The Story of Apne Aap

Apne Aap was co-founded by 22 women from a red-light district in Mumbai, India, with a shared vision of a world where no woman would be bought or sold.

The women were the subjects of Ruchira Gupta’s Emmy-winning documentary, The Selling of Innocents, on the trafficking of girls and women from Nepal to India. They formed a bond during the making of the documentary in 1996 and found in each other the strength to rebel against their condition.

After the shoot was over, the group continued to meet in parks. The respect they received when acting as a group and the strength of their collective bargaining inspired them to create an organization to further their vision. In 2002, Apne Aap was registered as an NGO in Mumbai.

A board member secured for the organization a room in an abandoned municipal school in the heart of the red-light district. The room was a safe haven for the women to talk, sleep, repair torn clothes, bathe and receive mail. Gradually, it evolved into a venue for meetings and classes.

Apne Aap’s ambition and impact have grown steadily since then. We have reached out to other women trapped in prostitution and organized self-empowerment programs in Bihar, Delhi and West Bengal, where we currently work with local communities.

Though the 22 co-founders have all passed — of hunger, suicide or of AIDS-related complications — their vision lives on. Self-empowerment groups across the country now meet at Apne Aap community centers that serve as safe spaces where thousands of girls and women come together, access education, improve livelihood options and receive legal rights training.