Until V-Day Apne Aap Women Worldwide and women & girls from Red-Light Areas will hold several events over the next months to rise for justice. Watch this space to see what we do!
Click here to read stories from our survivor-leaders and program participants.
In a discussion moderated by Ruchira Gupta, Founder & President of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, survivor-leaders Md. Kalam and Fatima Khatoon led a discussion with Eve Ensler on what justice means to them and the groups they represent. Md. Kalam and Fatima Khatoon are both local activists from Bihar who have stood up over the years to the practice of intergenerational prostitution that they saw flourishing around them. They have been supported in their efforts over the years by the Apne Aap Women Worldwide field office in Bihar. The conversation focused on efforts initiated by Apne Aap to deliver justice for these brave survivor-leaders — by demanding the dropping of false charges of trafficking brought against Md. Kalam as a stall tactic in 2012, and by the PIL (Public Interest Litigation) initiated by Apne Aap that questioned the status of measures and safeguards undertaken to address human trafficking in Bihar.
Explaining her support of 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.”
TALK TO ME 12 January 2014
Based on an idea conceived by Jasmeen Patheja of the Blank Noise project and in association with Mudar Pathreya and Eina Ahluwalia, the red-light area of Munshigunge, Kolkata is #Rising4Justice through an initiative called TALK TO ME. Three survivors of prostitution – Piu, Ayesha, Shabnam and Uma (a daughter of the red-light area) – along with artist Lena Kejriwal and other project members from Apne Aap Women Worldwide, sat at tables outside the brothels of Munshigunge and on the bustling Park Street of Kolkata and asked men passing by to talk to them over tea and samosas. The only condition was that the men could ask the women about anything except sex. The women also presented a flower to the person across the table as a memento of their conversation. These women, our #ActionHeroes, overcame their fears and rose against #Prostitution and #SexTrafficking in their lives.
ADOLESCENT GIRLS DISCUSS THE CHALLENGES OF GROWING UP IN A RED LIGHT AREA AND THE DENIAL OF #FREECHOICE WITH GLORIA STEINEM 13 January 2014
A group of 10 adolescent girls from one of Apne Aap’s field offices gathered together with visiting iconic feminist Gloria Steinem to discuss their idea of social justice. Apne Aap organizes girls and women into Self Empowerment Groups (SEGs) of 10 people each, which meet regularly to form strong friendships and support each other in developing essential assets that will enable them to live empowered lives. The young girls are organized into Kishori Mandals (adolescent girl groups) to provide them an opportunity for community-building with their peers. These girls live on the outskirts of Delhi, a community where they are vulnerable to being forced into practices like inter-generational prostitution.
The girls described what justice means to them: #Justice is the right to education; #justice is the opportunity to get a good job; #justice is truth. One girl explained that she suspected the truth about forced prostitution is being withheld from her. Visiting feminist icon Gloria Steinem and President/Founder of Apne Aap Ruchira Gupta Sat with the girls through this discussion. Gloria pointed out that every great revolution starts with organizing – individuals gathering together, sharing their stories that they thought they had to keep secret, and realizing they are not alone. These girls are joining together to #rise4justice.
SONAR BANGLA GROUP SHOWCASES COMMUNITY START-UP 14 January 2014
Members from our Kishori Mandal (adolescent girls group) and Mahila Mandal (women’s group) located in our Kolkata Sashtitala office welcomed visiting feminist historian Geraldine Forbes and her students from State University of New York. The girls performed a dance for the visitors, followed by a meal prepared by the women. The women have organized to create a community kitchen project known as Sonar Bangla. Based in the Munshiganj district of Kolkata, Sonar Bangla is the first step in building a sustainable means of earning their livelihood apart from dependency on the brothel system. One woman said “Apne Aap gave us the confidence to start something on our own. The organization has taught us how one can achieve even what one hasn’t even dreamt of if we act in a group.”
I WILL CONTINUE MY FIGHT – FATIMA KHATOON 15 January 2014
Survivor-Leader Fatima Khatoon was married at the age of nine to a brothel owner nearly three times her age. Deeply suspicious of the activities she observed around her, she eventually got the opportunity at the age of 12 to do something about it — when her in-laws left the house for a wedding, she helped four of the prostituted women escape. She paid dearly for her act of defiance, as she was beaten by her family when they returned and realized what she had done. However, her rebellion had emboldened her, and she began to openly defy her family. When Apne Aap Women Worldwide set up an office nearby several years later, Fatima joined them in their efforts to combat sex trafficking.
