After talks with brothel owners, Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open Univ set to start short-term certificate courses designed to help sex workers and transgenders rehabilitate themselves

At a time when education is becoming big business, here's an example of a university that believes in taking learning to the masses and not differentiating between its students. In a bid to rehabilitate and empower marginalised sections of society like sex workers and transgenders, the Nashik-based Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University (YCMOU) is introducing certificate courses for the community at minimal fees.

Education is power: Sex workers in the Budhwar Peth, the red light
district in the city

Dr R Krishnakumar, vice-chancellor of the university, said that it was his idea to start these courses. He said he had made a promise to the Governor at the time of his appointment that he would start courses to rehabilitate these marginalised sections of society.

Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University vice-chancellor Dr
R Krishnakumar. File pic

"We started a pilot project in Nashik for sex workers, where we first introduced them to the basics through a preparatory course for six months. It taught them the alphabet, basic arithmetic and communication. We planned to later move them to short-term certificate courses, but the response wasn't good as the brothel owners or senior sex workers didn't cooperate and forbade the girls to attend our programmes," said Krishnakumar.

Refusing to give up his efforts after the experience in Nashik, the V-C decided to take up the initiative in the city. He contacted several NGOs working in the sector and set up meetings with brothel owners in the city to convince them about the importance of the programme.

"To our surprise, brothel owners here agreed and even wanted a programme for sex workers as they knew this means of income wouldn't last forever. Through talks, we realised what their needs were and we have decided to start a short-term preparatory course for them as well as some of the sex workers, who have never been to school," said Krishnakumar. "Later we will introduce short-term certificate courses for the girls which would be credit based and, if they wish, the credits can be transferred and they can continue to do a diploma course as well."

Ask him about employment prospects after the course and he admits they are not too bright. "We do realise the stigma attached to these students and that's why we will focus on empowering them to take soft loans from nationalised banks and starting their own business. We believe in giving them the expertise and skill sets as well as the confidence to take this important step," said Krishnakumar.

Another area of interest for Krishnakumar was starting vocational courses for the transgender community and helping them set up small manufacturing units. "We are currently contacting peer leaders from the community and identifying pockets in the city where they are based. Our counsellors and trainers will go into these areas to teach them and we are working out the details," said Krishnakumar.