Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Journey of a sex-worker- Excerpt from 12th International Sex Workers' Freedom Festival, Kolkata

Jayamma started working as a sex worker way back in 1999. It was financial constraints in her family that led her to be in such a profession. Being married to a person who spent all the money on liquor, life had become difficult to sustain. She came from a poor family and was married off at an early age. Due to financial problems, her parents could not continue her education. Hence it was difficult for an uneducated lady like her to find a respectable job. Her husband was an alcoholic and she had to run the family. Finding no other way out, she jumped into this profession.
“Initially it was not easy for me to adapt to the certain change in my lifestyle and the surroundings. The thought of abandoning the profession came several times into my mind. But then I thought, what would I do after that? Who would feed me? How shall I run my family? These questions used to haunt me like anything and never let me leave the work I had started. But gradually I adopted and fitted well in the so called ‘dark’ world. Eventually I got to know the difficulties of the sex workers that they were facing in their lives,” said Jayamma B. sitting under a tree shade and fanning herself with a Japanese fan at Swabhumi. She had been in town recently to attend the International Sex Worker’s Freedom Festival. She represented her Community Based Organization, Chaithanya Mahila Mandali which happens to be the largest CBO for sex workers at Andhra Pradesh.
She was into prostitution for around 6 years and it was in the year 2000 that she felt the need to do something for the sex workers that would help them lead better lives. She felt that collectively she and her co –workers could actually do something for themselves and for the many other women suffering like them.
“Andhra Pradesh accounts for ten percent of the sex workers in India. Like in any other region, sex workers over here also have to face social boycott. They are always seen in a bad eye. This sums up the problems of the sex workers. They do not get the opportunities to make their lives beautiful. Hence I wanted to do something which would help them establish their lives in a refreshed way. I also wanted to establish a strong platform that would help us fight for the rights of the sex workers,” says Jayamma.
In Andhra Pradesh, young girls, especially from poor economic backgrounds, are lured into sex trade. There have also been cases when a young girl is married off to her first maternal uncle as per their tradition and then the man abandons her. In such cases, when these girls have no other way to earn money they are compelled to go into sex trade.
Archana Rao,technical documentation officer, CARE-India, a capacity building organization operating in 70 countries states, “We have been working with CMM since 2010. Our organization was impressed with the kind of work CMM was doing. Hence we decided to offer onsite capacity building trainings to many such upcoming CBOs and NGOs in the state in collaboration with CMM. We have been working in collaboration since then. It has brought welcome changes in the scenario. Today trafficking has decreased manifold in the region. Minor girls forced into sex trade are rescued and they undergo rigorous counseling. They are given vocational trainings. CMM has many such programmes such as candle making, pickle making, sewing, phenyl making. We also impart onsite mentoring to other CBOs and NGOs through CMM. It’s a large scale rehabilitation program that is conducted. It was all started by CMM.”
Chaithanya Mahila Mandali is the 1st CBO for Sex Workers in Andhra Pradesh. Jayamma abandoned prostitution and inspired many others like her to do the same. It had not been an easy start for them, since the Indian society has always shunned sex workers.
“Initially people were apprehensive in believing in our goals. They did not want to cooperate with us and that was quite obvious. But I never lost hope. I was prepared to face denials from the society. Even the media looked down upon us in a bad eye. Who would come to lend a helping hand to people who are sex workers? But gradually when we formed a strong group and people came to know of our efforts, we did get recognition. Media since then has played a great role in focusing on our activities and letting people know of the kind of work we are doing. Eventually the police also cooperated with us in several ways. Now the government also holds rehabilitation programs for the sex workers in collaboration with us. Isn’t that a great achievement?” Jayamma says with that proud grin over her face.
Lately, CMM has been granted a special category of the Sarva Shiksha Aviyaan by the Andhra Pradesh state government for the educating the “second generation” categories, i.e the children of the sex workers. None of them want their children to be in this profession. They want them to be educated and lead respectable lives. CMM looks into this quite minutely that these children are not affected by their mother’s profession and get the best out of life. It makes it a point to get them educated and be a better human being. Extracurricular activities are also arranged for these children to incite confidence and sportsmanship spirits within them.
 Jayamma, today, is a well known figure for her rehabilitation works and the service she has been silently providing to the society

Gender No Bar- A transgender speaks at the 12th International Sex Workers' Freedom Festival, Kolkata

