Apne Aap Founder Ruchira Gupta writes for The Telegraph in the Bihar Safarnama series

Articles written by our Founder Ruchira Gupta, from the series Bihar Safarnama for The Telegraph.

Take a look using the links below:

Auto Ride Powered by A Woman’s Grit 

Why Smart is not Always Smart for India

English-vinglish: Language & legacy

Socialist legacy, Orwell & beyond

The victims of superstition across centuries & oceans

Future driven by glorious past

Idyllic setting, a life of ideals

Dream Soar Over Poverty

Nutty success story: makhana’s amazing journey

Nature’s bounty, poverty paradox

Weavers of history apt case for a museum of the living

Legacy of social justice, hope for change

What India can learn from Bihar

 

How our school in Bihar saves girls from Prostitution featured in Los Angeles Times

Check out Barbara Davidson’s visit to Apne Aap in this article in LA Times:

This school in India saves girls as young as 12 from the family business: prostitution

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Bihar Leads The Way
 
You can help:
1. Donate here to support girls to learn, play, and stay safe…
2. Tweet the following messages:
@ApneAap #Bihar #school saves #girls from #Prostitution by @photospice @ruchiragupta #ApneAap http://fw.to/KfJCJ0 donate www.apneaap.org
or
@ApneAap #Bihar #India #school saves #girls from #Prostitution by @photospice @LATimes @ruchiragupta http://fw.to/KfJCJ0
3. Facebook and email the link to your friends and family:
Do take a moment to see the compelling photos and captions by Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Barbara Davidson in Los Angeles Times on how
This School in India Saves Girls from Prostitution. The girls are not passively waiting for their future- they are playing, laughing, studying, happy…facing the menace of the world outside with joy and spirit.
4. If possible go to the comments section below the photo-essay
5. Instagram any of the photos crediting Barbara Davidson, LA Times.

Caption: LA Times Article on Apne Aap’s school in India saving girls from prostitution: http://fw.to/KfJCJ0 Support Apne Aap by visitingwww.ApneAap.org/Donate and share the photo with #ApneAap

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A blog written by Apne Aap team member, Juanita Kakoty, Documentation and Communication Specialist

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Blog 1 by Juanita: About the forced eviction at Topsia in Kolkata in 2012, where slum dwellers of about 2,000 people looked on as their homes were demolished without prior notice, without any legal procedure. Apne Aap and Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) made an assessment about the losses incurred by the evicted families and the vulnerabilities they have been subjected to, including the peril of being trafficked. This blog piece also covers the Delhi launch of the report.

Blog 2 by Juanita: On an open mike session conducted by Juanita along with Kari Egge (founder of Half the World) at the community in Najafgarh, Delhi NCR about a woman’s right to decide how many children she wants to have.

OPEN MIKE SESSIONS, sponsored by the Canadian High Commission

Open mike sessions were conducted with the girls on various topics at the Primary School in Najafgarh. A big session was held on the theme ‘Child Marriage’ commemorating International Women’s Day on 8th March 2016. Open Mike Session is an Apne Aap empowerment tool to encourage girls to voice out their opinions, their experiences on certain social issues.
The session was conducted by Juanita, who started it with a background of why we celebrate Women’s day.  After the introduction she talked about child marriage – the legal age, its implications etc and asked the girls to share their views on child marriage. The girls also shared personal stories of their sisters, neighbors etc who had gotten married at a young age. Story books were distributed among the girls who spoke out.
The session ended with a song on women’s freedom.
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These activities are being conducted in the primary school in Najafgarh, Delhi under the school adoption program sponsored by the Canadian High Commission

 

ART RESILIENCE WORKSHOPS: Various art resilience workshops conducted with young girls

From Old to New: Girls were taught to use waste discarded products like egg trays, old cloth, buttons, ice cream sticks etc to make figures, birds etc

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Who Am I?:  An art workshop where girls and boys were asked to draw their own faces by looking into a mirror, and asked to describe how they feelabout their own identity. Children used words like “Happy”, “Pretty”, “Naughty” etc.)

