Children of Sex Workers: The Tale of Socio-Economic Mobility – PART 1
In Conversation with Trina Talukdar, Co-founder, Kranti
Kamatipura is the red-light area in Mumbai and is featured in the current issue covers stories from perspectives that are often left untold- the success stories of daughters of sex workers, their journey to the best universities of the world and tale of socio-economic mobility.
Ms. Trina Talukdar has co-founded a non-profit organsaiton, Kranti at the age of 22, in Mumbai. Kranti identifies the potential in girls who have been trafficked to become agents of social change, as they have survived the worst social adversities, and have the passion and understanding to solve these social problems. After building Kranti for 3 years, Trina moved to Ashoka, where she was hired as the South Asia Director of Venture and Fellowship, and focused on building a social entrepreneurship ecosystem in India. During her time in Ashoka, Trina continued to work with Kranti from time to time. But in 2019, Trina made the decision to return to Kranti, and is employed full-time with the non-profit organization.
Since then, she has been a serial social entrepreneur, innovating in the field of building 21st century leadership.
Kranti believes that girls from the red-light areas have an added value as change agents, not despite their background, but because of it. If they have access to the same training, opportunities, and resources as people from privileged backgrounds, they will become revolutionary leaders- more innovative, compassionate, and resilient due to their life experiences. Literally, Kranti means “revolution” in Hindi. Read about the organisation from here.
Dikshi: At the very outset, if you could briefly tell us about the founding of the organization, Kranti and what issues or problems it addresses?
Trina: Sure, Kranti was founded 10 years ago and we have two other co-founders: Robin Chaurasiya and Bani Das. While three of us were working and volunteering at other anti-trafficking organizations, we saw a lot of potential in the girls who we were meeting, talking to and interacting with. But there wasn’t any long term investment in the future of these girls and existing organizations, for example, there was no long-term investment in education, because the focus was sort of teaching them a skill, like making candles, embroidery, or something that’s quick, and that gets them employment.
So there was no long-term investment. And we felt like these girls had so much potential, they could do anything they wanted to do. And that’s why we started this organization, so that these girls can come to Kranti and can choose to be or do whatever they want to do. And it’s our job to find and provide them the opportunities. But interestingly enough, whenever we would ask the girls what they want to do, they would always say that they wanted to teach the children of sex workers. So they had this natural inclination to go back to their communities and serve them and solve the problems that they faced growing up. So then we started thinking that, if we can prepare them with leadership skills and knowledge, these girls can be the best leaders and changemakers of tomorrow, who can go back to their communities and solve many social issues. And that’s what we do.
Dikshi: To provide access to the same training, opportunities and resources as people from privileged backgrounds, what programs and initiatives does the organisation run to prevent the inter-generational cycle of prostitution?
Trina: It’s a combination of mainstream education, like our girls go to different schools and colleges, and we do conduct leadership and empowerment training with them that is combined with a focus on emotional well-being. I have already talked about the impact as well that our girls work on various social justice issues and are problem solvers in their communities.
We have a home where the girls come and stay, we have a big focus on their well-being. Because as you can imagine, the girls come from a lot of trauma. And so all of the girls work with one-on-one therapists, as well as do group therapy, like art therapy, or body movement therapy etc. We start every morning with yoga and meditation. And we have all these well-being practices to get the girls to heal from their trauma and get to an emotionally stable place. Then there’s mainstream education. Our girls go to schools and colleges around the country. And then they also do a lot of extracurricular activities; dance, art, etc., based on their talent and passion. And we also have our own curriculum, where we teach them about social justice issues and leadership skills so that these girls can become the leaders in their communities.
In the last 10 years, all of the girls that have graduated are working on various social justice issues. Some of our girls are teachers for children with special needs. Some of them are working with slum communities or rural communities and conduct leadership training for young people and generate awareness. One of our girls works with the transgender community. A couple of our girls are very passionate about animal rights and so they worked at Animal Care shelters.
Dikshi: We would also like to hear about the specific initiatives the organisation undertook during COVID-19 and how they aimed to bridge the inequality in social and economic outcomes across women groups?
Trina: Yes, we started working on a few initiatives last year during the lockdown. The girls themselves organise and did a lot of relief work in the red-light area, because sex workers and their families, of course, were without any income during the lockdown. They distributed monthly grocery and healthcare essentials to more than 3000 families, and for some 400 days, they were distributing cooked meals- some 250-300 cooked meals in the area, because a lot of people don’t even have access to a kitchen.