Click here to read updates from the field about her work.
BORN A CRIMINAL? – MD. KALAM 16 January 2014
Survivor-Leader Mohammed Kalam is from the Nat community in Bihar. He watched four of his sisters get forced into prostitution as he was growing up. He grew up to be an outspoken critic of intergenerational prostitution in his community. Last year, after a sting operation against a trafficking ring, Md. Kalam was falsely implicated and kept in a police lock up for five nights. Even though later police investigations reveal 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 measures 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 demanded that the police withdraw their case in the light of their own investigations.
Click here to read updates from the field about his work.
THE IMPORTANCE OF A GIRL’S EDUCATION – NEETA’S VIEW 17th January
Click here to hear from a girl about the importance of education.
LEARNING NEW SKILLS AND GAINING CONFIDENCE AT MEYEBELA 18 January 2014
More than 100 children from local schools and NGOs attended a day-long workshop at Meyebela as a way to expand their horizons and build an expansive network of friends. Nine girls from Apne Aap Women Worldwide participated in the three activities; Craft (Anwari Khatoon, Sushma Jha and Rani Khatoon), Pottery (Madhu Paswan, Kajal Paswan and Rekha Gupta), and Dance Movement Theraphy (Radha Prasad, Uma Das and Ruby Gupta). These girls are #Rising4Justice and learning to better express their truth through #dance and #art.
E-DRAWING WORKSHOP TO ENVISION A VIOLENCE-FREE WORLD 21 January 2014
A group of 25 children ranging from 10-15 years participated in a workshop hosted at the Apne Aap center in Kolkata on envisioning a violence-free future. This workshop was important because children in these communities have unfortunately been subjected to seeing a lot of violence in their families while growing up. All the children were made to sit in a circle and were shown pictures on abuse. They were then asked what they felt when they saw each picture. Then they were encouraged to talk to each other to understand each others’ points of view and to work on developing respect towards individuals of the opposite sex. For example, a child named Vivek, who has seen a lot of violence at home, expressed that he accepted that as a way of life, whereas another student, Pooja, who was given a lot of freedom at home, spoke about the importance of standing up for oneself. The children were then instructed on how to make E – Drawings depicting their own views on the matter. The E-drawing activity gave them an opportunity to practice their computer skills, build confidence in their ability to express themselves, process all of the ideas they had discussed, and envision a brighter future for themselves and their peers.
EDUCATING CHILDREN ON THEIR RIGHT TO SAY ‘NO’ 22 January 2014
This campaign was conducted keeping in mind a very recent rape that took place in Khildderpore, not far from the Apne Aap Women Worldwide centre in Calcutta. The event was held with the children who live in the nearby Red Light Area of Munshiganj. The children were taught about their right to oppose any form of violence against them and were also taught the importance of not inflicting violence on others. They were also shown different illustrations on the concepts of ‘Good touch’ and ‘Bad touch’ to educate them about inappropriate physical contact and their right to determine their own boundaries. The workshop ended with a face-painting session in order to infuse some fun into a serious discussion. We at Apne Aap are helping these vulnerable children #Rise4Justice and we hope to provide them with a secure, empowered future.
SHOWING CHILDREN THEIR PLACE IN THE NATION’S HISTORY 23 January 2014
The realities of caste and class in India sometimes make the poorest and most vulnerable children feel excluded from greater society. It is important to educate them about their place in the nation and inform them of their right to access justice from the government. To that end, Apne Aap celebrated the birthday of famous freedom fighter Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose with the children on 23 January. The celebrations began with the children putting a garland on a picture of Netaji and performing a group dance on “Des Rangila.” The children were then educated about various Indian freedom fighters, including Subhash Chandra Bose. They were also told about the important place Netaji held in giving India its independence. The day ended with many patriotic songs and energetic games to make it a fun and informative event for the children. #Rising4Justice #Fun #dance #patriotism #AccessingJustice4All #Representation4All
DEMANDING A VIOLENCE-FREE GIRLHOOD: APNE AAP GIRLS PARTICIPATE IN NATIONAL GIRL CHILD DAY CARNIVAL 24 January 2014
“National Girl Child Day” is a famous day in India that works to bring greater attention and action to the issue of girls’ rights. To celebrate the day, Jeevika, a non -governmental organization that works for the promotion of women’s and girls’ rights across 47 villages in West Bengal, organizes a carnival titled Anonde Konyakal (Celebrating Girlhood) every year on the 24th of January.