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These activities are being conducted in the primary school in Najafgarh, Delhi under the school adoption program sponsored by the Canadian High Commission

 

Sensitization Meeting With the Teachers, sponsored by the Canadian High Commission

Apne Aap adopted the Primary school in Najafgarh as a part of a project supported by the Canadian High Commission. After years of negotiation with the school authorities for the enrollment and retention of children, especially girls from Perna and Sapera communities, Apne Aap decided to equip the school with better infrastructure like a computer lab, library etc, and conduct various activities like art workshops, open mike sessions to ensure minimum dropouts.
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As a first step, a sensitization meeting was held with the teachers of the school explaining them our objective of working with the school. It was essential to sensitize the teachers regarding the plight of the communities, and to break the stereotypes related to the Perna community. The meeting started with showing a short movie about the issue of inter-generational prostitution, made from the eyes of a young girl. The meeting was attended by the Principal and all the teachers of the school. They ensured all cooperation to Apne Aap.
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Apne Aap supports Victims of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance against Amnesty

India’s Victim of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance (VOPPA)
and Survivor Speak, Maine, US
 has written to Amnesty International asking them to
stand by marginalized girls and women and not support pimps and brothel keepers.
Apne Aap shares their letters below.
Sign the CATW petition to Amnesty here to support their campaign.
Click here to hear Salma, the co-convener of VOPPA, a prostitution survivor.
Victims of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance1 No Shastitala Road
Watgunge Police Station
Kidderpore
Kolkata-700023
Ph.033-32585060/32511503

Dear Amnesty India,

We are members of the Victims of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance in India. We would like Amnesty International to include our right not to be prostituted in their upcoming resolution. We are from the most marginalized section of society. We are poor, female and low-caste, often from groups labeled as nomadic tribes under British colonialism and from minority religions.

We would like Amnesty to recognize that our prostitution is an absence of choice and not a choice.  We request you as Amnesty India to take into account the lived experiences of the most marginalized low-caste and poor women and girls in India who want protection from our exploiters, not their impunity. We want you to call on states to invest in our basic needs. Our basic needs are our “human rights”.

Our prostitution is based on us being the most marginalized and weakest in society -the “last”- due to the fact that we are poor, female, low-caste and teenagers. We are facing the multiple inequalities of class, caste, gender and age. Our rights are violated in every way before we are prostituted and when we are in prostitution.

We are kept out of school, sold into child marriage, domestic servitude and child labour and then finally pimped into prostitution. In prostitution we live in debt bondage, with our debt increasing, not our income as we move into our twenties. We are finally thrown out when we are in our thirties and no longer commercially viable.

Our old pension is disease, trauma and the multiple wounds due to the violence done to our bodies by pimps and clients. The pimps beat us when we say no to standing for long hours on the street, or don’t want additional customers in the same night. The customers are buying violence -they stub cigarette butts out on us, push rods into our bodies, slap us, piss on us, break our arms and punch us.

Amnesty is known for protecting the rights of prisoners. In prostitution, we are imprisoned by pimps and brothel keepers. We are subjected to mental and physical torture. Our mobility is controlled by psychological abuse and brothel managers actually sitting at the door of our brothels to monitor our movements. We cannot even decide when to stand or lie down. We suffer from sleep deprivation.

We are also imprisoned by our debt bondage. Over the years our debts increases and the income earned off our body decreases. We don’t earn an income, we earn disease and trauma. It is the brothel owners and pimps who earn an income from us.

In the guise of protecting our rights from police harassment and detention, your resolution is giving impunity to our prisoners.

You will end up legitimizing our exploitation as work, and give legally acceptable status to those who torture and imprison us. You will also give states the easy way out and an excuse not to invest in ending our marginalization or looking at the violation of our human rights.

As a human rights organization we ask Amnesty the question: Do you stand for the commodification of human beings?

Submitted by:

Asma Begum and Salma Ali, co–convenors, Victims of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance, India,

Munshigunge, Kidderpore, India

Survivor Speak

Education, Advocacy, Mentoring, Organizing

 

 

 

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

How can you, Amnesty International UK, claim that a person of age is able to choose

sex work as a livelihood, and also understand that they are the most marginalized group in the world?

How can the women who are being presently exploited in the commercial sex industry, that are far removed from being organized, and who remain unseen and neglected by the rest of their community, have a voice or be a stake holder when they are consistently ignored? Why are you not seeking out these exploited women? Is it because you do not see them or know they exist? These women walk the streets of my city, as sex buyers seek them out and they seek out sex buyers, in order to meet their basic needs of housing and food, and, for some, support their addiction. They are the ones right at the threshold of trafficking.  They are involved in the commercial sex industry, and are being exploited daily, even though they do not meet the legal definition of sex trafficking.