Dikshi: In the process, what challenges do the team and volunteers face while conducting campaigns, workshops, or inducting new girls into the team? Do you face any resistance from community or service providers?
Trina: I think, honestly, the biggest problem we face is not from the red-light area i.e., the community but from the general public and society at large. So, for example, building or restaurant welfare associations don’t want to rent to us.
Because they don’t want these girls staying in their building. I mean, we’ve been very lucky to find some good and supportive schools. But sometimes they’ve also been schools where they said that they don’t want the daughter of a sex worker or a girl from red-light area to be studying in our school. So I think this social taboo against the red-light area sex workers and the children is the biggest challenge.
Dikshi: I remember you mentioned that you do organise some therapy sessions one-on-one as well as group sessions. And as children are usually trapped with their mothers in the sex-trade environment where we may witness child trafficking or harassment, let’s say street harassment in the workplace while the child is accompanying the mother. How do you see such instances effect or impact the child psychological?
Trina: Yes, I mean, all the girls we worked with have been sexually abused, and they have grown up in unsafe spaces, so they have a lot of trauma from that. And that’s why I was saying that well-being is a big program, a big focus for us and they do one-on-one therapy, as well as group therapy and meditation and all of these well-being practices to get over that trauma.
Dikshi: We have seen major professional updates in the lives of girls posted on the Instagram and other social media handles of the organisation, have they ever been subjected to cyber bullying or hate messages, or discrimination at the university level?
Trina: We have a home in Bombay, where the girls live, but as our girls also go to schools and colleges in many different cities in Delhi and Bangalore so they stay in hostels also. We are careful about choosing schools, colleges, or communities that are open-minded, and are sending our girls there. We do have a sort of a point of check there. And I think we’ve been lucky to find schools, colleges, where the student community is very open and accepting. And their stories of coming from a red-light area were published on their student pages very early on when they started in college, and the community has been nothing but supportive.
That’s not to say that they don’t face discrimination. Much of it is unintentional. A lot of young people are brought up with absolutely no exposure to the red-light area, or what goes on there. Prejudice comes from just not having access or exposure to such a community. But we also find that students, especially in these communities of the progressive colleges have been very open minded about learning. And you know, our girls are open to having conversations. And so I think overall, it has worked out.
Dikshi: What target or goals the organisation has set to achieve in the upcoming years?
Trina: We believe that the curriculum on leadership and social justice that we have, should also be adopted by and extended to children in other NGOs so that all young people can be leaders and changemakers in their communities.
And we believe that other organizations are doing other things really well, like mainstream education. So we want to take our curriculum to children and other organizations, and we started doing that a little bit. We are partnering with an organisation, called Happy Feet Children’s Home that works with children with a terminal illness. So that’s the future plan to take our curriculum out to more marginalized young people so that they can all be changemakers like the girls at Kranti.
Children of Sex Workers: The Tale of Socio-Economic Mobility – PART 2
In Conversation with Sandhya Nair, Member at Kranti
Please close your eyes and remember a situation where you wanted to say no but you couldn’t,” said Kranti’s theater facilitator, in the middle of the DC Hilton. I closed my eyes and immediately I flashed back to being raped, trying hard to say “NO!!” But my body and mind were frozen, so no words came. For a minute, I was confused if I was 18, standing in the Hilton, or if I was 13, being raped in Mumbai’s red-light area. Maybe my body was 13 and my mind 18, or my body 18 and my mind 13? Changing between these two scenarios, my eyes filled with tears and my hands prepared to fight. And I found myself screaming “NOOOOO!” After this exercise, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t in theater class – I was in therapy. Now, I’m studying psychology, and I hope to become a therapist who mixes theater, music, dance, and meditation to help youth from marginalized communities discover, and live up to, their true potential.
-Sandhya Nair, member at Kranti and student at Ashoka University
Dikshi: To begin with, if I may request you to please share with our readers something about yourself and the course you are pursuing at Ashoka University.
Sandhya: My name is Sandhya and I am from the organisation named Kranti, an organization that works for daughters of sex workers, and empowers them to become agents of social change and happiness. So I’ve been a beneficiary of Kranti for the past five and a half years now. And I am studying at Ashoka University, a third year student majoring in psychology with a minor in creative writing.
Dikshi: How did you come across the organisation, Kranti and associate with them? What a day in the life of a member looks like and is there any community resistance from joining such an organsiation?
