“I will forever be grateful to Rambhao Ingole who saw me as a human being. He not only rescued me but also rehabilitated me into the society with dignity and respect. If it wasn’t for him, I would have suffered the same brutality and insults as my mother,” Seema (named changed), a daughter of a sex worker in Nagpur tells The Better India.
In the last 30 odd years, city-based social activist Rambhao Ingole has rescued many children of sex workers, who have been given a new lease of life.
Along with Seema who was then 11 years of age, Ingole rescued four other girls, in the early 90s from the ill-famed Ganga Jamuna area in the city.
Seema was merely 6 when her mother asked her to fetch some snacks for the man in her room.
“Whether it was fruits, snacks, liquor or condoms, my mother would ask me to get something from the market. I saw it as an opportunity to be able to sleep beside her at night. Otherwise, nights were usually spent on the balcony on a mattress as thin as a dupatta. My fate was already decided by my mother and as soon as I turned 18, I was to be forced into prostitution,” she recalls.
Now in her late 20s, Seema is a happily married and teaches in a local school, all due to the indomitable spirit of one man.
Opening Eyes to The Horrifying Reality
During the 1980s when Nagpur was booming in terms of economic growth and influx of people from across India, the newly settled locals did not want their way of life tainted by the Ganga Jamuna settlement infamous for prostitution.
Soon, the city witnessed a massive uprising by the locals against centuries-old business of prostitution and demanded their eviction from the area.
Among the people who supported the sex workers was a local politician, who Ingole looked up to.
When Ingole joined the movement against the eviction of the commercial sex workers, he came face to face with the dark reality of prostitution in India.
“I had a very lopsided and inhuman perception towards the sex workers. I was told that they were shameful, opportunist, demoralised and cheap. When I visited the brothels I discovered a very depressing world where people were alien to concepts like consent and respect,” Ingole tells TBI.
Upon interacting with the sex workers, he learnt about the unpardonable acts like physical abuse, unprotected sex, rape and police brutality, “The extent of exploitation at the hands of goons, pimps, police and customers is unimaginable. Women in red light areas are treated like objects.”
Just when Ingole was digesting this bitter pill, his attention went towards their children, many of whom were unwanted.
As per the tradition in Ganga-Jamuna area, daughters were expected to join their mothers as prostitutes once they attained the legal age of 18. Meanwhile, sons turn into pimps often marketing their own mothers or sisters.
Ingole’s first instinct was to raise awareness among the women on educating their children. But he also realised that the taboo around children of sex workers would be nigh impossible to wipe clean.
“No mother likes to drag their children in flesh trade. They have no resources and access to send their kids to school. To end the stigma, I mustered the courage and decided to work on the rehabilitation of children,” adds Ingole.
It was not an easy road to establish his organisation ‘Amrapali Utkarsh Sangh’ (AUS) to rescue the children.
To begin with, his parents threw him out of the house and the society ostracised him for working with the forbidden ones. His transportation business was also affected and he lost many clients.
People mocked him for working for a lost cause, some even cursed him for mingling with the untouchables.
To make it worse, his own apprehension clouded him further, “What if people don’t accept them or give jobs despite education. It is very hard to change century-old perceptions. The place or house you are born in is given more importance than education or accomplishments.”
He did not let these roadblocks stop him and after eight years of struggle, in 1992, he registered AUS with four children to provide food, shelter, healthcare and education.
Fortunately, there was no resistance from sex workers every time he rescued children from the brothels. In fact, they happily accompany Ingole to the Civil Court to apply for the legal affidavit validating the rescue.
Changing Lives With Education
Initially, Ingole kept the children in his house but due to objection from people, he moved to the outskirts of Nagpur.
The shame and stigma is so deep-rooted that Ingole had to change houses seven times before he built a residential school for the kids in 2007.
However, all was not gloomy for Ingole and the kids.
A turning point came around in 2005 when a local Marathi newspaper covered his efforts. It gave him a decent exposure and many organisations working towards rehabilitation of sex workers and their children reached out to him.
Support and appreciation also gave him the confidence to give formal education to the kids and to open a residential school from classes 1-10.
In 2007, a donor named Navin Desai donated five acres of land on the outskirts of Nagpur where Ingole built a residential school and named it after him.
Presently there are seven teachers who work in the school and so far, the school has catered to 239 students. Once they complete their schooling, Ingole helps them in finding a place in colleges of their choice.
The tide has changed now and taunts have ceased, “It came as a total shock for me when people called me and lent their support in various ways. I realised the power of noble work. I thought if my kids would do some noble work, it would make them better humans,” says Ingole.
He has established a ritual where once a month, the children in his residential school distribute clothes and teach the destitute kids in a nearby stone quarry.
A couple of years ago, Ingole also started admitting children of migrant workers and orphans and so far over 200 children have been impacted.
“My kids have gone on to become teachers and engineers,” Ingole proudly concludes.
Ingole’s 30-year-old journey may come across as inspiring, moving and heartwarming but underneath all the smiles and milestones, are struggles that only Ingole has experienced.
It is very rare to see people who are ready to give up family, friends and society to uplift the less-privileged. What one needs are massive reserves of strength, compassion, courage and willpower. Ingole had them all.
Get in touch with Ingole here
All images are sourced from Ingole
Edited by Saiqua Sultan