Youth create video for World Toilet Day 2014

This video was made possible by a mixed media project funded by the French Embassy Cultural Fund.

 

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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.

The Diary of a Social Worker

May, 7th 2014

This is the diary of Shweta Khattar- Jr. Program Officer at the Delhi Field Office in Dharampura. Last week Shweta partook in the rescue of a 15-year-old girl who had been forced into prostitution by her abusive husband. This is Shweta’s telling of the events.

“Prem Nagar Centre is around 8 kms away from Apne Aap’s Delhi field office. The center is within the village community of Perna, which practices intergenerational prostitution wherein young girls are married off early at a bride price, which the groom’s family pays to the bride’s family. Once the girl has her first child, then her own family members push her into prostitution. Through this method, the girl is exploited and the family recovers the money.

In April 2014, a teacher at the Prem Nagar Centre was approached by one of the girls, *Rachel, who complained of being sent to her in-laws forcefully. After being beaten by her brother, she complained again and explained her painful story:

When *Rachel was 12 years old she was married off by her parents, and her mother-in-law forced her to serve the clients at the family’s home-based brothel. One day, *Rachel hid in a train’s bathroom and ran away. She reached her former home in Prem Nagar hoping that she would be safe. To her shock, her brother beat her black and blue; her mother scolded and threatened her; and her family forced her to serve clients. Her mother warned her that regardless of where she stayed, this is what she would have to do.

Her fate was being decided by ruthless people who had put a price on her body. This is when she approached one of the teachers at Apne Aap’s center.

The teacher brought the picture to Apne’s field coordinator and me. On 10th April (the day of elections in Delhi), *Rachel started calling the teacher, pleading for help because she was being forcefully sent back to  her in-laws. Apne’s Aap’s community mobiliser and the teacher engaged with *Rachel, rushing to talk to her at the center. Finally, a complaint was written down on Rachel’s behalf, which she signed.

The Apne Aap staff took up *Rachel’s case relentlessly. However, beyond the staff’s best efforts, *Rachel was sent back to Patauda to live with her husband and in-laws.

But we didn’t give up.

On 25th April, we scheduled a meeting with BBA, a prominent India NGO that fights child trafficking, to understand the legality of *Rachel’s case and seek their support. On May 5th, a team of 8 people left Delhi to rescue *Rachel.

A police force was arranged for us, and the protection officer was called right away. We left for the rescue at 2:30p.m. A convoy of 4 cars arrived at 3p.m. and *Rachel was identified and rescued. Her husband was taken into custody.

*Rachel was shining her brightest smile looking at us. She was brutally beaten an hour earlier by her husband, but at that moment, she was filled with joy to see us. She knew she had been saved and went in to put her dupatta on, ready to leave behind the shackles of her brutal family members.

It was 3:10 p.m. – everything had changed in a split second.

Since her rescue, *Rachel has been placed into a safe children’s home, and Apne Aap is filing charges against all of the accused in the case.

On the day of *Rachel’s rescue she told our Apne Aap staff: “I knew my didi would come and save me, I had complete faith and you did”. 

 

*name has been changed.

Curie Review Interview with Founder and President, Ruchira Gupta

Curie Review

 

Jillian Dunham:  You made a pretty major mid-career change, from being a BBC journalist and a documentary filmmaker to an activist who created Apne Aap. Was there something in that point in your life that pushed you to make that change?

Ruchira Gupta: Anger and outrage. As a journalist, I had covered war and famine and hunger and conflict, but when I spent time inside the brothels of Bombay and spoke to the women and saw what I saw, I’d never seen that kind of deliberate exploitation of one human being of another.

What angered me further was the attitude of friends, politicians, police officers, that if these women were not prostituted, women from good families would be raped, that ‘men would be men.’ War, hunger, and ethnic conflict were considered evil, but the daily commercial rape happening in brothels was normalized, justified and even romanticized.  I thought, I can do only so much as a journalist. I wanted to do more. Continue reading…

 

Schaefers join Gloria Steinem on tour

BlowingRocket.com

When we give to international aid organizations such as the Red Cross or UNICEF, we don’t generally get to see that aid in action.

A generous Blowing Rock couple got to see their donations at work in January and traveled halfway around the globe to do so.

Jamie and Bonnie Schaefer, owners of Westglow Resort and Spa, traveled with legendary women’s rights advocate Gloria Steinem and a group of five others through Calcutta, India, from Jan. 24 through Feb. 7. Continue Reading.

Dancing in the Streets on V-Day

The Asian Age

The heavy downpour and chilly winds did nothing to dampen the spirit of those who came together for the cause of female victims of violence. An annual event in the city calendar, the global call to woman survivors of violence, One Billion Rising (OBR) For Justice has become a keenly awaited event for those who identify with the cause of women.

A morning march from Jaisingh Road to Jantar Mantar with messages given by leaders of the mahila panchayats organised by YWCA, a car rally from Nehru Place at 12 noon, the popular play Dastak by Arvind Gaur’s Asmita group and a flash dance on Jaago re Jaago culminated in the evening with a programme at Central Park in Connaught Place with performances by Sufi czarina Sonam Kalra, bilingual Vagina Monologues performed by students of Miranda House, Maya Rao’s play, Kamla Bhasin’s fiery speech on gender equality and power packed performance by Space. Continue Reading.

Is India ready to legalize commercial sex?

Times of India

The French parliament recently tabled a controversial anti-sex-trade bill that shifts criminal responsibility from commercial sex workers (CSW) to clients, as is being followed in Sweden.

Such laws, say activists in India who have been working towards legalizing and decriminalizing the trade and the rights of CSWs, will prove counterproductive. “Harsh laws, be it against CSWs or their clients, will only push them underground, leading to further violence and atrocities against the community,” says Manohar Elavarthi, member of Praja Rajakiya Vedike (PRV), which works for better living conditions of CSWs. Continue Reading.

Field Updates: Poonam Katoon

I used to live in the red light area…Now I feel free from all obstacles.

Poonam Katoon is a vivacious and hopeful girl, whose life was transformed at Apne Aap. She has moved from living in the red light area in a community of inter-generational prostitution, and is now accessing education, excelling in karate, and has even inspired Hillary Clinton. Watch her story here: