Ending the cycle of enforced prostitution in Mumbai | Connect Asia

Ending the cycle of enforced prostitution in Mumbai

Ending the cycle of enforced prostitution in Mumbai

Updated 5 November 2012, 15:35 AEDT

A Melbourne-based NGO has teamed up with an Indian organisation, to support women and girls trafficked into Mumbai's red light district.

Asha Global and its founder, Emily Hanscamp, have teamed up with the Apne Aap Women's Collective, an Indian grassroots community organisation working in the Kamathipura neighbourhood of Mumbai.

Asha Global has been raising funds for the AAWC.

AAWC director, Manju Vyas is currently on an Australian visit, talking about both organisations' mission to assist trafficked women and their daughters, and how Australians might help break the cycle.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Manju Vyas, director of the Apne Aap Women's Collective, in Mumbai

VYAS: Kamathipura is a well-known, world famous red light area of Mumbai. Not only just Mumbai, but India or Asia, you could say, because it has the largest number of brothel-based prostitute women, who're working there, day in and day out. It's centrally located in Mumbai and women from all over the states of India, south India specifically, like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka going over there, border of Maharashtra. In neighbouring countries we could say, Nepal and Bangladeshi women are also coming over.

I'm here in Melbourne on a speaking tour, to create an awareness about the women with whom we've been working, because the group which we've been working in prostitution are the most marginalised, and they're the victims of trafficking. So, to create an awareness, that's one goal. Secondly, also to know the Asha Global organisation, who's been supporting us, in terms of fund-raising. So to create awareness of Asha Global, to create awareness of women's issues. I'm here to talk about it.

These women have not come into this profession on their own or willingly. They've been forced or trafficked here, in the pretext of getting good paying jobs in Mumbai, and they're from extremely poor backgrounds. Extreme poverty was the reason behind how they got lured, or why they've fallen prey to the traffickers. They don't know anybody out here and in fact, they've been kept as sex slaves for years together, and they have to pay back the debt to the brothel-owners. And language is a second barrier, because they don't know the local language, so they can't escape or leave.

LAM: But the work of the AAWC (Apne Aap Women's Collective) is basically, to try do what you can in this little pocket of Mumbai, rather than to address the very nebulous and huge issue of trafficking?

VYAS: Absolutely, absolutely. First and foremost, our motive or objective is to provide care and support for the women and their social development. So that once they're debt-free they have some kind of skills and in case they want to leave the profession and wish to have something else as a livelihood option, they should have the opportunity. So that's one objective. And we're trying to prevent second generation prostitution, so that at least their daughter should not end up doing the same thing, because they were staying with their mothers in the brothels, which is the house also.

LAM: So part of the plan is to break this destructive cycle, that children born into Kamathipura will have an opportunity to leave?

VYAS: Absolutely, absolutely, we want to prevent and stop this inter-generation prostitution.

LAM: So what kind of work do you do, in this Red Light district of Mumbai?

VYAS: Specifically with the children and daughters - we're focussing on daughters - we have education programmes, enrolling them in schools. Actually, enrolling them in school is not that easy because there's alot of stigma attached to them, as our public education system and public health system is very discriminatory towards these girls, these children. Then we have our own medical programmes, we have own nutrition programmes because these children are highly malnourished or under-nourished because their mothers are not able to look after them, due to their erratic work hours, discipline and routine.

Besides, we have a vocational training programmes for them. Once these girls will have job skills training and some kind of vocational skills, we help them in getting jobs placements also.

LAM: So as far as you're concerned, what is a good result, in this very very bleak situation?

VYAS: There was one girl, when I first joined this organisation in 1999, this six year old - when I asked her what she wanted to become in life - this innocent girl, she gave me a shocking reply, she said she wanted to become a brothel-owner, because up to her best impression, the most influential person in her life, is the brothel owner.

LAM: That's the top of the pecking order, as far as she's concerned?

VYAS: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. And the best part is, this little girl right now is working in a 5-star hotel as a junior chef.

LAM: That's wonderful, isn't it?

VYAS: Yes, that's the impact of the programme, we can see that it's been having on these young girls.

LAM: What's the attitude of city authorities in Mumbai towards women working in the red light district?

VYAS: The majority, or 'normal' society in Mumbai don't know why these women are here. They have a generalised impression of these women, that they have come into this profession on their own, which is absolutely not correct. They simply just put discrimination or stigma against them.

LAM: So they just label them 'bad girls' basically?

VYAS: Absolutely, absolutely.

LAM: But are the city authorities doing anything to fight the traffickers, to address this problem of trafficking?

VYAS: Actually there's a law pertaining to it, but the efficacy of that law has alot of lapses, which the state government needs to address too. Then only some effective results might come out of it, but so far, the impact is not that good.

The biggest problem, or the challenges we're facing back in Mumbai, is people due to stigma attached to this community, they're not so ready to support us financially. They don't understand that we need to have staff for the development programmes, to implement them, to plan, to monitor, to gauge the impact of the programmes and so on.

LAM: So for our listeners, what's the most useful thing they can do, to help you in your cause?

VYAS: They can support us, by supporting our staff wages and development programmes - that would be a big help to us.

LAM: So donations are a big help?

VYAS: Absolutely. Yes, definitely.

LAM: Manjy Vyas, Thanks very much.

VYAS: It's my pleasure coming here, thank you so much!

And if you wish to support the Apne Aap Women's Collective and their work in breaking the cycle of enforced prostitution, visit www.aawc.in or donate at AshaGlobal.org

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