Ruksar Mirza stays at Charminar bazaar, Hyderabad. She is 26-year-old. She has been staying here since she was 19. Her monthly earnings are around Rs 8000 a month out of which she sends Rs 4000 to her old mother every month. She has 2 sisters and a brother. Though her brothers are earning well enough to feed their families they do not offer any financial help to their mother. Its all Ruksar who alone looks after her mother. Every weekend she takes her mother to some restaurant because she cannot meet her mother at her very own home.
“How shall I meet my mother at my home? I am not allowed to even enter into my locality. Forget about outsiders, my own brother shuns my presence in the home. But my parents loved me a lot. My father was always by my side till his last breath. In fact he always had this feeling that he could not do much to help me live a better life,” says Ruksar. Ruksar is a sex worker. She is a transgender.
Born an eunuch to Muslim parents, life had never been an easy ride for Ruksar. Right from her school days she has always been shunned by the people around. It was only her parents who were always beside her. Though due to financial constraints in the family her father could hardly do anything for her.
“When I was at school, my classmates always made fun of me. They would ask me derogatory questions. My teachers at my own school were cooperative. I hated going to school due to such reasons. I wanted to study further and earn a respectable position in the society but back then I did not know that being an eunuch would earn me such difficulties. Still I continued my studies but the jolt came during my matriculate examinations when the invigilators at the exam venue misbehaved with me. The teachers even made fun of me. I was greatly disheartened and could not appear for the rest of the examinations,” laments Ruksar.
Applying kohl over her eyes and gearing up for the warming up session to be held for the sex workers at the International Sex workers Freedom Festival at Swabhumi. Ruksar and many more like her attended the festival and represented their respective CBOs and NGOs. Of late, many CBOs have been started for the all round development of the eunuchs, male sex workers and transgenders.
 Suraksha, a Hyderabad based CBO is one of them.  Ruksar is now employed at Suraksha as one of its volunteers. Suraksha was founded in the year 2004 by a collective group of male sex workers and transgenders. Since then it has been involved in various reform programs such as engaging the MSM and TG sex workers in various vocational training programs, arranging large scale HIV and AIDS awareness programs for the community people. Ruksar has also been sponsored by Suraksha when she wanted to undergo the sex change surgery at the age of 19.
Since she could not continue her education, she decided to take up some work to support her family. Her father arranged a job for her at the same printing press where he worked. But even there she was badly humiliated. She then took up job as a domestic help at a clinic. But she had to face insult over there also.
“I still hadn’t lost hope but when I was denied to apply for a voter card just because I had an indefinite sex, I was broken. I felt as if I had no identity. I was just 15. It was that moment when I decided to be a sex worker,” says Ruksar.
Eunuchs have always faced difficulties in living a respectable life. Ruksar was no exception. But she had the spirits to still fight for her rights. The bitter experiences made her more determined to fight for her rights.
In her words, whatever the gender is, why should one be denied to live as a human? “Is it my fault that I was born an eunuch? It is all natural. If I being a 10th grade dropout can understand this fact then why not the educated mass? Why do we still have to face humiliation in public places? Even we are human beings. We are also born to a family. We love our family. But sometimes the societal pressure even does not allow living peacefully with one’s family.”
“When I came to know of Suraksha, I contacted them they offered great help and relief. The counseling programs helped me attain mental peace. When at the age of 19, I decided to undergo a sex change surgery, it was Suraksha which funded most of the money. Out of 60000 rupees spent for the surgery, 40000 rupees was granted to me by Suraksha,” Ruksar says.
Since then Ruksar has been associated with the CBO meant especially for the transgenders. Life has been a pleasant journey for Ruksar and many more like her after joining Suraksha. They get paid on a monthly basis for the various volunteership programs they are involved into.
Ruksar’s father expired two years back and her aged mother stays alone at her home. Her brother does not allow her to meet her mother. Hence Ruksar arranges to meet her mother at places away from her home.
In a country, where transgenders are still fighting for a dignified position in the society, Ruksar has set an example for many like her in leading a respectable life. She will serve as an inspiration for generations to come. It's high time that we stop shunning these real-life bravehearts and treat them with respect.

