New Delhi, 13th December, 2013:- Eve Ensler, renowned activist, feminist and award-winning author of ‘The Vagina Monologues’ who is on a short trip to India visited the Apne Aap office in Delhi, to interact with the survivor-leaders and to understand the struggles they face in accessing justice against a corrupt law-enforcement and indifferent judicial system.
In a discussion moderated by Ruchira Gupta, Founder & President of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, Eve spoke with survivor-leaders M. Kalam and Fatima Khatoon on what justice meant to them and the groups they represented. The two survivor-leaders have been supported at Apne Aap’s center in Forbesganj, Bihar for several years.
The conversation focused on efforts initiated by Apne Aap and their call for justice to be delivered– by demanding the dropping of false charges of trafficking against Kalam in 2012, by a response and action to the PIL initiated by Apne Aap that questioned the status of measures and safeguards undertaken to address human trafficking in the state of Bihar.
Supporting Apne Aap’s mission to end sex trafficking in India, Eve said, “One Billion Rising is not just about the last person, it is also about the ones in the front. I support Apne Aap and their survivor-leaders for the relentless struggles and the adversities they have suffered.” She further added, “The V-day will award Fatima Khatoon and Md Kalam 10,000 US dollars each and extend support to get those trafficking ring leaders arrested”.
“I want to ask the government how is India free when there are women like us who have no choices and are truly not free in any way due to prostitution”, Fatima said in her conclusion. Md Kalam added “Due to this kind of violence we have had no acceptance at any level for us to grow. Even though we are a developing country, if we are left behind in this way, it will not be a development in the real way”.
Eve also applauded the members of Apne Aap for their efforts and passion to reach out to vulnerable communities affected by sex trafficking, whereby these survivor-leaders have emerged as winners in their struggles.
Appreciating Eve’s participation in addressing the issue of violence against women and her efforts in getting people together across the world, Ruchira Gupta, said, “Movements have to start from the bottom and get transferred to the top. This conversation with Fatima and Md Kalam from Forbesganj’s red light area of Bihar was to bridge the voice of the ‘last’ activists from backward class and Dalit community and their struggle to access justice. With Eve’s One Billion Women Rising, the effort was to give solidarity to these backward people from Bihar, to help get their children out of there and have the traffickers arrested. And now, as part of One Billion Rising, Apne Aap’s leaders Kalam and Fatima will launch a movement to get these traffickers arrested”.
The Apne Aap cause and initiatives have received international support by activists and dignitaries like Gloria Steinem, Ashley Judd, Ashton Kutcher, Ricky Martin, Hillary Clinton, and Justin Hilton among others
Fact Sheet: Background on survivor-leaders
Fatima Khatoon is from the Khawaspur red-light area of Bihar where she has rescued many girls and enrolled them in the KGBV hostel. Her father belongs to a semi-nomadic community called Nat and her mother too belongs to a very poor and marginalized community called Dhunia. Due to the severe state of poverty Fatima was married off when she was only nine to a man almost twenty years older to her. The only criterion for the marriage was that the man had a house. She soon found out that she was married into a brothel and the husband was a trafficker. Fatima started to resist her husband and in-laws and even helped four other women, trafficked in her house, escape from there. For this Fatima faced severe beatings by her in-laws.
In 2004, when Apne Aap started its community center inside the red light area in Forbesganj, Fatima was one among the first two women who started coming to the community center. She has started the first woman’s group inside the red light area along with Meena and Jamila. Fatima is now leading Apne Aap Girls’ program in Uttari Rampur red light area. A mother of six children, Fatima has played a very crucial role in organizing women to fight for their own rights and the rights of their daughters to live their lives free of sexual exploitation.
She has been a prime investigator against trafficking rings. She and her daughter have been constantly attacked by the traffickers who try to keep her daughter from going to school. Last year a police official kept her 14-year old daughter illegally in a police lock up all night. She has appealed to the NHRC and Bihar government for counseling for her daughter and accountability of the police officer who did this to her to avail.
Fatima is one of the most important survivor-leaders of Apne Aap who is a vehement spokesperson against prostitution as a ‘choice’ for women because she believes that nobody wants ‘to sell their dreams’.
Md. Kalam is from the Rampur red-light area of Forbesganj Bihar. He hails from the Nat community, who were labeled a Criminal Tribe by the British. They were subsequently stigmatized and marginalized and cut off from jobs, and education and even access to justice. Members of the community are trapped in inter-generational prostitution including Kalam’s own sisters. Kalam has stood up and put many traffickers in jail. Last year, after a sting operation against a trafficking ring, he was falsely implicated and kept in a police lock up for five nights. Even though later police investigations reveals that he had been falsely arrested charges against Kalam have still not been dropped.
On behalf of the Nat Community of Rampur, a PIL was initiated by Apne Aap asking the Bihar government the status on the what measures were being undertaken to address human trafficking in the state of Bihar. The PIL further appealed for the dropping of charges against Kalam’s pending case, who after his initial arrest was released since police investigations revealed that the wrong person was arrested. Apne Aap has demands that the police withdraw their case in the light of their own investigations.