“Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.”
Prostitution in India is unregulated. And in many scenarios considered illegal. Which is why sex workers do not have an audience for their woes. Regarded as “immoral” by a society with a skewed moral compass, they are most often denied basic human decency.
Trafficking is one of prostitution’s primary sources for new sex workers. Lured by the offer of a job, or even kidnapped, trafficked women have no idea what is in store for them till they find themselves locked up alone with a drunk, lustful “client”.
Jayamma grew up an orphan. After a tough adolescence and teenage, she finally met a man she loved and married. This man, over the course of time, started succumbing to alcoholism and forcibly sold Jayamma to a broker for sex work.
Kidnapped, repeatedly raped, beaten, sold, bought, wrongfully confined and harassed both mentally and physically, Jayamma decided to take up the cause of women in the same situation she was in.
— CII (@FollowCII) April 23, 2017
This was difficult, as these women were not willing to be identified or helped, scared of the network of undesirable elements.
With the help of Mr Jaya Singh Thomas, an NGO executive from the “IRDS” in Hyderabad, Jayamma began to slowly go about meeting these women, speaking to them and collecting their stories. Many were sold by their own husbands or forced into prostitution by unscrupulous pimps. Many had been promised a job in the city but abducted soon after.
There was an urgent need to do something for these women.
Jaya and Jayamma realised that everything cannot be done at a stretch. There needs to be a legal identity of the support system. From the period 1998-2001, Jayamma visited rural self-help groups.
Discussing the impact of domestic violence, she was still hesitant to reveal her identity. However, on 1st December 2001 (World Aids Day), Jayamma and around 300 women took out a rally, with a banner that ready. “Chaithanya Mahila Mandali”, an initiative for the betterment of the life of sex workers and their children in Hyderabad.
When the initiative began, the ill-treatment sex workers receive on a regular basis became apparent. Police harassment, negative media portrayal and outright refusal by landlords when looking for a place to live, are some of the issues sex workers in India have to deal with.
The Chaithanya Mandali went from station to station and assured the sex workers that they are looking to uplift them, and are non-judgemental, willing to help any woman who wishes to opt out of the system.
The children of sex workers who Jayamma had met in 1998 had turned to or were forcibly entered into full-blown prostitution by 2004 or 2005.
Hyderabad has no red light area. The sex workers go out and solicit clients. They also take their children with them. They do this because the children have nowhere to go, and the police will not harass them if they are seen with a child. Once they solicit a client, the child often accompanies his mother and the client, as they go about their business.
Sometimes, small children get abused in front of their mothers. These people were not in a position to come to the police station. There have been many such unfortunate and unreported incidents involving sex workers and their children.
The Chaithanya Mahila Mandali initiated a system by which the children of sex workers would be protected. Through their programmes, they have achieved success. The children are growing up well, many of them work in MNC’s and are settled abroad.
The initiative that started in Hyderabad in 2010 with ten children, today has 56 children living with their mothers. Thanks to the Chaithanya Mahila Mandali, these sex-workers can now try for other jobs. The mandal not only rehabilitates the sex worker and her child, but also carries out follow-ups to check whether the child is safe.
The Chaithanya Mahila Mandali today boasts of a variety of programs, working in urban slums and rural areas, and holding crucial workshops highlighting the evils of trafficking. Through this initiative, more than 5000 women and children are being supported. Jaya maintains that it all boils down to the next generation, the children, who have to be protected from pimps.
The Chaithanya Mahila Mandali also works closely with, the government schools and authorities, to keep an eye on human trafficking.
If the children are sensitised towards the evils of trafficking, the future generations might shun the terrible practice altogether, wasting no time in bringing the perpetrators of the same to justice.
The Chaitanya Mahila Mandali has been very successful in helping sex workers become re-enter mainstream society. The initiative takes care of the parentless and children of women forced into sex.
Jayamma, being in unfortunate circumstances herself, is able to empathise with these women who seemingly have no future. Even though she has won multiple awards, she remains focused on her ultimate goal—to successfully rehabilitate sex workers and their children.
Prostitution in India may not see legalisation or regulation anytime soon. If that does happen, then the industry will come out of the grip of the mafia that controls it. But till then, sex workers and their children will always face adversity. Right from the trafficker who kidnaps them, to the pimp who brokers them, to the client who abuses them, physically and mentally, to the society that casts them out, after fulfilling its lust.
It is time that we humanise and sensitise ourselves, and make a conscious effort to rehabilitate and help sex workers and their children.