Coming from a small village in Andhra Pradesh, I never thought that I would end up living in the bustling city of Mumbai. Like many mothers, mine also dreamt that my siblings and I would become engineers or doctors. Since there were no jobs for her in our village, my mother moved to Mumbai with my two older siblings and I, when we were aged between just 6 and10 years.
I had never heard or seen pictures of Mumbai until I reached here. My first revelation in the new city was how massive it was compared to our small village, which was all I had seen in life until then.
The only work my mother could find was as a sex worker. Subsequently, we began living in Kamathipura – Mumbai’s infamous Red Light Area. The Kamathipura I remember was full of light at night, women standing alongside the road.
All the houses there had the same system – a large room provided several beds and each family got one bed. Apart from the lack of privacy, I didn’t dislike living there in the beginning. It was always strange for me to see men I didn’t know entering the room, or women putting make up as soon as it got dark, but I never asked my mother what was going on or where we were. I was just a 6-year-old, so the other women in our room used to adore me, and looked after me when my mother went to work.
But by and by, I began to realise that the women always had to hide me at night when customers came. I have hidden and spent whole nights squeezed under beds or in cupboards. Very soon, I stopped feeling safe in my own home. Living there, it was really hard to trust a man, because I never could tell whether it was a client, would he try to touch me or not. Growing up in such an environment, it is really no surprise that I am a victim of child sexual abuse.
There was no point complaining to the police, because as a girl living in Kamathipura, all I’d be told by the police was that it was my own fault for living in a Red Light Area – as if it was a choice my mother or I made.
It was the same story at school. Everything my mother did was to get my siblings and I educated. But no school agreed to admit us because they could tell my mother was a sex worker. The taboo against sex workers, even within the Red Light Area, was so strong, that no one wanted their children to associate with the children of sex workers.
It wasn’t until I came to Kranti, an NGO that found me and I started living with, that I finally started going to school.
The most critical issue that the Indian education system must address is inclusion. All children are born equal, with equal capabilities and rights, so why do they not have equal opportunities?
No school, and certainly no school with a good reputation easily admits the children of daily wage labourers, blue collar workers, and especially not the children of sex workers. Although government schools are, in theory, mandated to admit any child who comes to them; in practice, social taboos against certain communities leads to even government schools not giving so many children the admission they seek.
I want political parties to address this issue of inclusion in schools. Quality of education is a huge concern, yes, but at least allow children like me into classrooms first!
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at email@example.com. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.