By YKA Staff:
For many living in Delhi, the one-kilometre stretch of G. B. Road is one perhaps to avoid. Known to be a ‘red-light area’ for the longest time, the area has an (in)famous reputation for being the fifth largest in Delhi alone. But the dim reality of the 4000 women working in its 77 brothels is beyond just a quick laugh or a route to avoid.
Ritumoni Das has been helping sex workers deal with the harsh reality of violence, marginalisation, lack of legal and sexual health awareness since 2012. Realising that mainstreaming their issues is of primary importance, Das has underscored the importance of skill and education to empower sex workers that are looked down on. Co-founder of Kat-Katha, her NGO works in G. B. Road with ‘didis’ on improving their lives as well as their kids through education and skill training. Through the RISE approach (Rights, Integration, Skills and Education), over 500 women have been given voter ID cards and 10 children go to the NGO-run school. At CONVERGE 2016, YKA’s flagship event, Das shared how she is helping these women break barriers.
Talking about her friends, she calls her journey at G B Road (‘pyaar ka mohalla’ as she lovingly calls it) as a story of struggle, friendship and a mission. “For me, G. B. Road is my home” said Das, “For a long time, we have marginalised the woman in this area, so now, I proudly call myself as belonging to this area.”
Calling it destiny that chose the purpose for her, she recalls her first experience as part of an HIV intervention project of the NHRC when she was 22. But she didn’t have the courage of going inside a brothel. “I didn’t know how a brothel looked. I saw 40 men staring at me as though I wasn’t wearing anything. For a moment, I felt as though I stayed in a cage, like in a zoo.”
However, Das described how things looked up for her soon when she started looking at her work for HIV awareness a little differently: by talking about poetry and practising theatre. But Das described how it was hard for her to look at men differently. In fact, it took the boys living in G B Road to change her mind. “They were told that their masculinity depended on them being pimps and striking deals for their mothers/daughters. But these boys had different dreams.”
Speaking about the work she does with Kat-Katha, she reminded us, “It’s indeed a different, harsh and hard world out there. G. B. Road can make you crazy when you think about the cruel reality but it can leave you smiling.” She ended her powerful session by simply asking everyone to come and make friends with the women in G. B. Road, as she stands in solidarity with her friends and the people who have changed her life just as much.