Through a common man's eye

VV impact example 1-Zaffar is a Muslim afghan born in India. His family had to flee Afghanistan back in 1978 due to the Russian invasions. Zaffar stays at Kolkata currently and manages his sports based nonprofit. He plays rugby and through this he helps children bond across cultural and communal barriers. With parents of Afghan origin he has been brought up in India and learned to value the ethics and celebrate the festivals of his community. He is quite proud to be a member of the Kabuliwala community that swept into Kolkata in the late 19th and early 20th century. But the localites  hardly know of their culture which they are proud of. It was Zaffar who narrated the story of Kabuliwalas to the world through his video. Zaffar is a Video Volunteer correspondent.
VV impact example 2-There was a time when Choki village in Limdee Taluka of Gujarat, a Dalit habituated area, did not have proper water supply. The women of the village had to walk miles and miles every day to fetch water for survival. The area which is particularly dry has no water resource nearby. The villagers had to fight to get ample of water to survive. But back in 2010 came the welcome change with the long struggle of the village women. They decided to fight for themselves and appeal to the authorities to provide proper water supply to the village. They formed a small group under the leadership of Kanta Ben, a member of the same community and approached the district collector also filing a complaint to obtain water, in accordance with the law. Though initially they did not get the required response yet later the authorities were forced to listen to their water woes and install a water supply pipe to the village.  It all started after a screening of a video by a local CVU Apna Malak Maa (In our Land) that led to the enlightenment of the villagers.
With the utter commercialization of mainstream media all around, the focus has moved to yellow journalism. The society misses out the factual pegs that account for a greater part of the society. What the masses are basically concerned for is politics, power, corruption, economical problems, page 3 news etc. the mainstream media hardly gets to touch down to the real life issues other than incidents of murder, corruption, theft or molestation. Knowingly or unknowingly they have always tended not to touch the reality at the grass root level. The problem lies in us. We always tend to forget the very fact that there are certain sections of the society which form an integral part of the system. Yet they are looked down upon in either ways. And so has the media. Especially in a developing nation like India, one can never overlook the problem of caste system prevailing since ages or the gender discrimination faced by women in the country. We talk, we debate but how many of us actually get involved and imply actions to improve conditions?
Of late numerous NGOs have come forward in solving such issues yet much more coordination is needed. But the unique strategy that Video Volunteers has initiated implied and executed is one among many. An international community media organization that equips men and women from the underdeveloped areas with critical thinking, creative, activist and video journalism skills has actually helped many backward communities in exposing their underreported stories  as well as take appropriate action to fight against poverty,untouchability, injustices or caste system prevailing in the society. India happens to be the country where the largest network of salaried community video producers sustains under this organization. What started as a small community based program by US journalist Jessica Mayberry has today become a globally based program operating in various nations with the backwards communities.
Their main aim is to empower the people from their targeted group of backward communities. In a society where only 2% of the rural part is touched by the media and the rest 98% only moving to the urbane news, such an organization has worked wonders in terms of educating and empowering those looked down upon. It has also been successful in bringing issues to the core and bringing remarkable reforms to the lives of people. The videos act as the tool to create changes and empower men and women.
 The issues covered by them are versatile. It may be the problems faced by members of Dalit community in some remote village not being provided access to drinking water or it may even be women in an area facing gender discrimination.
As Siddharth Pillai, Communications Manager, Video Volunteers, India says, “Most members of the target groups are illiterate and uneducated. Most of them are school dropouts. Hence the concept of Video creation came into inception. Its easy on their part to learn the techniques. Its also easy for the trainers to train and teach them the know how within a short period of time.”
VV partners with citizen groups by sending professional filmmakers as volunteers or trainers to train community leaders, preferably women. Basically each community video unit has four reporter and producer who are trained to report, shoot and edit. Each unit has access to four cameras, a TV, a VCR, editing software and a wide screen projector for outdoor screening. Monthly video magazines containing news, documentaries, local culture and arts, tips and vox pop segments focusing on issues important to them and their communities. The projector travels from one village to the next, viewed by as many as 20,000 people per month.
How often is It that one gets to see women from India hosting documentaries or a once upon a time farmer from rural Gujarat hosting a video focusing on issues faced by his Dalit community? But such is the mission of VV and had been its soul mission since its inception-to empower the poor and forgotten people, to give them the opportunity to tell their stories to the world and above all, to themselves.
The importance of community media is supported by studies such as the World Bank’s 1999 “Voices of the Poor” which states that people worldwide identified “having a voice” as their No. 1 need above food and shelter.
As Bhan Sahu, a Video Volunteer correspondent from Chhattisgarh says, “I had been associated with social work such as women empowerment work since I was 15. But I did not the right weapon to fight against all odds. It was back in 2010 when I got to know of their training camp being held at Ahmadabad through a Lucknow based friend of mine who also happens to be a journalist that India Unheard would be holding such a camp. At the very mention of it I knew that I should attend this camp. After the rigorous 14 day training, I had nurtured more and I had the instinct to fight fearlessly. What Video Volunteers has given me is worth acknowledgeable. It has changed the way I approached my goals.”
Bhan Sahu has been associated with VV since 2010 and since then it has been a never ending association. She is widow with two grown up children. She has been associated with such NGOs much before her marriage. But after her husband expired things became difficult for her as she did not have much money to sustain and feed her children. It was VV that gave her the right weapon,as she calls. With the training that she acquired, she now very effortlessly makes videos of isssues related to her community, provides them to VV and in return gets paid also for her worthy work. Its benefits have acted manifold for her. She can both highlight her some social issues related to her community through mainstream media, many of which have been resolved as a result of her efforts and her NGO-,there is spread of awareness also among the people of backward classes regarding resolution of problems faced by them.
“VV has become my voice. My in laws were very apprehensive regarding me working as a social worker and they had snatched the only piece of land that my husband had left for me. But with earnings from VV,I fought the case and won my land back. Though it’s a very small piece of land, yet it acts a big piece of contentment for me. Today my NGO, the people of my village and many surrounding areas are quite aware of VV as there have been many changes in our area due to the videos that I have broadcast. Petty issues such as dowry problems, gender discrimination and caste system have been resolved to a great extent in my area. Today not a single woman over here is a victim of gender discrimination or dowry torture, repartees Bhan with that glint of pride in her eyes.

As is Mayberry’s dream, to produce a legion of “barefoot filmmakers” most of whom cannot read or write yet would be able to tell their stories round the world.