When Gauri was twelve years old, her mother’s truck driver partner tried to rape her. The horrified girl managed to escape by finding shelter in a neighbour’s house.
When her mother Ratna amma, a sex worker by profession heard of this incident, she decided to move her daughter out of the house. She chose to do so because she realised she could not throw her partner out of the house since he protected her from her often violent and drunk clients.
The question before her was where she could move her daughter, given that her parents had refused to take care of her? Being a member of the community-based organisation Ushodoya being run by sex workers in Kalyandurg in the district of Anantapur, she consulted the office-bearers who advised her to get her daughter admitted into a Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), a free residential school that provided a safe nurturing environment for girls.
The school principal informed Ratna amma that admissions had closed in March and she would have to wait another nine months before admissions reopened. The crestfallen mother would have accepted the answer, but members of Ushodoya put so much pressure on the principal that she finally had to relent.
The girl has never looked back. Not only did she do well in her class twelve board exams, but she has gone on to study in a residential government college being run in Anantapur.
Ravi Kiran, senior project associate, working with Centre For Advocacy and Research (CFAR) has played a key role in helping to organise these women and has remained in touch with this student over the years. Meeting this student who is presently in her second year of college was an extremely moving experience. The girl, who was extremely candid in her views, told this reporter, " I have never gone home since that day nine years ago. My mother does not think it is safe for me to come home. She comes to meet me in school and during our vacations, the school organises summer camps for us, so we get a chance to travel around. I have been living in a hostel, first in school and now in college, for the last nine years,’ she said.
The KGBV’s are run in every mandal in Andhra Pradesh. The teaching is done in English and since they cater to girls from deprived socio-economic backgrounds, the state government has ensured they are linked to good colleges in order to ensure a system of `automatic’ admission for these students.
What would she like to do after she completes her college education? "I would like to get a job so I can ensure my mother no longer has to do sex work," she said, a faint smile spreading across her face.
Another young girl from a similar background has ensured just that. The daughter of Gauri amma was admitted to the KGBV because the mother saw that many of her clients had begun to eye her daughter in a lascivious manner.
"This is the biggest problem we face. After our girls become eight to nine years old, it is very difficult to keep them in our homes for fear that they will be molested. It is for this reason that the KGBV’s are a boon for us. Our daughters get a chance to study and grow up in a happy environment,’ said Gauri amma.
Ever since Gauri amma’s daughter Avantika (name changed) was admitted into the KGBV in Anantapur, her teachers found that she was good at embroidery and stitching. She was encouraged to learn tailoring along with her studies and after completing her studies, she received training in garment making.
To Gauri amma’s delight, Avantika has managed to get a job in a garment making factory in Bengaluru and is presently living there. Rishi Kant is in touch with her. During the course of a telephonic interview, she admitted that she had been fortunate to have discovered her ouvre as a garment cutter and hoped to move up in her profession so that her mother and brother could move in with her in Bengaluru.
Not all the girls are so lucky. A large number of girls of sex workers do end up being molested and raped and several sex workers admit they have sometimes to deal with the problem of teenage pregnancies with their daughters.
Asha, a former treasurer of Ushodoya, describes how recently the organisation had to deal with a case of a young girl who had been molested by a client. "The girl was left traumatised and it took many months of counselling for her to come to terms with what had happened. Even though we got her admitted to a KGBV in Hyderabad, she retreated into a shell and it took a long time for her to come to terms with the situation," said Asha.
The fact that their mothers are all members of CBOs and are also running a NGO has given the sex workers a new standing in society. This has helped the daughters see their mothers in a new light.
Asha said, "People in all the neighbouring districts have heard about us and have begun to contact us for their problems. This has given us a new status. Recently we were in search of a new office and we were short of funds. The local police officials and our local MLA were the first to come forward and donate money to us."
Other sex workers vouch for how their training as para legal volunteers has ensured that the district authorities use them for their outreach programs. Recently, the social audit director visited Kalyandurg and asked them to do an audit of the MNREGA and pension schemes to ensure there was no misuse of funds.
Rohini amma, another office bearer at Ushodoya, said, "We recently conducted an assessment of the pension scheme and found several rich farmers accessing the pension. Farmers with over 7 acres of land are not entitled to avail of pension. One family had illegally received Rs 48,000 and that was immediately stopped."
The sex workers are also assisting in stopping child marriages, dowry deaths and also in helping resolve cases of domestic violence. They receive Rs 250 for every case they report to the district authorities.
"Before any audit is undertaken, we are given a list of the beneficiaries which we need to check in order to find out whether payments match the number of days the individual has worked under MNREGA," she added.
Sex workers in Kadiri have conducted an informal survey on the number of sex workers operating in their district. This has also helped them draw up a list of the number of girls that need admission in the KGBV and in SOS schools operating in that region.
Very recently, the members of Ushodoya had a new kind of case to deal with. An eight-year-old girl was forced out of school by her maternal uncle so that she could baby sit his two children. Asha amma said, "The girl’s mother is a devadasi and was scared to make a complaint. We took up the matter and got the girl admitted to an SOS school in Tirupati thanks to the intervention of the local MLA and police. At least now we know that the girl will lead a better life now. She will get a chance to study and play and not be subject to the kind of sexual exploitation we faced when we were young."
Updated Date: Mar 08, 2018 21:17 PM