Youth create video for World Toilet Day 2014

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A Stop on the Writer’s Journey

 

 

Anne Ch. Ostby

   By: Anne Ch. Ostby

Sometimes, life shows you a stop on the journey, and forces you to get off the bus. Makes you stay there and see what’s going on. It forces you to get your priorities in order; compels you to take stock of how you spend your time and your life’s energy.

Meeting the Nat women in Forbesganj, Bihar, was my stop. The first time I met Meena, Fatima and the others, I was unaware that this would be the first step of a long trek that would eventually lead to me writing a novel. Intrigued and impressed by the work of Ruchira Gupta and Apne Aap, I had accepted an invitation to visit their centers. Ruchira’s ambitious challenge for my visit became, ”You can write a book about it!” This at first seemed too daunting, but a book was what eventually developed. A chance meeting in Tehran in 2007 led to the researching, writing, and publishing of Town of Love, a fictional account of human trafficking and inter-generational prostitution based on countless narratives shared with me by the women in Prem Nagar, Kolkata, and the Apne Aap staff working with them.

We have all heard the stories of trafficking. We have seen the documentaries, read the news articles. So why did Forbesganj become such a sudden stop on my journey? A stop that changed me as a writer and a human being? Because, in Prem Nagar it was the heart of the mother that spoke to me. Having three daughters of my own, it was the anguish of the fellow mothers that I encountered that brought the tales of the women on to the pages. When I asked any one of them about their dreams for their daughters, the answers were almost always the same: ”I want a different life for her.” I realized in those moments that I could not just listen to their stories and then get up, thank them politely, and walk away. I realized their stories needed to be shared; again and again, in different formats and different forums, until the cruelty and indignity of human trafficking is exposed, talked about and condemned by all.

So I kept coming back. I kept asking questions, kept nagging the incredibly patient, incredibly resourceful Apne Aap staff for help with details on everything from food and crops to the meaning of names. I kept listening to the women. And though the stories of Tamanna, Amina, Rupa, and Fauzia may not exist exactly as you read them, the essence of them is painfully, brutally true.

Their stories have traveled a long way now. From its first publication in Norway in 2012, the book has reached audiences in Australia, New Zealand, the US, the UK, Slovakia, and India (English version: Prem Nagar, Supernova Publishers). It has been presented at literary festivals and events in Norway, Australia and Fiji, and the Prem Nagar women’s stories will soon challenge audiences at the Ubud Writers Festival in Indonesia.

I am both sad and proud to be presenting these stories. Sad that they exist and demand to be told, but proud and grateful that the incredible and courageous women who I met trusted me to tell their stories. And I will keep telling them for as long as it takes.

Town of love 1

Buy Anne’s book “Town of Love” on Amazon today.

“Town of Love” Book Review Mentions Apne Aap

Wales Art Review

by  B.J. Epstein

Town of Love by Anne Ostby tells a story that arguably has not previously been discussed quite so openly, beautifully, and sorrowfully in literature before. It is a depressing read, yes, but it also has a welcome aura of hope, and belief in the human spirit. Human trafficking and prostitution are issues that must get more attention; while this novel is set in India, this is not just an Indian tale. Early on, the narrator notes; ‘Principles were a luxury that no one in Prem Nagar could afford.’ Again, this could apply to many other locales around the world. Continue Reading…

Sex Workers Use Elections to Find Voice

Wall Street Journal

Indian politicians are courting women in this year’s national elections, but one group of women still feels ignored: sex workers.

Decades of being snubbed and harassed by the police, the government and the general populace have convinced many sex workers there is no place for them in the political process.

“Most sex workers feel, ‘what is the point of voting if none of the parties have anything in their manifestos for us?’” said Seema Sayyed, manager of Aastha Parivaar, a Mumbai-based federation of sex workers.

The Congress Party’s Rahul Gandhi has called for the empowerment of India’s women and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi has promised “security to every mother and daughter.” But sex workers feel the promises are not directed at them. Continue Reading.

