The other side of dawn

Not Like Most Young Girls is a compilation of 18 short stories by NGO Aastha Parivaar. It opens a window into the unknown worlds of Commercial Sex Workers in the city. Dhara Vora hazards a look into the chapters of this less-trod life

'At 14, some girls like to take dance classes. Others dream of travelling the world � It was at Ellora Bar that I was recognised as a good dancer. A friend of mine knew a woman who sent good dancers abroad and so she put me in touch with her.

My passport and visa were arranged for by an agent, and I was sent to Muscat. I made many loyal customers along the way, sometimes seeing up to 15 of them in a day.'

Extracted from Not Like Most Young Girls
This is a tiny glimpse into the world of a commercial sex worker, through the just-released book Not Like Most Young Girls, a compilation of 18 short stories about the lives of Sex Workers in Mumbai and Thane by Aastha Parivaar, an organisation that works for the empowerment of this group.

Last year, the organisation had conducted a short-story writing competition, Faces along with three Mumbai-based educational institutions, Xavier's Institute of Communication, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Wilson College.

Through this competition, students were able to interact with people from the community and write their experiences in short story format, based on their conversations and time with them.
The competition received 42 entries, of which 18 were selected by a panel of judges, which included author and columnist Shobha De and veteran journalist Sathya Saran.

Face to face
"We wanted to increase the visibility of our organisation and also find a way to reach the general population and the younger generation. We thought Faces would be a platform through which we could be able to break the misconceptions people have about Sex Workers," says Seema Sayyed, Manager of Aastha Parivaar.

Not Like Most Young Girls compiled by Aastha Parivaar,
published by Jaico. Rs 250.

"A few of our members were open to talk about their lives to students. They had their inhibitions and were sceptical at first about the kind of questions the students would ask.

But after the two-three hour sessions, they felt as if they were communicating with normal kids; many of them even broke down during these sessions," shares Sayyed.

The book brings out riveting stories about the different trails that lead women, men and transgenders to being a part of the flesh trade due to reasons ranging from poverty and rape to sexual crimes and trafficking.

Certain stories like The Bus Stop by Arnesh Ghose, Dichotomous Lives by Anamika Dutt and Not Like Most Young Girls by Sharmeen Hussain make for stirring sagas of reality.

Not just the case studies, but the students also encountered life-changing experiences. Many of the participants still interact with the organisation and help with several on-field activities.

Cause  and Effect
Founded in 2008, Aastha Parivaar is a federation that works as an umbrella body for 14 Community Based Organisation (CBO) that work on the field in various sectors across Mumbai and Thane.

The organisation works with male, female and transgender sex workers. The main aim of the organisation is to educate the people from the community about safe sex practises and how to protect themselves from Sexually Transmitted Infections.

Apart from providing dignity to a community who has traditionally been shunned and down upon by the society, the organisation tries and empowers them by also teaching them alternate means of living. Family Health International (FHI) 360, which is a part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, supports the organisation.

Twenty-year-old Omkar Khandekar, a student of Wilson College whose story A Bedtime Story is a part of the book, recalls, "We were apprehensive at first since it was about someone's private life and how far could we prod.

But they were very open and accepted what they were." He adds that the experience helped them learn that there is a human side to CSW unlike in the movies were they are shown to be loud and abusing around.
If not for this competition he was pretty sure whether he would be able to interact with them; it gave them a view to the unusual and unseen psyche of Indian society.

The book will be officially launched on February 16. You can also mail to for copies.
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