Ahmednagar based former ABVP activist Dr Girish Kulkarni rehabilitates over 900 sex workers ensuring respectable jobs for their 300 children
During the last four decades the Governments, both state and central, spent billions of rupees on rehabilitation of commercial sex workers. What is the result—mushrooming of red light areas and forced entry of minor girls into the trade! The government claims about 6.8 lakh registered sex workers in the country, but the NACO estimates this number to be more than 12 lakh. Amidst this number game Dr Girish Kulkarni of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra has successfully rehabilitated over 900 commercial sex workers and effectively curbed the entry of second generation into the trade. Twenty years back there were 900 sex workers operating from four streets of Ahemedngar, but today they remain just 150 and that too only in one street. Not surprisingly, 300 children of these women are today doing respectable jobs in state police and different government departments. Wedding of about 200 rescued girls has also been performed.
NOrmally, it is believed that prostitution is a one way traffic in which there is no U-turn. Of the many reasons, which block the U-turn, the most serious ones are the tight hold of brothel-keepers, the chain of beneficiaries who thrive on their labour and the inability to cope with the stigma attached to them by wider society.
In such circumstances even thinking about rehabilitation of these women is a herculean as well as life-threatening task. The topmost challenge is: what is the acceptable alternative, and how to provide protection from the people prospering from the earnings of such women? Anybody who dares to do it has to face the consequences. But Dr Girish Kulkarni took up this challenge 25 years ago and so far successfully rehabilitated over 900 such women through his Snehalaya. For it, he had to fight not only against the pimps, brothel-keepers but also against the highly influential businessmen, policemen and bureaucrats in the district.
Formed in 1989 to work for the Victims of Commercial and Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking (VCSE-T) in red light areas of Chitra, Bhagat and Mamta lanes in Ahmednagar, Snehalaya is today an outstanding example of how youth can make a difference in the lives of people. It created a history in 2010 when it secured the conviction of 20 highly influential persons of Ahmednagar, who sexually exploited a minor girl of 14 years. All 20 of them were sentenced to Double Life Imprisonment. Another similar case of a minor is pending in the court.
The output of Snehalaya’s persistent efforts is clearly visible. The sexually transmitted diseases (except HIV/AIDS) have almost disappeared and use of condoms in red light areas is 96 per cent, highest in the country. Similarly, during the last 20 years no child prostitute joined the trade. Apart from many other reasons, it can be attributed to relentless filing of cases against brothel keepers, pimps and procurers, and their successful convictions in the courts.
Thanks to Snehalaya the children of prostitutes are in a process of life-changing education creating a number of role models from the community. Some of the children got admissions in top schools of the city and proved their mettle in the results. About 300 of them have got quality jobs. Snehalaya also provides medical facilities and ensures rehabilitation for HIV+ women and children. It runs Balbhavans in 7 major slums of Ahmednagar and provides after-school coaching to nearly 2000 students. Apart from 150 abandoned infants, many unwed mothers, raped victims, widows have also been rehabilitated. Snehalaya’s upcoming Himmatgram project is going to prove a ray of hope for HIV victims and sex workers, who are being rehabilitated by providing vocational skills and employment. Snehalaya’s dedicated team of volunteers has devoted their lives for the betterment of these women. Perhaps this is the reason that noted film personality, Aamir Khan, on May 6, 2012, during his popular TV show Satyamev Jayate, appealed for help to Snehalaya in this fight.
Snehalaya has also motivated these women to start their own Self-Help Groups (SHG) in all red-light areas of the district. The most poignant testimony of Snehalaya’s empowerment efforts has come in the form of some outstanding milestones. Lata Pawar wrote the first autobiography of a prostitute in Marathi, while Sangeeta Shelar, a former prostitute, represented Snehalaya in the World AIDS Conference held in Mexico in 2008. Similarly, Kantabai Kale became one of Snehalaya’s trustees in the initial days itself and Meena Shinde is working as an honourary director.
A professor and well known crusader in the district, Dr Kulkarni has been an active worker of Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) from 1983 to 1991. His concern for the plight of sexually exploited women was not sudden. As a young boy of 14 while attending tuition classes in a bylane known for prostitution, he heard some of the women yell out in pain, as their customers beat them up or the brothel-keepers inhumanly tortured them. “We always try to convince the prostitutes to leave this trade and start a new life. Though, it is a very tough decision to execute for so many reasons, we have inspired many of them to leave the profession,” he says.
Talking about the challenges he encountered, Dr Girish says, “Preparing a sex worker to live a respectable life is not an easy task. We have to start from de-addiction and then the habit of work is developed and vocational training is imparted. Then social acceptance also remains a big question. Sometimes circumstances disappointed and hurt me but most of the times they taught me a lot and influenced my life immensely.”
Of late, some of his students have also started working in various red light areas after completion of their education. What satisfies Dr Girish more is the fact that the society is slowly changing its orthodox attitude towards the women and children from red-light areas. The girls rescued from the flesh trade got good families and grooms for marriages.
When governments have failed in rehabilitation of the sex workers even after spending millions of rupees every year, these efforts of Dr Girish Kulkarni show the way how to efficiently eradicate the social evil and change the mindset of people.
(Snehalaya runs ‘Snehadhar’ ,a 24×7 helpline for all types of women in distress. The helpline no. is 09011363600)