“So, what, in your opinion, does a Red Light Area look like?”
The green-eyed young Founder was quizzing me, a new volunteer, on the distinct field of work I was opting for. She went on to answer her question as I merely shrugged in response, “I want every volunteer to be prepared for what they are about to see. It is not what they show in documentaries, nor could any movie do it any justice. The reality is far worse. You are exposed to savagery in its wildest and most unimaginable forms every day.” What came next hit me harder than I was prepared for! She told me she had witnessed a murder. “A girl once gathered up the courage to leave the brothel. She packed her bags and made preparations for the departure. Somehow the pimp got a sniff of what was going on and advanced to set an example for the rest of her workers.
She made her stand at the top of a very narrow, dingy and steep flight of stairs and kicked her rigidly. The fall proved fatal and none of the many customers or policemen came for inspection of the body. This happened right in front of my eyes and it took a lot of convincing at the Police Station to register an FIR, which obviously didn’t result in an arrest. But, oh, just look at the irony; I have to work with the same pimp in order to keep up the good work that I have started.” Noticing the horrified expression on my face, she sighed and continued, “I know you volunteers are idealistic. I just want you to understand that sometimes you have to get your hands dirty in order to pave the way for a bright future.” And with that I was welcomed to teach a bunch of enthusiastic “brothel-kids”, twice a week, whatever little I knew of alphabets and numbers.
Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment. It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation. –Rabindranath Tagore
A woman of about 29, Geetanjali Babbbar is a social worker who left her lucrative government job to set up a one-of-its-kind NGO in perhaps the most neglected and crime-prone area of the national capital. “Katkatha” operates in the famous 1 km stretch of the infamous GB Road of Old Delhi, with the motto of improving the lives of the most oppressed section of women in society as empowerment through education- both for the woman and her children- is aimed at. Her passion for the field developed when she was working with the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO). Her role then was to interact with the sex workers and ensure they were being safe- a seemingly impossible task in a world which exposes girls as young as 16 to sexual contact up to forty times a day. After several days of being forced out of the brothels and getting cold shoulder from the pimps, Geetanjali took to idling away hours just sitting in the dimly-lit corridors. One day a comparatively friendly pimp called her into her room and started asking her embarrassingly personal questions. Witnessing her shocked state, the pimp told her the crude truth which changed Geetanjali’s perception forever:
“You come here asking all sorts of questions about our sex lives while you felt uncomfortable answering my simple questions. How do you expect us to open up to you when you are not willing to shed your inhibitions?”
That conversation made Geetanjali realize that while she was waiting to befriend these girls, she had not accepted them as equals and was merely working with them on a superficial level, functioning with well-meaning sympathy at best. In the weeks to follow, work took a back seat as she took to connecting with the Didis on a personal level. It was in those aimless talks that a bond was formed that transcended all boundaries and it was for the boundless and unconditional love she received in the streets of the most abused and least loved, that made her quit her job when the government decided to transfer her to another city and start something of her own.
Dreams are always rosy. It is the materialization that changes their taste. With the birth of “Katkatha” began the uphill task of getting the Didis to believe in it. Next up was the immense challenge of getting the pimps to cooperate. Lastly, getting volunteers proved more difficult than imagined. The hypocrite society considers having anything to do with a red light area a big taboo while it is the same society from which thousands of men from all socio-economic backgrounds visit brothels daily. Today, “Katkatha” has successfully collected lion’s share of fan-following and respect owing to immense grit showed by Geetanjali and her team in the face of colossal adversities and the good work continues.