Suruchi Gupta

Tag: sex workers

Red-Light Workers Push Children In Mainstream

by on Feb.05, 2011, under City Life, Experiences

When I heard about children of sex-workers pursuing Bachelor and Masters degree in full-time courses, I was surprised. A conversation with Snigdhendu Bhattacharya made me aware that this probably is rare and unheard of. (Seniors like Snig can never be thanked enough) :)  The idea for the story developed when my friend Anwesha requested me to write something on a study done by Sanlaap (an NGO) with adolescents in red-light areas of Kolkata. Sanlaap was not able to help me with any case study, due to sensitiveness of the issue with adolescents of the area. The cases in the story below were found with help from Samir Mitra (who turns out to be a mildly distrustful insaan afterall) , Mrinal Kanti Datta (of Durbhar), Bharati Dey, Smarjit Jana, and the students themselves, among others. Thanks to these young students, who trusted me with their reality, and are willing to prove something to the world.

For underwritten – Copyright@HT Media Ltd.

Kavita Begam, daughter of Baserun Bibi alias Rekha Yadav – a sex worker from Asansol, stood for panchayat elections from a village in Pakur district, Jharkhand on December 13, 2010. She lived life as ‘child of sex worker’ in Asansol’s red light area until she got married to a farmer in the Jharkhand village. Though she lost the polls by a margin of 50 votes, her case is a turning point in the state’s sex-workers community.

Add to this, names of Ratan Doli, Prakash Dam, Kumar Pallav, all children of sex workers, who have completed, or, are pursuing, bachelors and masters degrees, from regular colleges, in past five years. Mainstreaming of children of sex workers has become a reality, albeit small. The development, unthinkable a decade back is welcome, even as these students and youth leaders refuse to share their identity with the world openly, just yet.

The Journey
Kavita’s brother, Prakash Dam (24 year old) is attempting for NET and WBCS exams now. He scored 61% in Masters of Arts from Burdawan University in 2009. “There were instances when my friends came to the area in evening and questioned my presence here. But I did not reveal my identity ever,” says Prakash. Alongside studying, Prakash has also involved himself in theatre work.

Prakash’s studies have been financed by Samir Mitra, a social activist working with sex workers with the theatre in education model (This information is wrong, and was wrongly published on HT. The man lied, for whatever reasons. The studies have been financed by Prakash’s mother only, while she worked as a sex-worker and ran a pan-shop in the area. The correct information was provided after the copy was published, by Prakash himself, which Samir Mitra acknowledged upon questioning. Mistake regretted.)

“Since the project started in 1997, counselling has resulted in few such win-win results. But personally, I do not encourage higher education for the girl child in red light area. If they stay for long in the area, there are higher chances of being inducted in the business,” says Samir.

Samir also informs that Kavita’s marriage was solemnised after sharing the truth of her background with the groom’s family, although it remains hidden from the larger world.

But Ratan Doli, pursuing Community Development under Calcutta University’s Anthropology department, has shunned the societal demand of hiding the ‘child of sex-worker’ identity. “I went into a depression when my mother (a sex-worker from Sonagachi) passed away in 2008. Counselling by Durbar (Mahila Samanwaya Committee) helped me come out of it. They encouraged me to share my reality with the world,” he says. Ratan shared his identity with his friends when he started his Masters in Social Work degree course, with weekend classes only, at Netaji Subhas Open University’s in 2008.

“Encouragingly, even after I revealed my identity, all my friends and teachers accepted me as they had been doing so far,” shares Ratan. He continues to live in the Rambagan red light area.

A Different Struggle
Kumar Pallav is another student from the community. “I am proud of being a Bachelor of Arts student in Ashutosh College.” But a conversation with him makes evident the anger he has due to the treatment children of sex-workers receive from larger society, “forcing them to discontinue living a honourable life.”

His mother, Kumar says, is no more a sex worker, but works for Durbar, which has financed Kumar’s studies partly.

“Despite old-age, a regular job at an NGO is not sufficient to support a family. She still solicits customers by phone, and proudly fights for their rights too. Educated children do not want to share this with world openly,” says a source about Sakhsi, Kumar’s mother.

How easy was it for him to keep his identity a secret through school and college? “My sir had to come to drop me home once, when I broke my hand in school. On that day, he came to know of my real identity. But when I went to school next, I saw no change in his behaviour and no one raised doubtful eyes towards me.”

This un-named sir became Kumar’s inspiration in life. “A close friend of mine, a girl, enjoyed studying a lot. But she was moved to the Kidderpore red light area sometime ago. I have not been able to establish any connections with her after that,” he adds, unsure whether she was forced in the flesh trade or not.

