Thursday, October 25, 2012

NGO Roles in Rehabilitating Women in India’s Red Light District

By: Leisha Lininger
Produced & edited by: Molly Nocheck

Nestled in the Maharashtra district of India, Aruna of Oasis seeks to rehabilitate and free women from the bondage of sexual slavery and give them new skills so that they can leave the practice of selling their bodies. Director Sachin Kamble coordinates services for not only the women of the brothels, but also for the children of the women in the Red Light District. Volunteers come from all over the world to offer their time to these individuals and to open their minds to new cultural experiences.

Departing from their hotel, these volunteers travel via train and then they finally enter the hustle and bustle of the heart of Mumbai, just blocks away from the nationally known Red Light District. Weaving through food stands and vendors calling out for buyers, between cars angrily and incessantly honking while simultaneously braking and speeding, one follows the guide. With all the senses assaulted by the sounds of the horns, the stench of the trash, and the never-ending presence of the heats, the guide ambles on, leading the group to their destination: a non-governmental organization that works with the women in the brothels. The day is Tuesday, the day when women come over to gather for training, counseling, medical attention, and just to get a chance to leave the brothels for an hour or two.

Oasis is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that boasts branches not only in India but also in the United Kingdom, Bangledash, and around the world. According to the Oasis global website, their mission is as follows: “We're involved in anti-trafficking work, community development, housing, education, water... wherever we go we seek to extend the opportunities that we ourselves are so privileged to have.”

Sabina Kapur* speaks only Hindi and has two young children at home. Even though she does not like selling her body, she depends on the trade in order to provide for her young children. Even though she lives a life of hardship, she still delights in bringing a smile to others’ faces. Looking into the eyes of her visitors, the volunteers, she smiles and intently compliments them with phrases such as “Bahuth sunder hay,” translated, as “You are beautiful.” Her selflessness is evident in all that she does, even in a system that has taken away her freedom and away from her family.

Dimple Patel* has successfully left behind her life in the brothel system, and now volunteers with Aruna to encourage the other women and bring them out of the system. Patel helps host the weekly meeting, which entails a support group for those who have been diagnosed with AIDS.

During the support group, Shraddha Shelke, a longtime faithful employee of Aruna, gathers the women in a circle on the floor. Speaking in the mother tongue of India, Hindi, she explains how AIDS affects one’s body and charts the effects through pictures. Somber, the women listen intently. They are not alone in their struggle.

In a study written by R.D. Fowler in 2005, the Human Rights Watch reports that “more than 50% of Bombay's prostitutes are infected with HIV, with India's red-light districts the primary vector of viral spread into the general population.” Based on the number of clients that utilize the services provided in the Red Light District on a daily basis, the watch estimates that hundreds of people are infected daily with HIV, with 160 million Indians infected and the death toll 10,000 per month by 2000.  

Students are doing their part to give back and reform India. Some students have humanitarian ideals, and even reach out to their community by volunteering via other NGOs, such as education-focused Vision Rescue or the Asian Slums’ Reality Gives NGO.

Student Smruti Gaddamwar saw a bus traveling by her neighborhood on its ways to the slums of Asia to provide schooling and a meal to children, and wanted to join them. The bus is part of Vision Rescue, and Smruti spends one day a week traveling with the bus, playing with the children and helping to serve the food.

“I believe in helping others and in helping India,” she said.

Even despite the varying perspectives on NGOs, the staff that works there believe strongly in what they do. The employees and local volunteers spend their time helping to interpret conversation between the local women and the international volunteers.

Rafique Shake is a man who calls himself a “born-again Christian” and embraces the scorn that his wife and family have placed on him for spending time working at Aruna. Even Johan Singh, a former soccer fanatic, now spends his life working full-time to love, care for, and teach the children of Aruna Kids, located in the heart of the Red Light District. Each of these individuals shows how they are making a difference and creating an impact in their community.

University of Michigan junior Chithra Rajasekaran, left her homeland of Bangalore at age of eight for the United States, returning to India to volunteer over the years.

“[Volunteering at] Aruna Kids was really hard for me,” said Rajesakarn. “Having them go back to their life, I felt kind of hopeless. I am thankful for Aruna, though, because it does give me a little bit of hope. It shows me that not all Christians are apathetic, and some are trying to do something to help. There isn’t going to be one magical fix, there isn’t going to be one organization that fixes everything. It’s going to take a lot of trial and error.”

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