Absence of Choice: Untangling captives from the web of human trafficking

Boise Weekly

The victim had been testifying for hours, and through the whirlwind of anecdotes, digressions and tears, Ada County Sheriff’s Office Detective Ryan Pacheco had pieced together enough information to start verifying her story about being forced into prostitution. Her body advertised and sold to johns over the web and via word of mouth, she had escaped an organized sex ring to find safety and tell her tale–but a few traces of the life she was trying to flee remained, giving police hints they could follow back to their source. Continue Reading.

Sex workers protest against sexual violence on V-Day

India TV

Kolkata: Protesting against the rising crime against women in the country, sex workers and their daughters yesterday took part in street plays and dances in and around the city’s red-light area on the occasion of Valentine’s Day.

Around 70 women from the red-light areas of Sonagachi and Munshiganj took out a procession on a two kilometre stretch in Khidirpore as part of the global One Billion Rising campaign to end violence against women and promote gender equality. Continue Reading.

Field realities from denotified tribes: Apne Aap organizes a talk about the exclusion, deprivation and state of discrimination of the tribes

Swati and RuchiraNew Delhi, 10th February, 2014:- Apne Aap Women Worldwide, a registered charitable trust in India committed to work towards the empowerment of girls and women today organized its seventh session of ‘Terrace Talks’ at their head-office at India International Centre, New Delhi. The talk was chaired by Swati Chakraborty, Head-Monitoring & Evaluation at Apne Aap Women Worldwide. The discussion revolved around ‘Field realities from denotified tribes’.

The ongoing study on the educational status of de-notified Tribes by Apne Aap Women Worldwide in the states of Delhi, Rajasthan, Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar and West Bengal clearly shows that these communities are still treated as outsiders by society and discriminated and victimized by authorities. Suspicion and traditional stereotyping (as criminal) is still a standard yardstick with which these communities are looked at. This is due to both conventional belief as well as ignorance about them among the authorities as well as the general public.

The session further delved around the findings of the study, where Swati and the team found  that young girls were seen as a financial resource and often  kept as security with brothel owners for a specified time period against a specified amount in case of familial dispute.  It threw light on the incidents when poor families have been forced to use their daughters more than once. There are endless stories of extreme exploitation of young girls and women .One member of Kanjar communities told the study team: doh hi chiz to bikte hain. ek hain aurat r ek hain zameen. hum logo ke paas to zameen hain nehi—toh aurat hi bech te hain.Aur keya kar sakte hain. (Two things can be sold—one is women and other island. We do not have land so we sell our woman. What else we can do).

Participating in the discussion Abhilasha Kumari, Director Apne Aap Women Worldwide said, “Many of these denotified tribes practice inter-generational prostitution which is the extreme form of exploitation of young girls. Being an anti trafficking grassroots organization, Apne Aap came into the picture largely because we wanted to create an impact about this practice. We consider that every child that is put into prostitution is trafficked. We realized most of the people didn’t know about denotified tribes so we took the help from ICSSR. ICSSR has supported this research and provided us with authentic information and evidence. These findings will help us to develop, strategies and policy formulation for the development of these communities”.

Elucidating on the denotified tribes study , Swati Chakraborty highlighted how across the states, despite being extremely poor and low on all human resources indices,  this study found that de-notified communities are not entitled to the various government schemes meant for the poor and backward communities. There is abject poverty among them across states. Police find it convenient to hold these communities responsible for any crimes both in rural and urban areas. Speaking at the session, she said It is very easy to show  through statistics  how many children are not attending school, but the reason why they are not going or what  are the factors that are pushing them away can  only be known by having a field experience and by conducting studies of this kind”.

The session concluded with the audience discussing various measures to implement the much needed reforms towards the cause of these tribes.

Excerpt: The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader

Live Mint

Prostitution isn’t the oldest profession. It’s the oldest oppression. One barrier to fighting both prostitution and sex trafficking is the false notion that there has always been this kind of inequality. In a patriarchy, some women are sexually restricted to childbearing and keeping the ruling race or caste “pure,” while others are sexually exploited for sex only or for producing more workers. But when European colonists arrived among the five hundred or so tribes of North America, they wrote home about their shock that “these savages” didn’t rape, not even their female prisoners. Columbus himself wrote home his complaints when conquered Native women fought against becoming sexual slaves to his crew. Continue Reading.

