From the dingy alleys of infamous Budhwar Peth - the city’s red light area, Kalpana and Shama (names changed) along with five other commercial sex workers have started their lives afresh. Kalpana who had been sold by her husband in Budhwar Peth and Shama who was also forced into the flesh trade due to poverty are now in the business of catering.
The erstwhile sex workers now prepare food items and sell them in Budhwar Peth. Kalpana told MiD DAY that she doesn’t even know when she was brought in to the flesh trade by her husband. She is now happy to leave the profession and be engaged in a respectable occupation.
“My family accepted me after 20 years as soon as I left the profession. Now my nephews come to meet me. I have rented a room which I share with other sex workers who have also left the profession and work as domestic maids,” said Kalpana. Kalpana makes chapatis and sells them in the area and in her spare time works as a treasurer for city-based NGO Saheli.
Shama’s eyes glittered with happiness when she told us that her son-in-law was willing to forget her past and accept her as his family member. “My son-in-law accepted me as part of my family and was willing to forget the stigma. I left the sex trade just before my daughter got married,” said Shama. She said that poverty forced her to enter the flesh trade.
“I never wanted my daughter to enter the profession therefore I arranged her marriage although I wanted to give her a good education. However, I am happy that after spending 25 years in the profession, I am finally doing a respectable job,” said Shama.
Saheli has so far successfully rehabilitated seven sex workers by training them in cooking. Taking note of the rehabilitation work done by the NGO, the Women and Child Welfare Department has awarded funds to the NGO to help at least 10 more sex workers come out of this profession.
Talking about the rehabilitation project, Saheli’s director Tejaswi Sevekari said that around six months ago she sent a proposal to the WCW department, requesting officials to grant funds to rehabilitate more sex workers who genuinely want to get out of the profession. She further said that the department had recently accepted the proposal and sanctioned an amount of Rs 2 lakh for the work.
“So far we have identified seven sex workers who are in the age group of 24-40 for the rehabilitation. Apart from cooking chapattis and vegetables, these newly selected women cook snacks which are sold to shopkeepers and the other sex workers and residents of the area,” said Sevekari.
Probation Officer for WCW Reshma More said that the department has received five more proposals for funding, but they are all commercial organisations “It was for the first time that Saheli received a grant from government, therefore we didn’t consider the proposals of commercial organisations and immediately recommended the proposal to the District Collector,” said More.
Sujaya Dhavalikar, a professional caterer who will now train the sex workers, said that when Saheli asked her whether she could teach the women to make some food items, she immediately agreed. “Whatever their pasts may be, these women now want to come back to live a normal life and that is what is important for me. Apart from teaching cooking, I would also teach them how to maintain hygiene while cooking,” said Dhavalikar.