The theme for this year’s carnival was: “Demanding a violence-free girlhood.” Girls from Apne Aap Women Worldwide participated in this carnival to showcase their skills and talent through drawing, a quiz contest and craft. The girls from Apne Aap also joined their peers to participate in a Self-Defense class. One of our girls Kajal said, “I enjoyed the session a lot, where I came to know how to protect myself in different situations.”
REINFORCING CITIZENSHIP ON REPUBLIC DAY 25 January 2014
Ninety-five girls and women from Apne Aap’s Delhi-based Self Empowerment Groups (SEGs) joined with the field staff to celebrate India’s Republic Day. The event reinforced the idea of their membership within broader Indian society. For a community that is often excluded from the rest of society, it is important to forge a sense of connection to the rest of the nation. In particular, Apne Aap Women Worldwide stresses the importance of knowing one’s legal rights and obtaining access to justice and government benefits. This often starts with helping women obtain official registration with the government, as many women from these communities do not have the identification required to obtain the rights and benefits that are rightfully theirs.
PARTICIPATING IN COMMUNITY EVENT AT THE CALCUTTA SWIMMING CLUB 26 January 2014
Thirty girls from Apne Aap’s programs joined a community event for 90 children hosted by The Swimming Club of Kolkata and 3 local NGOs. Eight of the girls from Apne Aap even participated in the inauguration with dance and singing performances. The day included a variety of group activities, a cake ceremony, and plenty of free gifts for all the children in attendance. The festival provided an opportunity for children to gain exposure to other children outside of their village, form new friendships, and gain confidence through practicing their stage presence. #Rising4Justice #fun #togetherness #girlpower #ActionHeros #RedLightAreaRising
SONAGACHI WALK – WITH DIRECT DONOR ACTION 27 January 2014
Iconic feminist Gloria Steinem and Tinku Khanna and Sahana Dasgupta of Apne Aap Women Worldwide (AAWW) together led a tour of 7 American donors through Calcutta’s Sonagachi red-light district, one of the largest in Asia. The area houses several hundred multi-story brothels where an estimated 11,000 girls and women are trapped in prostitution, many of them trafficked into India from neighboring countries. The trip was organized through a partnership between AAWW and Donor Direct Action (DDA), a New York-based initiative that seeks to provide charitable donors with a front-line view of the social issues they seek to address and the impact that their giving has. Steinem, convener of DDA’s Steering Committee, expressed the need to provide donors with an on-the-ground look at sex trafficking in India and AAWW’s efforts to fight it: “So many of the foundations that exist in the US are working top down, but what is necessary is to humanize the process, to not adhere to the old way of organizing but follow the simplest way, which is bottom up,” she said. The visit was concluded at Apne Aap’s new Sonagachi Center (inset photo: Gloria Steinem and the other donors) where the Apne Aap field staff answered their queries giving them an increased understanding of the scope of the problem and reinvigorated their commitment to join in the fight against it. #RedLightAreaRising #Rising4Justice #Solidarity #ActionHeros
“LIVING AND SURVIVING IN A RED LIGHT AREA” – A DISCUSSION LED BY SURVIVOR-LEADERS FROM KOLKATA 28 January 2014
Women who have been directly affected by commercial sexual exploitation addressed a group of donors visiting from the United States with iconic feminist Gloria Steinem. The donors came on a trip organized by the New York-based project Donor Direct Action. Women who are involved with Apne Aap Women Worldwide are organized into Self Empowerment Groups (SEGs) that meet regularly to provide support to one another and advocate on issues that affect their lives (such as health, voter registration, and opportunities for alternative livelihoods). In an event titled “Living and Surviving in a Red Light Area,” a few members from the SEGs based in Munshiganj and Sonagachi red light districts spoke to the donors to share their stories, their thoughts on what it means to be an #ActionHero and their visions of a more hopeful future.
