers were frozen then to be taken on later after we had understood value based judgment system and the idea of tolerance and acceptance.
- This discussion was then related to how we judge sex workers and how that judgment impacts the lives of their children, who may not get their right to education, dignity and participation because of what the society feels is right or not.
- Can we accept them – n words and in our action?
- A social audit was done of the G.B. Road in which the participants had to take note of everything , big or small that would make the street unsafe in any way for people specially children
- The audit was followed by feedback and discussion
- A story was shared with after which the group was asked to take a stand out of three given options. The stands are always taken based on values that one holds close. A discussion was done to understand each of the stances and the reasons behind.
The session gave insight into how based on what I strongly believe in, may separate me from someone who has a different view point. How it may lead me to judge and not respect that person. How if I respect and accept the others’ view point, I can live and let live happily.
IMPACT AND CHANGE STORIES
Two participants, Anurag and Shekhar went on ahead to write articles on the issue and share it with more people via social media. Shekhar plans to do a project of his own where he wishes to interview the hardware shop owners so that he can write articles and blogs on how G.B.Road is just like any other place and sex work is just like any other occupation. Anurag, Bhavye, Nitika, Ritika plan to get associated with Kat-katha and they have already started planning their next visit. Shekhar and Gunjan have offered to buy books and stationery required for the children in Kat-katha and get funders for new sewing machines. Gunjan is volunteering with Kat-Katha this summer as a teacher. Ishani from Pravah has offered to create education kits for the children that would be area and case sensitive.
I would like to thank Pravah, Kat-katha, Must Bol, the student volunteers who have shown an immense interest in helping me with this project- Ritika , Ravinder , Khushboo , Gunjan,British Council and Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council for giving me the platform and the wings to take on a flight I had for so long only thought about.
The impact that I have seen in people with whom I did this workshop and exposure has been so overwhelming that I feel just like myself there are so many people out there who care and all they need is a little push and a platform.
~ Ayesha Verma