At the age of 26, when most girls are in the process of choosing their careers or dating their prince charming or even getting married, two young women were on a road least travelled. Geetanjali Babbar and Ritumoni Das, founders of Kat-Katha, an NGO, are committed to improve the lives of sex-workers and their children. Here are the excerpts of a candid conversation.
How did the idea of Kat-Katha click?
Geetanjali: While I was working for NACO in 2011, I used to come to GB Road. Asking personal questions to sex workers regarding contraceptives, family planning, etc., was very awkward. There was a trust deficit between me and these women because we did not know each other. In one of the visits, one of them asked me a very personal question. I was a bit hesitant in answering her when she prompted, “When you cannot answer this personal question then why shall we tell you about our personal lives?” That was the moment when I decided that I wanted to do something for these women. My visits to GB Road became more frequent, but this time with books as one of them requested me to teach her. Gradually I developed a special bonding of love and trust with them. I received great support from volunteers. We initiated skill development programmes for them like sewing, embroidery, tailoring. Initially, it was for women but later their children also joined in.
Why did you choose GB Road children?
Geetanjali: It was my inner calling. And moreover, this community has been the most marginalised. That’s why I decided to work for them. Now this place has become an inseparable part of our lives.
How does it feel to achieve success at such a young age?
Geetanjali: There are almost 3 million sex workers. Therefore I will literally be successful when the sex workers are accepted by the society and the blot of this profession is not passed on to their children. Otherwise, I don’t think I have attained success.
How are you planning to influence government agencies and policy makers?
Ritu: When we started it was really difficult for us to take government agencies into confidence. They even asked with their eyebrows raised if such areas and people exist. The biggest achievement for us was to get their voter ID cards made. Now they have all documents like Aadhaar card, PAN card, etc. Getting them a day off annually, especially on 15 August, is our most important agenda. They don’t get even a single holiday.
What is your opinion about legitimising sex workers? Do you see it as a way to minimise trafficking?
Ritu: No it’s the other way round. The numbers of abducted children will rather be on the rise because the brothel owners will easily dodge the law. Moreover, we already have strict laws in place against child trafficking but do they work?
What is the attitude of government and community members towards the sex workers?
Ritu: The government has cooperated on many occasions, especially police. They help us getting complaints registered, which was not easy before our intervention. Of course, the community members do not treat them fairly. Children of sex workers go to schools and are teased by other children. A traffic signal divides this area into two absolutely different societies that has G B Road on one side and ‘civil society’ on the other. It’s all about the attitude. That’s what we want to change.
What stops the police from taking actions against the brothel owners?
Ritu: Police do take action. In fact, they are shutting down a lot of brothels but women’s rehabilitation is a big challenge. When these women are caught by the police, the owners force them to say that they are doing it by choice. Owners just manage to find loop-hole in the law.
What is the vision of Kat-Katha? What about other brothels? How do you manage funds?
Ritu: Its vision is to put an end sex trade. We are aware of other brothels also. Our volunteers work in an area like Majnu Ka Teela, Shastri Park, even in Sonagachi. It is difficult to manage funds and resources that is why we focus on one area at one time.
Do you still face challenges?
Geetanjali: We do. We rescued two girls, 13 and 14 years old from Gwalior, who were sold by their own mother. We had just boarded the train to Delhi when we started getting threat calls. We tried to keep the incident under wraps but pictures of the girls were doing the rounds on social media. Hiding such incidents is a challenge.besides, getting their children into the hostels. The government will
have to understand that they are special children too. They develop various complexes.
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