Sandhya: Okay, let’s break down the question. I came to know about Kranti via Facebook. (I was in Kerala for my 11th and 12th as my dad had helped my mom and we had moved to Kerala for a so-called “better life”). But eventually, it didn’t happen because of the financial crisis. I had to work at two jobs to maintain being able to pay my school fees. There I saw an article about Shweta Katti di who was the first girl from our Mumbai red-light area to study at Bard College, New York. Her article was all over the news channels. And I knew her because we all lived in the same community in the red-light area. I contacted her through Facebook seeking her help with recommendations of organisations that too could help me further my education. She directed me to talk to our founder, Robin.
Thus, I contacted Robin through Facebook and told her of my situation and she replied, “Catch the first train you can!”. And that’s how I ended up here, believing in that one sentence.
But it was a lot of struggle to convince my parents, specifically my mom, because she herself was a sex worker. She was trafficked from Kerala on the pretext that she was given a job offer saying that will make her life better and was brought to Mumbai. And then she started doing sex work here (Mumbai) to feed her family. She has five brothers and a sister. She was the eldest of all, so she had to take care of everyone. She, as a sex worker, somehow had this fear of her children getting trapped in this business.
Though she never told me that what was she fearing, of course, sex workers generally do not tell their children what they do, because they are afraid that we will be ashamed of them or we might not like it. We generally get to know, when we are a little bit older and when we have a sense of awareness and maturity. That’s how she had this unknown fear that if this is all a trap again. Robin and Bani talked to my mother on the phone and they had a conversation. It took Robin Bani and half of the girls of Kranti, one and a half years to convince my parents that Kranti is not like that and they won’t leave me alone.
Dikshi: Did Kranti help you navigate through the college application process? What types of assistance and opportunities did they provide?
Sandhya: Kranti is a shelter home shared by some 20 girls with 2-3 staff members and the very basic thing in our house is to take therapy. So we all take therapies because we all come with a lot of baggage and have different types of traumas. Some girls suffer from severe mental illness, some suffer mildly and some are still coping with their past. I myself suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), because of the abuse that I faced in my childhood.
Kranti gives us the space to actually open up about our traumas and work on it with therapy and of course, you will get 24 different people here who can understand you at least in some or the other way. Also, if you’re in Kranti you have to do two extracurricular activities that are mandatory. It could be dancing, singing, because there are a lot of girls who are not good at academics. Initially, I loved traveling. But now I know that I love writing more. So when I travel I keep writing about the place or the things. It is more like the exposure from Kranti about traveling, about finding out what you like, be it dancing, singing, or anything that gives us the opportunity to see the world from a different perspective because since a very young age we have been taught that we do not deserve opportunities. That we do not deserve to have a life that is “normal” because we come from a background that is disgraceful to this world. Or we are not acceptable to them and we come from darker and dirty places. And we are not acceptable in this “normal” society at all. So all of these challenges were questioned, I started challenging these narratives and perspectives of judging people because of their background. So I guess this is all that Kranti gave me, the strength to see beyond what we think is the end.
Dikshi: We also want to know about your long-term goals/vision and if you would reflect on your past years and journey covered so far.
Sandhya: For me, the future is kind of unpredictable. And, of course, it’s for everyone. But when I was young, I wanted to have one theater Academy and teach the children from our community, free of cost. And people who come from different communities can chip in. So I had this one thing. Then psychology is something which I was very interested to study because I never had people who could hear me when I was in pain.
But right now, this very moment where I’m like, I have everything and I think I’m very blessed at life. I also want to write a book, which is very raw, and not publish it with a big or huge publishing house because I don’t want rawness to be taken away from it because of the choice of words. Thus, I think this is what I want, I would like to write my own book. And to let the world know the perspective of daughters of sex workers and let them realise what they have stolen from us. A lot of people and this “normal” society have stolen my childhood.
I find my writing to be very connected with my soul, that’s why I love writing because it not only tells about how the journey has been throughout, but how I am right now and not judging the world for what they did to me, but being able to accept, love and be compassionate towards everyone I met in different parts of my journey.
Dikshi: Do you have any message that you would like to share with our readers?
Sandhya: I would like to say one thing to the world: Do not let people tell you that you do not deserve this. Always keep asking questions about why there are certain narratives, and question those who say that you cannot be here or you are not meant for this opportunity because of your background. Make your identity your strength. Wherever I go, I say this, my identity is my strength and not my weakness. Do not let anybody tell you that you are not capable or don’t deserve something beyond your skill or talent. You deserve everything, you just need to work on it.
Dikshi Arora is a third-year law student at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, CPL 2021-22 Public Policy Fellow and Research Analyst at Centre for New Economics Studies.