Escaping Mumbai's red light district: Shweta's inspiring story

Shweta was recently featured in Newsweek’s Women in The World: 25 Under-25 Young Women To Watch, along with Malala Yousufzai for her efforts to uplift young girls who are marginalized.

Rohini Chatterji April 09, 2013 16:58:20 IST
Escaping Mumbai's red light district: Shweta's inspiring story

Shweta Katti is only 18, but she has a lot to boast about when it comes to her achievements. She was recently featured in Newsweek’s Women in The World: 25 Under-25 Young Women To Watch, along with Malala Yousufzai for her efforts to uplift young girls who are marginalized.

Shweta grew up in a brothel in Mumbai’s red light area, was abused as a child, but she has left all that behind and is keen to go the US for higher studies. “When Newsweek interviewed me I did not know it was such a big magazine, and that it was such a huge deal. I never expected to be featured with women who have achieved so much. It is amazing,” says Shweta.

Escaping Mumbais red light district Shwetas inspiring story

Spending her childhood in a brothel, Shweta says, was tough.

She is currently associated with an NGO, Kranti which helped her complete her studies and gave her therapy to deal with what she faced in her childhood. “I was 12-years-old when my step father started sexually abusing me. I had no one to speak to. I was also abused by my brother-in-law. But I was scared to tell anyone, even my mother, because I knew that I would be blamed,” say Shweta whose mother works as a domestic help in a brothel.

“When I could not take it anymore, I told my teachers at Apne Aap, an NGO where I used to go for classes. It was they who put me through to Kranti,” recalls Shweta. She went through many sessions of counseling and therapy for her to gather up the courage to say no to her step father. “At first it was difficult, I couldn’t even run away. But then I gained the confidence. I was no more ashamed to talk about it".

When she confronted her mother, she says her mother was apologetic. “My mother has always supported in my endeavours. Without her, I would have never reached this far.”

Spending her childhood in a brothel, she says, was tough. “At night I would hear the sex workers getting beaten up by their drunk husbands. No one respects you when you are in this profession. It is highly unsafe for women and young girls to live in a brothel,” Shweta said.

Radha, a sex worker who she was close to during her childhood, is her inspiration. “When I was a kid, I used to while away time watching television. My mother used to scold me, but I hardly used to pay heed. It was Radha who told me that either I could study and get out of this place, or become a sex worker. I, of course, chose the former.”

Shweta says that the sex workers she grew up with inspired her to get out of there and she wants to give back to the community in whatever way she can. “I plan to become a psychologist and have a therapy centre in Mumbai’s red light area. Sex workers and their children have serious mental problems, and I want to help them deal with their difficult lives.”

Criticising the government, she says that it should provide health care facilities and other amenities for sex workers. “Sex workers get abused in brothels, even if they leave and work as domestic helps they are sexually abused there because people look at them as commodities. That should change,” she says.

Shweta is honest about her background but does not want to emphasise it. “I would not like to go tell people that I am from a red light area, because society will judge me. I think sex workers should be more involved in society, because they are doing nothing wrong. Sex is a basic human need and it is their job.”

She now lives in a shelter home in Kandivili though she visits her family often and is preparing for her TOEFL exams. She has applied to American University, Depaul University, Seattle University and Bard University for her higher studies on scholarship.

This firebrand of a girl sounds extremely innocent, but has immense determination. Though she wants to go abroad, because of her backround, getting a passport had become almost impossible for her. She had to run from pillar to post and even approach the DGP of Mumbai police to her passport done.

“I could not go for this course called Semester at Sea, which is a college on a voyage, because I did not have my passport. Now the passport office has told me that I will get one in a week’s time. If I don’t I won’t be able to appear for my TOEFL either. But I think it will work out,” says a hopeful Shweta.

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