Providing A Future To The Bright Lights
“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen, can change the world,” states Malala Yousafzai. The taboo that we place surrounding the lives of the sex workers is not a myth. We flinch at the idea of their choice of living, judging their every action, every choice. What we fail to understand is that these vulnerable individuals are the victims of their circumstances, desperately trying to survive in the hard reality of a harsh world. Owing to our narrow perception of the lives of the sex workers, we not only cringe at their situations but look away from anything that is remotely associated with them. Adding more to that, we assign our demeaning perceptions to their children as well. It was not long before that people undervalued the importance of providing these unfortunate children with education and better lives. Today, however, there are people and institutions that dedicate their work towards providing these children with rehabilitation and a better future. Mumbai’s Priti Patkar and her NGO, ‘Prerana’, work for the all-round development of the children of Mumbai’s red light areas, preparing them for a brighter future away from the darkness of the alleys in which their mothers work.
Becoming The Guiding Light In The Dark Reality
The unconventional path of a career that Priti Patkar chose might not have been easy for her, but it sure has made the lives of those she works for easier. Having graduated from The Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the woman with a gold medal in Masters of Social Work has devoted her life and her work into rescuing and protecting the women and children who have been the prey of trafficking in human bodies and of commercialized sexual abuse. Through her brain-child, her NGO ‘Prerana’, Patkar pioneered groundbreaking social reforms like establishing the foremost Night Care Shelter in the heart of Mumbai’s Kamathipura red light region. ‘Prerana’ is also responsible for the implementation of a wide-ranging Education Support Programme for the all-round development of the children from the red light areas, and the incorporation of an ‘Institutional Placement Programme’ among its other noteworthy works. Till this day, the lives of more than ten thousand children have been retrieved from the red light region of Mumbai through appropriate education and a quality life, made possible by ‘Prerana’.
The Conception Of Prerana
When a young Priti Patkar after the completion of her post-graduation visited Mumbai’s red light area in 1986, her mind remained baffled. The drudgery and the horror that she witnessed inside the lanes of Kamathipura shocked her. However, there was one thing that took away the ground beneath her feet–intergenerational trafficking. Patkar found three generations of the same family –the grandmother, the mother and the child –all three trying to sell themselves to customers. It was understood that the children born in the red light area were brought up and groomed to be a part of the flesh trade like their mothers, or at least to be a part of the trades that are relatively associated with the commercial trade of sex.
Patkar was determined to make a difference in the lives of these children when she spoke to their mothers, the sex workers. Each of the mothers wanted her child to deserve a better life, one that is filled with dignity, far away from the sex trade. They wished for their children to be educated and to be admitted to the municipal school inside Kamathipura. In those days, approximately 300 thousand to 500 thousand Indian children worked in the prostitution industry. While the United Nations Convention on Children’s Rights Convention (UNCRC) was figuring out the rights of the children being trafficked into other red light areas, Patkar realized that there was no place for the Kamathipura children in that discussion. Thus, was born ‘Prerana’, enrolling the children of Kamathipura into schools and ensuring the prevention of drop-outs.
Today, ‘Prerana’ has about four-night care centres that bear a total strength of about 250 children. The children enjoy facilities like field trips, counselling, gender programmes, education, and are trained in life skills, science, dance, music as well as magic. They are also provided with comprehensive medical check-ups once a month. The mothers of the children are also provided with counselling, health check-ups along with sessions on effective parenting.
Changing Lives: The Success Stories Of ‘Prerana’
With a motto that says, “Give complete education to children and enable them to face the world”, ‘Prerana’ has helped many children achieve milestones that they could hardly imagine they were capable of. A 16-year-old Rohan had to witness his mother suffering from HIV. Although Rohan’s mother was able to leave the sex trade for a short period of time when Rohan started going to school, she had to return to the industry owing to poor financial conditions. ‘Prerana’ aided Rohan in his enrolment at a good school where he secured 57% in his 10th standard examination. The school tuition fees of Rohan were taken care of by the members of ‘Prerana’, who also helped him in the financial aspects of his college admission. Along with his studies, Rohan volunteers as a teacher working part-time for the evening study sessions at ‘Prerana’, for which he receives a stipend of one thousand rupees. A commerce student, Rohan, can be termed as an all-rounder. He is a singer, dancer, painter, actor and an athlete.
Mr Tom Verner, one of the partners of the organization, praises Rohan as he says, “This boy has so much style. If he was to wear an outfit made of rotten leaves or if a barrel was to be put around him, even then he would look stylish and stand apart. He is one of those individuals who have that edge within them.”
While talking about the success stories of ‘Prerana’, 22 years old Sahil deserves his own place. Sahil was a resident of Mumbai’s two red light areas, Falkland Road and Kamathipura. Sahil was a regular at the Night Care Centre since the beginning. He never failed to attend any evening study session. With a zest to participate in every activity, Sahil emerged as a team player with excellent leadership qualities. ‘Prerana’ sponsored half of his school tuition fees when Sahil was promoted to the 10th standard. Securing 53% marks in his 10th standard examination, Sahil went to study in the commerce stream. Thereafter, Sahil’s mother left prostitution and started her own business. A dutiful son, Sahil, helps his mother in her business and looks after his physically challenged younger sister. Sahil completed his 12th boards with 75% marks and enrolled at a night college with Commerce as his major.
There are many such Rohans and Sahils that ‘Prerana’ has seen flourish from the ashes. Busting the myths and taboo surrounding the lives and children of the sex workers, Priti Patkar’s ‘Prerana’ has taken on the noble venture of making a difference in the unfortunate lives of the invisible young minds hiding behind the dark alleys of the Mumbai streets. Reaching out to these victims of a harsh fate through no fault of their own, “Priti Tai” of ‘Prerana’ has surfaced to be a messiah.