It is given that as part of their lives, these students have seen their mothers alongside the entire locality’s women getting ready for their evening chore to receive customers; witnessed violent encounters among pimps, customers and their (prostitute) mothers; and even studied in the same room that their mothers carried out their ‘profession’.

“Living condition is not the only criteria which decides whether a child studies or not. It was my clear ambition and my mother’s support for it which led me to where I am,” says Kumar.

“There are abrupt police raids in localities like ours. Irrespective of relation or age (unless too young), all are arrested from an area and taken to police station. I too was arrested once and made to wait in the police station. But then, bailed out without any untoward happening,” says Prakash, pointing out the irony for students like him, who want to become ‘lawful’ citizens, but may get affected due to their living surrounding.

An Encouraging Graph
Dr Smarajit Jana of Durbar shares that it was about four years back when students from Kolkata’s red light districts started taking admission in IGNOU. “While seven or eight students are studying in the formal education system from red-light areas under Dubhar’s overview, about 15-20 more are studying under IGNOU. It is the combined effort of many activities that this has been made possible,” says Dr Jana.

Although the ‘developmental work’ of NGO’s is often questioned, these students share that their studying has been made possible by contributions by NGOs. While Kumar is still supported by Durbar, Ratan shares that NGO Cini Asha helped him financially to continue with his studying.

A study conducted by youth in the age group of 16-24 under Sanlaap, recently, found that adolescents in the red light area aim to study as much as possible, so that they can bring their mother out of the profession. “The result supports the age-old field experience we have with both with girls and boys of the community,” says Ilona Bhattacharya, youth programme coordinator, Sanlaap.

But all do not get the opportunity for this venue too. “I had applied for financial support for Prakash at various levels of government, but got no positive response. How can one say government is trying to help this community?” questions Mitra.

Establishing Identity
A search in the community for those children, who have been able to move out of the red-light area based on their education or other capability, threw up no leads. “There have been cases where a youth has got a job or set up a small business and moved out – with or without their mother. But these cases cannot be traced anymore. For establishing a clean societal image, they do not want to have any relation with the community,” says Bharati Dey, secretary, Durbhar.

Kumar has not yet thought whether he will reveal his real identity to the world upon bagging a job. But he is confident when he says “I belong to ‘your’ society now.” Why? His mother and two siblings relocated from Tollygunj to Behala ten years back (due to problems between Sakshi and the larger community in Boubazar). “Here, I can move out at will and interact with everyone in the locality, unlike previous times,” he says.

However, he is interested in a writing career and has written poetry for local magazines. “I strongly believe that my IQ should be the measure to judge me, not my family background. We are neither normal nor abnormal. We are differently normal,” he says.

Ratan and Kumar say they know few girls who are pursuing graduation or post graduation, while some others are even employed. “But they will not reveal their identity to anyone outside the locality for fear of being stigmatised. And so, I cannot share their names,” says Kumar.

But Prakash is waiting for the right time to share his identity with the world. “Once Prakash gets the administrative job he is aiming for, I’ll share his identity with everyone. He will be an example to look up to by other children,” says Samir.

Differing Perspectives
While various groups and organisations may be campaigning for or against the yet to be recognised ‘profession’ of prostitution, do Kumar, Ratan and Prakash think their mothers are part of a demeaning profession and need to be saved? The answer, given their educated background, is divided.

“Prostitution is also a profession. It needs development in its infrastructure, rights, capability and strength. I wish to be a part of this development as I grow,” says Ratan.

“I don’t think this is a wrong profession. Like any other profession, my mother used this profession to raise me and I am proud of her,” says Kumar too.

But Prakash differs. “I am proud of my mother as she supported me through my education. I do not know why she came to this profession, but once I start earning, she will no longer remain where she is, where we live (in a red-light area),” says Prakash.

Reason? “Once we only walked. Then came cycles, cars, and then airplane. Civilisation progresses and I am sure this profession will end one day. No one comes here out of will.”

The debate may not end, but the progress is here to stay.

Names in the story changed on request to protect identity.

The above unedited copy, submitted to the editing-desk is of 1567 words, which for logical reasons is about 200 words too long to be published. The edited version of this copy, published in Hindustan Times, Page 2, on February 5, 2011, however, (I felt,) has lost some nuances. Sad! I must learn how to write better! But in case you have any thoughts to share, pls leave them below, or mail me at suruchi.gupta@hindustantimes.com

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