Observing International Women's Week, NGO Shree Sai Seva Sanstha in Bhiwandi organised an event called "Ek Meri Bhi Kahani" where 35 former sex workers who were forced into sex trade but have now managed to break free and work towards a free life of their choice shared their stories.
Most of them are victims of sex trafficking deceived by external agents for work or sold by own parents. All these women have been supported and provided with an alternative livelihood by Shree Sai Seva Santha.
Shree Sai Seva Sanstha is an NGO based in Hanuman Tekdi, a red light area in Bhiwandi which works towards providing a better life to the sex workers and their children.
The dignitaries at the event included Mr. Punyarthi from the Social Welfare department of Bhiwandi Municipal corporation, Ms. Pallavi and Ms. Rohini from the child protection office and a delegation from Matru Seva Foundation, an NGO focusing on holistic development of society. Matru Seva Foundation also spoke about the issue of drug addiction among sex workers with the attendees.
After the pandemic wreaked havoc across sectors, sex workers were left without any source of income as they could not continue the work due to the risk of covid transmission. Shree Sai Seva Sanstha saw this as an opportunity to help these women who wanted to leave sex trade and choose an alternative livelihood.
During this time, they also did a survey among 30% of the sex workers in Bhiwandi and published a report which showed that over 87% of the sex workers wanted to opt-out. In this event, 35 women discussed how they always had wanted an opportunity to leave sex trade and Dr. Swati Singh (Khan), founder of Shree Sai Seva Sanstha gave them this opportunity.
"No one should suffer in pain and that is my objective- to bring out my fellow sisters trapped in the cruel world of sex trade. We have organised this event to bring together a group of the former sex workers who had the courage to take steps to change their lives and will now be changemakers among other active sex workers," said Dr. Singh.
Rani (name changed), a former sex worker who is now into stitching and embroidery, said, "I was trafficked from Karnataka at a very young age and brought to the red-light area here in Hanuman Tekdi. I tried to escape several times but every time, I was brought back. With no way out, I suffered here until I met Swati Madam. From then on, there's no looking back. The way I was given this opportunity by Swati Madam, I would like to use my voice and this platform to help all my other sisters stuck in sex trade to come out of it."
In continuation of creating this platform, Shree Sai Seva Sanstha and the group of former sex workers have stated that they will continue to work towards ensuring all the sex workers in Hanuman Tekdi receive an opportunity to leave sex trade and opt for an alternative livelihood. They also plan to engage with Administration and elected representatives to provide alternative livelihood to sex workers.