Caged! They are abducted, or sold by their own relatives, their mothers and husbands, and brought to GB Road, and this is how they live. But Kat-Katha is changing all that
As soon as I was assigned to write about GB Road, I thought it would be like any other assignment that requires a bit of research and some internet browsing. But the moment my editor told me that I was to visit that place personally, a lump came up in my throat. An unknown fear gripped me. It was not because GB road is one of the largest hardware markets in Asia, which is a fact, but because it is notorious for being the largest red light district in Delhi, a home to 4,000 sex workers and their 1,500 children. The place has around 100 brothels.
The night before the visit was a sleepless one for me, full of apprehensions. What will I do tomorrow, how I would talk to them, what about my safety, and why a woman like me shall go to that area in the first place? Such benumbing questions trampled upon my [eace of mind.
Next day when I got off the metro at New Delhi metro station and asked a rickshaw-wala to take me to the address mentioned on a piece of paper I had with me, was suitably perplexed about why I wuld want to go there. Eventually he agreed to drop me there, as he realised I was new to that area. As I entered into the narrow lane of Gali Goshian, people gaped at me in surprise. I asked one of them about the school, running at fourth floor and they were quick in giving me directions, “Oh, that’s the school run by Geetanjali, the girl with green eyes?” I nodded my head in affirmation. I climbed those steep stairs, dark and narrow. I was scared. There I met Geetanjali Babbar, the founder of Kat-Katha, an NGO, devoted to sex workers for bringing new light in their faded lives.
It was a big room where I attended the ‘sharing circle’ session. A wall with graffiti drew my attention. It was filled with remarks, which seemed like an outlet for brimming emotions. It read, ‘I can talk now, earlier it was impossible;’ or ‘I love reading and painting’, ‘I can cry now’ and so on. For the sharing circle, there were a few sex workers, now working as cooks in the ‘Maitri’ Kitchen, a
Kat-Katha initiative to provide these women an alternative career option. To my wonder, these women were speaking in English, although a little wobbly, but they were confident. They excitedly shared their plans to visit Bhopal next month to participate in an ‘Entrepreneurship Skill Development Programme.’
“Earlier I used to go out once a month and sometimes once in a year but due to their efforts, we go out every day for delivering the dabba (tiffin). I feel respectful now,” said 29 year old Neetu, who was brought to GB Road when she was just 13. Sangeeta, who had a similar story, said, “I asked Geetanjali didi to teach us to make something beautiful. I thought that I could never make anything beautiful; I was into this ugly profession. But she taught me the art of jewellery making.”
Ritumoni Das, co-founder of
Kat-Katha, shared a story about how their children also conduct ‘sharing circle’ sessions if they want to express themselves. Earlier, they were shy and scared. But, efforts made by these two ladies have enabled them to take charge of their lives in their little hands. “A few children, studying in a residential school decided to disclose their background to their favorite teacher. They were very fond of her and were not able to hide it any more. They conducted a sharing circle with her and revealed the truth. The teacher broke into tears and embraced them. She said it would not stop her from loving them,” Ritumoni reminisces.
We proceeded towards the brothel now. The women, wearing gaudy make-up, were sitting at the thresholds of the brothels. Two volunteers of Kat-Katha accompanied me. They stopped near every staircase and gave a tight hug to all the sex workers. I was thrilled to see these young girls sharing the warmth of friendship. Finally, I went inside one of the brothels, the most crowded one. There were eight women living in that match-box sized room. Tokens were distributed to the clients and women were leaving with them one by one. I was amused by the hypocrisy of so called civil society. Males from all walks of life were coming to GB Road for spending some intimate moments with these women that evening. But the very same people do not even consider them as humans but just as sex objects in broad day light.
Those women, who were left in the room, kept talking to me. They talked about politics, children, post natal problems that women face, etc. They showed me pictures of their children on their phones. One of them said she was okay with the currency ban as it would curb black money and corruption. The other said how bad dowry deaths are. “There is no trend of dowry in our state,” said Anju who belonged to Assam. Amidst the conversation, I asked about their husbands. “My husband himself brought me here. He married another woman,” said one of them. I realised that for them, family meant only mother and children and no husband, while it was almost impossible for me to talk about just my children.
By the time left, I realised, these are just like any of us: women. They need love, respect and above all, to be recognised as human beings.
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