“If you truly understand the marginalization of the majority of those in the commercial sex industry, and how groups that experience the most discrimination and oppression are overrepresented, you would know that calling us “a chosen at will sex worker” is most harmful.  Calling this harm a “choice” prevents us from being able to access needed social services such as healthcare, housing, and long-term recovery.”  No one recognizes these women, my friends in Boston, in Maine, and in Canada, who don’t fall under the legal definition of “sex trafficking,” but are still facing sexual exploitation, as anything worthy of assistance. They are the least of the least. There is no one trying to provide a service and path for them to exit the street.  In the street outreach that I do, I connect with these women who are stuck at least every other day. When I have asked them, “How would you feel if we arrest the sex buyers?” they say, “Don’t arrest them, because I won’t be able to make money if you arrest them.”  However, when I have asked them, “If you had another way to live, if you could be provided with everything you need to exit the street, housing, access to recovery, education, and counseling, would you still want to do this?” they say, “No, I would not want to do this anymore, I would want something different.”  So, a lot of the perspective depends on how you ask the question.  Along with this, it is important to recognize that for most of these women these needed services are completely unavailable, which is why they continue to remain in the commercial sex industry. It’s not a choice, it is a lack of opportunity, a lack of choice. These women are in the commercial sex industry because they are so marginalized, they have no access to anything. These women know these services are unavailable because they do not meet the legal definition of human trafficking, and they’ve told me this. They have no choice. How will legalizing and regulating the commercial sex industry provide these choices and these opportunities to these women? How are you listening to and advocating for these women?

I and my street outreach partner are friends and sisters to the women you are wanting to call “sex worker” with the sex worker definition in the draft of your policy. They are not organized, and not there by their choice, in the sense of what are the choices. I, myself, am a survivor, and like these women, I ended up in the commercial sex industry because I believed I wasn’t worth anything else. I lived out of choices created by outside influences.  My family, my community, and my culture groomed me from childhood to believe that this was what I was meant for.  Like these other persons, I didn’t choose commercial sex.  Society and the systems around mepushed me into it. Legalizing commercial sex and calling it a “choice” ignores these societal, systemic forms of oppression-sexism, racism, economic inequality-that creates and fosters the path into this industry.  You list all of these forms of oppression in your draft policy, yet continue to state that commercial sex is a choice for these women.  How can this truly be a free choice? Oppression is not a choice.

I am against the criminalization of those being exploited in the commercial sex industry.  I am not arguing for the arrest or prosecution of these persons. However, decriminalizing the individuals and systems that are oppressing them-the pimps, traffickers, and sex buyers-will do nothing to help these women, will do nothing to bring systemic change, will do nothing to provide them with justice.  The Nordic model which was used in Sweden, which decriminalizes those who are being exploited in the commercial sex industry while still prosecuting those doing the exploitation.  The Nordic model provides education to law enforcement about approaching individuals in the commercial sex industry with dignity, justice, and humanity and provides resources and services for these persons to give them more choice.  While the Nordic model is not currently in place in Maine, law enforcement here has taken a stand against criminalizing these persons and are actively advocating for them to receive more services and resources.  How does legalizing all forms of the commercial sex industry provide more choice and opportunity for these persons than the pre-existing Nordic model does?

Amnesty International is one of the most respected human rights organizations in the entire world. Your decisions about this policy will influence many other important actors in this field for the foreseeable future.  This decision will influence policy creation and funding and other resources around the world. I am asking you to remember these women, who, like me, do not have a choice, those whose voice is not heard at the table of these policy discussions.  Remember those who are not organized, who do not have advocates, who are being exploited daily, even though they do not fit within the legal definition of sex trafficking. You are speaking for them without recognizing them. I am one of these women, and it has taken years for me to find my way to the table of these policy discussions. I am only just now learning more about your organization, what you do, and the power and influence you have. After years of work and experience, I am still far removed and excluded from discussions at organizations like yours. You will never hear the voices of many of the persons who will be affected by your policies.  It is your responsibility to put the needs and perspectives of these persons first in decision making.  The voices of these persons may never make it to your policy table.  They are the least of the least, unheard and ignored by those in power.  Unless you learn who these persons are, what their daily life is, you cannot be inclusive in your decision making.  You are excluding their voices and perspectives from the table.  If you knew who these persons were, you would not adopt this policy and call their oppression a “choice.”

I’m sure the stakeholders that I know stuck on the street engaged in turning car tricks and trick houses here in Maine, Boston and Canada WERE NOT a part of your SOLID RESEARCH and consultation.

OPPRESSION IS NOT A CHOICE

Dee Clarke,

Survivor Speak

a grass roots organization

educating advocating mentoring organizing

for systemic change for sexually exploited prostituted                                                 

victims and survivors

 

Week-long Theatre workshop held in Apne Aap’s Delhi Office!