GIRL-LED JOURNEY – LIFE IN A RED-LIGHT AREA 29 January 2014
Donors visiting from the United States with iconic feminist Gloria Steinem through the New York-based project Donor Direct Action spent the afternoon paired with an adolescent girl from the Red-Light District to hear her unique point of view. Through a series of structured activities, the girls were able to articulate and describe the realities of her life: her past, daily routine, community, and her hopes (and fears) for the future. The extended one-on-one time allowed girls to express to donors not just the challenges they face, but also their aspirations for their futures.
#GirlPower #RedLightAreaRising #ActionHeros #Rising4Justice #dreams
RALLY OF 800 WOMEN AND GIRLS TO PROTEST INJUSTICES AGAINST WOMEN 30 January 2014
SHARING THEIR STRUGGLES AND SUCCESSES WITH VISITORS 31 January 2014
Girls and women from the Red Light Area of Basti Vikas Kendra spoke to visiting iconic feminist scholar Gloria Steinem and her Direct Donor Action group visiting from the United States. Girls from the Kishori Mandals welcomed the guests to their Center with flowers and cards that they had personally painted and written for each of the visitors. Sanjana Khatun, a 12 year old girl living in the red light area sang a welcome song. This was followed by Pooja Kumari narrating to the guests the different activities that they did everyday at the center and how the center was significant in their life, helping them to bring about changes in their life. Bina Kumari, a 15 year old from the Kishori Mandal narrated her story of struggle of getting to come to the Center. She was not allowed to go out of the house and was stopped by her family from going to school. She spoke about how she received help from her friends and members of AAWW at the center to get her re-admitted to school. Then some women from Apne Aap’s Mahila Mandal (women’s group) shared their stories about their struggles, the initial days at the Center, and their gradual increase in numbers and strength as they fought for their rights. The women gifted the guests with bags made by them at Nomi Network, an organization working in collaboration with AAWW towards creating alternative livelihood opportunities for women.
PROGRAM AT KASTURBA GANDHI BALIKA VIDYALAYA (KGBV) 1 February 2014
Girls from Apne Aap’s residential girl’s school in Bihar showcased their talents and shared their stories of personal growth for visiting iconic feminist Gloria Steinem and her Direct Donor Action group from New York. The school is set up through a Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya (KGBV), a federal program introduced by the Indian government in 2004 to increase educational facilities for girls from lower castes.
The girls performed a dance to Hindi music that they had choreographed themselves. This was followed by one of the girls narrating their different activities at the school and describing the impact that being part of a residential school has had on her life and aspirations. The girls also did a demonstration of the Karate that they learn at KGBV; the karate classes have helped to instill in the girls a sense of confidence in their ability to defend themselves and define their own limits. The program ended with Gloria Steinem and Ruchira Gupta addressing the gathering of the girls and teachers along with other local people who had gathered there to watch the program. Gloria was nostalgic in speaking of her past visit to KGBV. She narrated her personal childhood experience with dance, which she believed was an important form of freedom for girls. Ruchira Gupta spoke of the hurdles that AAWW faced in setting up the residential school in 2007. The program ended with a vote of thanks and the girls cheerfully bidding goodbye to the guests.
THROUGH THE EYES OF A GIRL February 1-10
Click here to read journal entries from a girls in our programs. They write about the world they see around them and their aspirations for a brighter future.
RISING TO DANCE AND WRITE 7 February 2014
About 50 of our Kishori Mandal members (adolescent girls) gathered together for a talent show and writing competition. These girls are organized into Self Empowerment Groups (SEGs) of 10 girls each, which meet regularly to form strong friendships and support each other in developing essential assets that will enable them to live empowered lives. The talent show included singing, dancing, and their own original writings. After the talent show, 15 girls ranging from age 8 to 16 participated in a 30 minute writing competition in which they had to answer the question “What does justice mean to you?” The responses were original, heart-felt and thought-provoking. In the end, two top winners were chosen, based on their expressiveness, creativity and quality of writing. Stay tuned for an English translation of the two winning submissions!
