Stop Judging, Start Including: Daughters of Mumbai’s Sex Workers

The girls talk about challenges they had to overcome to become students, entrepreneurs & carriers of social change.

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Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia
Cameraperson & Producer: Smitha TK

(This article was originally published on 21 February 2020. It has been reposted from The Quint's archives to mark International Sex Workers Day.)

If one were to talk to 19-year-old Jayshree, they would develop a sense of appreciation for life. Jayshree was born and brought up in Mumbai’s red light district. She says that as a child, she was angry with her mother, but today she wants to start a school in the area.

She is among the many girls who are the daughters of sex workers in Mumbai’s Kamathipura district. Jayshree has been associated with NGO Kranti, that tries to empower women who are survivors of trafficking or are rescued children of sex-workers.

The Quint spoke to these girls to know about their troubled childhoods and the challenges they had to overcome to become students, entrepreneurs and agents of social change.

These daughters of sex workers  have been associated with NGO Kranti that has been helping women who are survivors of trafficking.
These daughters of sex workers  have been associated with NGO Kranti that has been helping women who are survivors of trafficking.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

‘Was Told That My Mother is Not a Good Woman’

Jayshree had a tough childhood, but she was a bright child who beat all odds.

“When I was 10 years old, my father passed away and a step dad came into my life. And from there everything became a mess.”
Jayshree
Jayshree had a tough childhood, but she was a bright child against all odds.
Jayshree had a tough childhood, but she was a bright child against all odds.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Then, she came to Kranti. It was here that she began view the red light district with less disdain and shame. “I was always told that sex work is bad and my mother is not a good woman but after coming to Kranti I gained a different perspective. Whatever she did, she did for the family. For us,” she told The Quint.

Jayshree aspires to open a school in a red light area. She has been teaching theatre to girls dwelling in the slums.

Grit Personified

Sandhya was born and raised in Mumbai’s Falkland Road, a street where many brothels are located.

She said her childhood was the darkest period of her life and she used to wonder what her college friends meant when they talked about their school days being ‘so memorable.’

“My mother was a sex worker and my father was in the military but I did not get to see him that often. I was raised by transgenders and other sex workers,” she said.

Sandhya talked proudly of how she was always taken care of by a ‘community of mothers.’

“There was this one customer who was asking how much I would charge for a couple of hours. Then, a woman who came that way, pushed him off and said, ‘This is my daughter, stay away.’”

Sandhya is a poet and wants to pursue a career in creative writing and psychology.
Sandhya is a poet and wants to pursue a career in creative writing and psychology.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
“We have never been hungry. Even if my mom isn’t there, there is this other person who will make food for me. If my mom is beating me, then some person will come and say, ‘Hey you can’t beat her up, this is my child too.’”
Sandhya

Sandhya is a poet and wants to pursue a career in creative writing and psychology. She is currently studying at Ashoka University and has recently passed her semester examinations with flying colours.

The Power Sisters

23-year-old Tanya and 19-year-old Mehek are sisters.

“We were supposedly a very happy family. But we discovered after a while that we were staying with our step-father. We got to know that my mother was beaten by him every other day and she ran away from my house. said Mehek.

At such a young age, Mehek has understood how women need to give each other strength.
At such a young age, Mehek has understood how women need to give each other strength.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

After a few years, Tanya confessed to Mehek that her childhood too was marred with bad experiences. “She ran away and I supported her because that's what was best for her,” she added.

Tanya then returned home and the two sisters moved out to start a better life.

Today, Mehek is studying in one of the best schools in Mussoorie. Tanya, on the other hand, is a licensed Zumba instructor who teaches in slum areas. She wants to become a flight attendant someday.

After a few years, Tanya confessed to Mehek that her childhood too was marred with bad experiences.
After a few years, Tanya confessed to Mehek that her childhood too was marred with bad experiences.
(Photo Courtesy: Smitha TK/ The Quint)
“I always feel motivated by thinking about all the worse situations I could have gotten into.”
Mehek

The Soon-to-Be Globe-Trotter

Twenty-two-year-old Ashwini’s mother put her in a hostel at the age of eight. She disliked being there and wanted to see the world.

“I ran away from my hostel and was like a fugitive for three years. Before this, I had never traveled alone. I had never stepped out of the house. Never even crossed the road,” she said.

But while she was traveling, she realised there were so many good people out there who warmly ‘opened their homes and hearts for her’. She recounted how even when a search team was looking for her, the strangers whom she lived with stood by her, supported her and took care of her.

22-year-old Ashwini’s mother put her in a hostel at the age of eight. She disliked being there and wanted to see the world.
22-year-old Ashwini’s mother put her in a hostel at the age of eight. She disliked being there and wanted to see the world.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Ashwini aspires to be a globe-trotter and she says that if a genie would offer her a wish, she’d ask for ‘a paid holiday for a lifetime.’

‘Stop Judging, Start Including’

Today, these Krantikaris are known across the world for their street play, ‘Lal Batti Express’ (Red Light Express). The play is not simply a presentation of events and involves interactive elements based on real-life experiences.

They’ve been performing the play for over five years now and even staged it at Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Recently, the girls performed in Chennai, as part of an event by The Kindness Project. The founder of the project, Mahima Poddar said that the way the girls narrated their true stories, helped the audience understand their challenges. She explained how the girls just wanted to be ‘included’ and not be treated differently.

Robin Chaurasiya, co-founder of Kranti explained how the problem with the society is that it does not want to absorb young girls from such backgrounds.

“Homes keep the girls until 17-19, then after they finish Class 12, they don't know what to do with you. So either they help them go on with higher studies, which I've never seen in my life, or they will kick you out. Maybe get you a job or in many cases, the girls run off with their boyfriends and get married. Or in the worst case, go back to their community to do sex work,” she said.

Robin Chaurasiya, co-founder of Kranti explained how the problem with the society is that they do not want to take in teenage or young adult girls from such backgrounds.
Robin Chaurasiya, co-founder of Kranti explained how the problem with the society is that they do not want to take in teenage or young adult girls from such backgrounds.
(Photo: Smitha TK/ The Quint)

Robin added that it is essential that these girls are given the support system lest they become victims of ‘unhealthy practices like cutting themselves, drinking themselves to oblivion.’

Today, with the help of theatre, poetry, music, art and therapy, these young girls are bravely fighting the trauma. Their appeal to the world is to ‘stop judging them’.

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