Kriti Sharma, the Creative Director of The Theatre Collective, ran a theatre workshop from the 29th of June to the 3rd of July with a group of approximately 15 girls from Najafgarh in the Apne Aap office in Delhi. The workshop ran Monday through Friday every day from about 3 pm to 5 pm.

The first day Kritheatre workshop 4ti aimed at establishing a sense of trust and security with the girls and started the workshop off with crazy dancing, encouraging the girls to move freely and let go of any tension. Afterwards, she made everyone sit in a big circle for the next series of activities: she would ask a question and then throw a ball to one of the girls, and after answering the question, she would pass it on to someone else. This way everyone got actively engaged in the activity and slowly started to open up as the comfort zone was being established. The first question was “what do you love most in this world” and many answered “parents”, “siblings”, “cousins” whilst others were more philosophical, saying things like “honesty”, “friendship” and “studying”. The next step involved telling the person to your right what you like most about them, thereby creating a wonderful environment of appreciation and affection.

Kriti htheatre workshop 3ad by now laid the first stepping stone and was ready the next day to start with the theatrical aspect of the workshop. She divided the girls into two groups and instructed them to enact a scene of “kids having fun at school.” Both performances cleverly started with the school bell ringing and with the girls running into the playground with big smiles on their faces and using their scarves as jump-ropes or balls. The next scene now had to involve a “problem” of any kind; the first group came up with a teacher beating his students for not completing their homework and the second group showed one of the girls getting injured on her way home.

Time ran out so the third day the workshop started with the two groups re-enacting the two scenes, though this time Kriti asked the girls to think of an even “greater problem”, one that is deep rooted and not only causes physical pain, but also psychological discomfort. The theatre theatre workshop 2workshop was aimed at dealing with child sexual abuse but Kriti had never mentioned it… all on their own, the girls chose “greater problems” that addressed the issue of child abuse. One group depicted a scene with a male teacher holding one of the schoolgirls back and then trying to inappropriately touch her. The other group instead showed a girl coming home from college and being eve-teased by guys on the street, which lead the mother to forbidding her daughter from going to study. The final scene had to portray a solution to the problem or a way of coping with the issue at hand, so the first group decided to close their performance with the schoolgirls standing behind the victim as they decide to go to the principal and then addressing the audience with a powerful question: “are you also supporting me?” The solution in the second group was a representative from Apne Aap coming to the home of the victim and persuading the mother to let her daughter go to college since education is a fundamental tool in the path of self-empowerment.

The girls continued rehearsing their scenes all of Thursday and were ready by Friday for the big performance. With a wonderful audience of about 15 people from Apne Aap and the neighbouring office, the girls totally rocked their performance! The girls professionally acted out their roles and proudly received “Certificates of Participation” and a small children’s book at the end of the performance, whilst the entire audience was enthusiastically clapping along. And to top it all off, there were samosas as a treat for our young actors and the wonderfully supportive audience!

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Comic book workshop held in Apne Aap’s Delhi office!

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On July 2nd 2015, 15 girls participated in a comic book workshop in Apne Aap’s head office, conducted by Ram Devineni, Producer, Director and Co-writer of the Priya’s Shakti comic book.

The girls were taught basics of drawing a body and a face and how to use speech and thought bubbles. They were also taught how to draw a comic book poster. The girls drew their schools, their family etc. They were enthusiastic and did a great job!

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Urgent Help Needed for Girls and Women in Nepal

Urgent help needed in Nepal after devastating earthquake

Apne Aap’s main center in Forbesganj is only 14km away from Biratnagar in Nepal. A devastating earthquake has hit Nepal and Apne Aap needs to start a soup kitchen and get clothes and water there. Women and girls are sitting in the open with their families and they urgently need our help.

Earthquake hits Nepal - 25 Apr 2015

Photograph: News Agency/REX Shutterstock via The Guardian

Dear Friend,

A 7.8 magnitude earthquake has hit Nepal, killing over a thousand people. According to the United Nations over a million people may end up without shelter. Aftershocks are still occurring. During disasters women and girls are disproportionately affected. We work 14 km away from Nepal in Forbesganj, Bihar and have partners rooted in communities in Bihar and Nepal. We need money for food, soup kitchens, medical supplies, clothes and to run safe spaces for women and girls.

Please make a gift. Your support is urgently needed so that Apne Aap and its friends and partners can support women and girls in Nepal during this devastating crisis.

Thank you,

Ruchira Gupta

Founder, Apne Aap Women Worldwide

To read the article in The Guardian: Click Here

To read the article in The New York Times: Click Here

 

You can donate online by clicking here

Checks can me mailed to:

Apne Aap International

Peck Slip Station

PO Box 916 New York, NY 10272