DENOTIFIED TRIBES – AN ESSENTIAL LINK IN INDIA’S SEX TRADE 10 February 2014
The Head of Monitoring & Evaluation for Apne Aap Women Worldwide, Swati Chakraborty, made a presentation to a varied audience , including students, media, Apne Aap staff and other guests on the history and current status of India’s “Denotified Tribes” (DNT’s), semi-nomadic communities who were labeled as criminal by the British and have suffered unequal treatment and extreme poverty ever since. The talk was part of AAWW’s monthly Terrace Talks series, which is an open space for learning on issues related to trafficking, the sex-trafficking industry, efforts to abolish it, and other overlapping issues related to feminism and social justice. This issue is compounded by lack of access to government benefits that are intended to help re-mediate the situation. The systemic injustices facing these groups have perpetuated a cycle of inter-generational prostitution within the DNT communities, thus trapping the girls in a cycle of exploitation from the time they are born. The talk centered on original research that AAWW is conducting in partnership with the Indian Council for Social Science Research. The results of the study will be published in the coming months of 2014 and will include recommendations to the Indian government on how to better address issues of systemic inequality and discrimination facing the DNT’s.
M.I.S.S.I.N.G – RISING THROUGH PUBLIC ART 11th Feb 2014
Apne Aap Women Worldwide hosted an event at Delhi’s Oxford Bookstore with Leena Kejriwal, a Kolkata-based photographer and artist, to discuss her latest piece, “M.I.S.S.I.N.G…”. Her project is an outdoor art installation that first launched at the 2014 India Art Fair and sparked an international public discussion on the issue of gender disparities in India. Read a volunteer’s blog entry on the event here.
RISING TO MAKE OUR VOICES HEARD 14th February 2014
On V-Day, sixty survivors of prostitution who are organized through Apne Aap gathered at various locations in Kolkata to raise their voices against commercial sexual exploitation. They came from from Munshigunge and Topsia. First the women gathered for an Open Mic session at Apne Aap’s office in Khidderpore, where they expressed in their own words the injustice they see around them and how they want to fight it. The women of Topsia focused on the problem of housing, while the women from Munshigunj focused on their need for an alternate livelihood and legal protection as well as education for their children. Thereafter, they marched from the office through the Munshigani Red Light Area while chanting slogans. They stopped along the way, where one of Apne Aap’s Kishori Mandals (adolescent girls’ group) performed a street play on sex trafficking and the struggle to break free. Then the women continued on to the Watgani police station, where they submitted a 7-point charter of demands regarding their right to education, right to fight against protection, and their right to oppose oppression. They demanded greater police #action and #accountability surrounding the local sex trade. #Rising4Justice
RISING ON V-DAY AGAINST INJUSTICE 14th February 2014
Today women and girls organized at the Apne Aap center in Forbisganj, Bihar will host an event to celebrate their achievements in standing up against injustices in their lives and to organize for further progress. The event will feature several performances of singing, dancing, and karate by the various Kishori Mandals (adolescent girls’ groups), as well as personal sharing about courageous steps they have taken towards self-empowerment.
These steps include their step out of their homes and getting involved with Apne Aap, which previously would have been unheard of. Thereafter, the meeting will turn into an Open Mic Session in which the women and girls will be encouraged to share their experiences with the local police. This is especially important because the police often turn a blind eye to evidence of sex trafficking and forced sexual slavery that is taking place in the area; the women and girls want the police to support them in their efforts to break free from such injustices. The initiative will be used as a launching pad for drafting a Charter of Demands that will then be submitted to the Forbesganj Police Station. The event will also include a signature campaign for the arrest of a well-known local trafficker, which will be sent to the DM and the SP at the district in Araria.
MAKING OUR VOICES HEARD 14th February 2014
On V-Day, adolescent girls from the Apne Aap field offices in Delhi came together to perform a dance to “Jaago, Dilli, Jaago,” the official song of One Billion Rising Delhi. Afterwards, they marched through the streets of their neighborhood, stopping along the way to perform street plays for the public on the topics of girls’ education and the hurdles that they face to stay in school. They raised their voices for #justice and made their demands heard – they want to continue their #education and reach their fullest #potential.