Mumbai sex workers' daughters get support from US, none from India

Sex workers’ daughters from Kamathipura have directed and scripted a play which they are slated to perform in various cities in the US from next week; while Americans have come forward to pay for everything from their hotel stay and domestic flights to their food, Indians have not given the one thing they were asked for plane tickets to the US

Its station of origin may be Kamathipura and oceans may separate it from its destinations, but that is not going to prevent the Lal Batti Express from making stops at New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington DC and San Francisco this month onwards.

The girls say the play’s name, the Lal Batti Express, refers both to red-light areas and VIP beacons, and symbolises their journey from the margins to the mainstream
The girls say the play’s name, the Lal Batti Express, refers both to red-light areas and VIP beacons, and symbolises their journey from the margins to the mainstream

Directed, scripted by, and starring 13 daughters of sex workers from one of Asia’s largest red light districts, Lal Batti Express tells their story and those of their mothers, and is about to make these girls the first from Kamathipura to stage a play in the United States. They may also appear on the Ellen DeGeneres show and visit the White House.

The girls themselves have been subjected to beatings by abusive fathers and some of them have even been molested by their stepfathers
The girls themselves have been subjected to beatings by abusive fathers and some of them have even been molested by their stepfathers

If people come forward to pay for their flight tickets to the United States that is. In a matter of shame for the city and the country, Americans have come forward to support the girls and have agreed to pay for all the expenses that the girls will incur during their stay in the US, but Indians have not given the girls the only thing that they had asked their countrymen for: plane tickets to the United States.

Missed opportunity
The first staging of the play is supposed to take place on May 9 in New York, but it’s nearly impossible for the girls to get the tickets before that. They are, however, hopeful that they can make it for the later stages of their itinerary. They will be in the United States till June 15.

The girls are supposed to visit New York, Washington DC, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Two to four performances of the play are supposed to take place in all these cities, after which they are supposed to visit NGOs there. The girls are slated to perform at the Field Museum USA’s most famous natural history museum and a South Asian domestic violence shelter in Chicago.

Other performances include one at the CBS TV studio in Los Angeles and at three Hindu temples across the US. Some tentative plans include a visit to the White House visit, an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show, a performance at the Indian consulate in Chicago. The costs for all of these have been borne by Americans. A visit to the Niagara Falls was also planned, but they may have to miss that if they miss out on the first screening in New York on May 9.

Outpouring of support
“In the past two weeks, an airline in the US has agreed to take care of all of our domestic flights in the US and a group of supporters on Facebook has rallied to donate everything else on the girls’ wishlist: A Chicago pizza dinner, tickets to a Broadway show in NYC, a visit to the Sears Tower in Chicago, Indian food in all cities and $2,500 in restaurant gift certificates,” said Robin Chaurasiya, co-founder of NGO Kranti, which the girls are a part of.

The only thing the girls lack are plane tickets to the US. “Plane tickets were the only thing we had asked Indians for. Everything else our hotel stay, food, entertainment have all been donated by Americans,” she said.
“I’m not trying to guilt anyone, but the thing is there’s been an unbelievable outpouring of support from the US.

Granted, many of the benefactors are Indian-Americans, but there are others too. I read recently that the Indian hockey team needed tickets to fly to a tournament and those were given to them by generous Indians. Why on earth is India not proud enough of our girls to want to support their journey?” said Chaurasiya.

Telling it like it is
The girls, who call themselves Kranti Girls because they are part of the NGO Kranti which helps educate daughters of sex workers so they can get into professions of their choice say the play’s storyline is very close to the story of their lives. They say they have heard their mothers tell them how circumstances forced them into the profession or how they were sold to brothels against their wish.

The girls themselves have been subjected to beatings by abusive fathers and some of them have even been molested by their stepfathers. The Kranti Girls said they wanted the play be a true snapshot of their lives and that all these incidents have made it to the story. Even the play’s name has been carefully chosen. The Lal Batti refers both to red light areas and the beacons atop VIP cars.

The girls say the world may not see them as VIPs, but the title (with its train component) symbolises their personal journey from being members of one of the most marginalised sections of society to reaching mainstream society through theatre. Danish (16), who has played a sex worker in the play said, “I'm excited about this play because I want to show the world what kind of problems we, and our mothers, face.

Today, I live in mainstream society and go to a mainstream school. I get angry when someone talks rudely to me or looks down at me. But, then, I remember that my mother — and the mothers of other girls in the play has to live like this all the time and I try to see things from the perspective of a sex worker.

Our play is only one hour long, but I hope the American audiences can get a better idea of the lives of sex workers through it.” “Knowing that someone wants to listen to my story and learn from my past is a wonderful feeling. I hope Lal Batti Express’ message will reach many people because the play has begun to help us already.

I am so happy to see that, through theatre, all the Kranti Girls’ public-speaking abilities are improving and their confidence is growing,” said 19-year-old Farah, who is acting in the play. “For me, the message of the play is that people shouldn’t judge others just because they don’t know or understand them. We hope that people will feel that they know us after watching this play, and that they won’t judge others like us from then on,” she added.

To help
People who wish to donate can log on to https://www.globalgiving.org/microprojects/lalbattiexpress/ or https://milaap.org/campaigns/lalbattiexpress or contact Robin Chaurasiya on 9757353449

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