Notes on a Tour of the Indian Women’s Movement

New York Times

MS. GUPTA : Walking through the red-light areas of Sonagachi or lobbying in Albany for the New York State laws against human trafficking, Gloria and my life have interwoven into shared writing sessions,  rallies, meetings, dinners, books, conversations, late night phone calls across continents, brainstorming and sometimes movies. With her, I have experienced how movements move and how immense the feminist movement is.

I was excited about the new wave of feminism that hit the streets after the December 2012 gang rape in Delhi. I wanted Gloria to see how the movement was really moving in India, and to share Gloria’s courage and hope with my fellow protesters. Continue Reading.

As if Women Matter: The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader

Edited by Ruchira Gupta

Published by Roopa ( English)

Rajkamal ( Hindi)

Her early years in India taught her the Gandhian lesson that change, like a tree, must grow from the bottom up. Her decades of work with the feminist movement in her own and other countries taught her that violence and domination are normalized by the false division of human beings into subject and object, dominator and dominated, “masculine” and “feminine.”

Now, Gloria Steinem and activist Ruchira Gupta in India have chosen from her lifetime of writing those essays that reach across borders. She shares the feminist revelation that racism, caste and class cannot survive without controlling women’s bodies, and also many of the ways that feminist women and men are fighting that control. Due to female infanticide, child marriage, forced childbirth, domestic violence, sex trafficking, sexual assault in our streets, sexual assault in war zones, femicide and global pornography, this Space Ship Earth no longer has an equal number of female passengers. Consciousness has never been higher, or rebellion more widespread. This book is part of a much larger global rebellion. It includes a brand new essay by Steinem on sex trafficking: The Third Way-An End of Trafficking and Prostitution: A Beginning of Mutual Sexuality.

In its pages, you will find ideas, outrage, seriousness and laughter — and a friend

If you are in the area, consider attending the following events:

Monday, January 13, 2014: As if Women Matter: Hopes and Challenges in the Years Ahead: A Conversation between Gloria Steinem and Activists Teesta Setalvad, Vimal Thorat, Ayesha Kidwai and Jayati Ghosh, and Ruchira Gupta, followed by Q&A with students. Hosted by School of Social Sciences (SSS), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi at SSS Auditorium, 3:00- 6:30pm

Tuesday, January 14, 2014: As if Women Matter: The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader, Book Reading by Author. Hosted by Oxford Book Store at N – 81 Connaught Place, New Delhi, 6:00-8:00 pm

Wednesday, January 15, 2014: As if Women Matter – The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader, Book Release, followed by a talk with Ela Bhatt. Hosted by India International Centre, New Delhi at the Auditorium, India International Centre, 6:30-8:00 pm

Friday, January 17, 2014: The Essential Gloria Steinem: A Conversation Between Gloria Steinem and Ruchira Gupta. Hosted by Jaipur Literary Festival, Jaipur at the Diggi House, Jaipur, 12:30-2:00 pm

Thursday, January 23, 2014: Talk: As if Women Matter: New Challenges in the New World Order, moderated by Ruchira Gupta. Hosted by Patna Women’s College, Patna University,  Patna, 3:00 pm

Saturday, January 25, 2014: Inauguration of Kolkata Literary Meet by Gloria Steinem, followed by a conversation between Ruchira Gupta and Gloria Steinem at Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata. Hosted by Kolkata Literary Meet, 1:45-3:15 pm

Monday, January 27, 2014: Talk: New Freedom Struggle: Women’s Rights in India, A Conversation between Gloria Steinem, Ruchira Gupta, with the students of Presidency College and Jadavpur University, moderated by Nilanjana S. Roy. Hosted by Kolkata Literary Meet at Victoria Memorial Hall, Kolkata, 1:45-3:00 pm 

Thursday, January 30, 2014: Women’s Rally at Araria Mahila College Ground, Bihar, 12:00-3:00 pm