Growing up in a neighbourhood where women eventually become sex workers to earn their daily living, can be scarring, more so, when you are ridiculed for the colour of your skin and sexually molested by your own father.
Eighteen-year-old Shweta Katti, who was born and brought up in Mumbai’s red-light area, Kamathipura, faced all of this, and more. Despite the adversities, she not only managed to overcome her demons, but to also earn a place in the prestigious Bard College in New York to pursue Psychology with a $50,000 scholarship. Now, she needs help to finance the rest of the money for her education.
“Growing up in Kamathipura was tough. Often, men would ask if I wanted to sleep with them,” reveals Katti, adding, “My family lived on the top floor at Pila (Play) House in the infamous Falkland Road; where the ground floor was used for prostitution. So, I grew up among prostitutes.”
Hurdles all around
Katti was born out of wedlock. She never knew her real father. Although her mother did marry, Shweta’s stepfather wasn’t the ideal father she hoped for. “He began abusing me when I was 11 years old. It was a nightmare.” He stopped after she confided to her mother, but it was far from over for the teenager. She was bullied for her skin colour at school and home. “School kids and neighbours would call me “Kaali”, and make fun of my skin colour. My father would also pass lewd comments at me,” she reminisces.
Her mother’s efforts and financial help from Apne Aap, a women’s collective, ensured that Shweta never withdrew from her studies. After attending a Marathi medium school till Class 7, she joined the Chikitsak Samuha Shirodkar High School where she studied till matriculation.
She then joined SNDT College. Around this time, fights at home had become more frequent. Her alcoholic stepfather would return home drunk and fight with Katti and her mother. “He didn’t like me, or what I was doing. It was impossible to study in those conditions,” she adds.
The years of bullying and abuse had also turned her into a girl with a very low-self esteem, and she began missing lectures. “I never went to attend college lectures - I was afraid that my classmates would mock my skin tone, and since I studied in a Marathi medium school, I was unsure if I would be able to answer questions. I didn’t want to be made fun of, again,” she recalls.
But thanks to a residency from the NGO Kranti and help from the college, Katti managed to appear in all her exams and complete her HSC as well. Today, she not only speaks fluent English, but also participates in various leadership training programmes to improve her communication skills. “I need approximately $18,000 to cover living expenses, housing and the rest of the tuition fees in the US. If that happens, after completing my studies, I would like to start my own charity organisation to help girls like me get over the mental trauma and get a good education,” she adds. A fundraiser has been organised by Ketto and American Alumni Association to help Katti raise money for her education.