By Preetika Bhateja:
Munni (name changed) was 10 when she was lured by a man who promised her a ‘palace’ and brought her to a city brothel, she vowed to return but never did. She was treated well for the first two days and the third day, she was made to stand along with 10 other girls in front of a ‘customer’Â who could pick up anyoneÂ of his choice. She tried to escape, was successful and reached a police station but after explaining her ordeal, she was raped by the policemen. Seeing no other option, she returned back to the brothel. She has been living in the red light area ever since and is now 22. Ask her one thing she looks forward to in her day (a tough question for a sex worker) and she replies with “school”.
Yes, she too attends school. Not a conventional one but ‘a school run by Madam Bandaval for sex workers’ in Sangli. When Madam Bandaval came up with the idea of starting a school in a red light area, it was mocked upon. Why to educate the sex workers who are 40-50 years of age? What good can it bring? Well, the answer lies in the fact that now after 7-8 years of schooling, they can sign, manage their bank account and savings, travel easily and of course are more aware of their basic rights.
If you Google about the entire prostitution and human trafficking issue, you will easily find hundreds of cases where the entry of a girl into this shady business was due to their miserable poverty, no formal schooling, domestic violence, family responsibility or some like Munni were coerced into this by deception. ‘Choice’ is a powerful thing and most of the sex workers didn’t have it.
While they are into this business, which offers no basic rights, the only education the sex workers got till now was of HIV AIDS awareness, that too by NGO’s like Sangram, Durbar or NAZ foundation. These NGO’s had started peer-based condom intervention programme, tried to improve the working conditions, giving out helpline numbers for sex workers, launching advocacy campaigns and helping the women access government schemes. But this education will go to a whole new level if more schools like Madamji’s are started, providing all the workers with basic formal education or vocational training will help them get better jobs.
The plight of the women in this business is heightened when they have children to support. ‘Kothas’ have limited space and when the children live with their mothers, they are not protected from the sex trade psychologically. It is difficult for them to get admission into schools because of the stigma attached with the work of their mothers and to break away from this life. Very few options are there for their way out of this dark business. For the kids of sex workers at Garstin Bastion (GB) Road, one option is ‘Katkatha’, a Delhi Police initiative where sex workers are taught basic stitching, making jute articles and handicrafts so that they can have alternative means of earning while their kids are provided with basic education at private centres and also involved in activities such as painting and street plays. Also, women in this profession have often demanded night care shelters for their children.
‘Katkatha’ teachers worry about the drastic learning curves of children, at times there is less support from their parents and also monitoring each student is difficult with few volunteers. Apart from the formal education, children are taught personal hygiene and courtesy but due to lack of facilities such as sanitation, parental guidance or clothes etc., these good habits are difficult to keep up.
Sex workers are victims and some of them don’t even want to leave the red light areas because they fear of the discrimination they will face in the outside world. Even if they gather vocational training, how many people will keep them as employees? Will they be detached from the stigma associated with them? Madamji’s school has been operating for several years now but still they haven’t got a professional teacher after several requests. ‘Katkatha’ initiative didn’t attract enough volunteers. We volunteer for Teach For India, why not volunteer for this cause? The kids born into this atmosphere don’t deserve to be in such chaos and abuse. They deserve a well-educated environment and respectable jobs in future rather than a future where these innocent victims will have to become prostitutes or pimps or will have to fetch liquor for the ‘customers’.