As the world observed International Day of the Girl Child recently, here’s a tale of young mothers, their mothers and daughters, and a journey of empowerment, self-realisation and dreams.
For Rina and Tithi (names changed), growing up was all about physical abuse, family violence, hopelessness, despair, and a constant fight against the grim reality that engulfed them, day in and day out.
With their mothers into prostitution, the girls were forced to grow up in an environment fraught with unabated abuse, violence and pain. While Rina learnt to live with an alcoholic father ever-willing to push her into prostitution as well, Tithi grew up with three men whom she called Baba. She met her “biological father” only at the age of 12.
This was the late 1990s.
Picture for representation only. Source: Unsplash
Lives have changed on the dingy bylanes of the city’s most prominent red-light areas in Kalighat, Munshiganj and Kidderpore, all thanks to an intervention programme by Child Rights and You (CRY) and its partner, Diksha.
Weekly sessions with about 10-15 kids in a dingy room started changing mindsets. ‘Adolescent Fertility and Sexuality: Reaching an Informed Choice’, a programme initiated in Kalighat, helped the two girls, then in their early teens, to gain a better understanding of how to handle their situation.
Regular talks on understanding the “self” and making informed choices and decisions helped boost their self-esteem.
Having started as inquisitive participants in these sessions, the girls gradually worked their way to being trainers. They also started motivating other mothers to send their children to the sessions.
Today, they are proud members of Diksha, ready to take up the challenge to create a better, safe and enabling environment for the children of the three red-light areas in the city, something they had been deprived of till the NGO came into their lives.
Notably, the number of children attending these sessions at Kalighat, Munshiganj and Kidderpore has gone up to more than 150.
Picture for representation only. Source: Pixabay
“I have been through a lot in my life. Sexually abused by relatives, beaten up regularly by my mother and mocked at school for my family background, life was as bad as it could get. The Diksha didis started changing my thoughts and beliefs. They gave me the confidence to look at myself in the mirror and feel that I too am someone and equally capable of making choices and making informed decisions about my life,” says Tithi, now a mother of two girls.
Tithi adds, “I want to groom my daughters in a way that they can lead a life of their choice. I could only study till Class 8, but I will ensure that my daughters pursue higher studies.”
Rina admits that her life changed for the better after she started attending the sessions. A proud community worker, she now wants to focus on victims of child sexual abuse and encourage them to open up about their trauma. She says, “It has taken time but change has come. Growing up in the vulnerable environment, the children are aware of what’s happening around them and they don’t hesitate to report any form of abuse.”
The changemakers have managed to bring about a sea change in mindsets in the mothers and daughters around them. Mothers are no more in a hurry to get their girls married before 18 or send them to “homes” and certainly not inclined to shove them into second-generation prostitution.
Says Jharnadi, Rina’s mother (name changed), “In the initial years, I was wary of sending my daughter to Diksha sessions. I was not sure about the impact these classes would have, if any. But the didis came and spoke to me and other mothers in the area and we started sending our children to them.”
She continues, “The change is most visible in the way my daughter has grown up. She takes these sessions and motivates other children to develop a new approach towards the world, and life in general.”
Picture for representation only. Source: Flickr
The change that Jharnadi so proudly talks about is there for all to see. Children from these vulnerable areas are now being encouraged to study beyond school and complete college.
More importantly, they now have a voice to report any form of abuse and violence around them. Local clubs, police and other authorities are being approached for intervention, in cases of violation of child rights.
Diksha members have actively engaged with school teachers to develop a safe classroom environment for children of red-light areas so that they do not have to face the stigma surrounding their identity, much of what Rina and Tithi had to face during their school days.
A local club opening their doors to children for games and sports would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. Today, the reality tells a different story. The children have formed a musical band and they also design handicraft items regularly. They conceptualise comic strips that tell the story of their lives, with underlying messages of empowerment.
The changes, far-reaching and impactful, have seeped into the socio-economic fabric of a community that has lived on society’s fringes for years.
Nothing could sum it up better than the words of Tithi’s 11-year-old daughter, who studies in a local school, loves to read English and Bengali poems and wants to be a dancer when she grows up. Ask her if she takes dance lessons and pat comes her reply, “I watch YouTube videos and train myself. I will take part in a para function ahead of the pujas.”
Her friend too is clear about why she wants to continue attending the sessions. She says in conclusion, “I enjoy attending these sessions because they tell us about the rights that we have as children.”
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)