Apne Aap was founded by twenty-two women from Mumbai’s red light district, with a vision of a world where no woman could be bought or sold.
The twenty-two women who founded were the subject of Ruchira Gupta’s Emmy award winning documentary, “The Selling of Innocents,” which exposed trafficking of women and girls from Nepal to India. During the production of the film, the women formed a connection with each other that ended their isolation and gave them the strength to resist their situation.
When filming completed, the group continued to meet informally in parks. The respect they received when acting as a group and the strength of their collective bargaining inspired them to create a legal structure to support their vision. Apne Aap registered as an NGO in 2002 in Mumbai, India. Through the efforts of a board member, Apne Aap was given a room in an abandoned municipal school on Falkland Street, the heart of Mumbai’s red light area. This room was a safe place to converse, sleep, repair torn clothes, bathe and receive mail. It was also a place to hold meetings and classes.
In the following years, Apne Aap’s vision and impact grew. Members reached out to other women trapped in prostitution and organized self-empowerment programs in Bihar, Delhi and West Bengal, where Apne Aap is currently working in local communities.
Though all of the twenty-two founding women have since passed away from hunger, suicide, and AIDS-related complications, Apne Aap’s work continues. Self-empowerment groups across the country meet at Apne Aap community centers, safe spaces where women and girls can gather, access education, improve their livelihood options and receive legal rights training. Today, Apne Aap’s work reaches over 21,000 women and girls and continues to work toward making the vision of the founding twenty-two women a reality.