I was in Kolkata yesterday to attend a consultation on the Child Labour Act, at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences which is located in the Salt Lake neighbourhood. In the evening, I visited the Apne Aap Women Worldwide Khidirpur and Sonagachi offices to say hello to my extraordinary colleagues. Khidirpur is close to the red light area Munshiganj and Sonagachi is one of Asia's biggest red light areas. Traveling from Salt Lake to Khidirpur and Sonagachi seemed like travelling to a different lifetime.
One of Asia's biggest red light areas - Sonagachi, Kolkata. 2 April 2017.
The tram line at Sonagachi and a man pulling a rickshaw (the blur on the left), even today.
I pose with the extraordinary Apne Aap women at the Apne Aap Sonagachi centre.
Celebrated writer Baby Haldar, who is a former domestic help. She is a prolific writer and her autobiography Aalo Aandhari, which shot her to fame in 2006, has been translated into several languages. She runs the Apne Aap Sonagachi centre with Rumki.
The ever cheerful Rumki :)
The very talented Keya and Payal. They will both appear in an upcoming film 'Love Sonia,' directed by Tabrez Noorani. The film is based on true stories around sex trafficking. Keya and Payal play real life in reel life.
Sahani Di, who has dedicated her life to changing the lives of the children of prostituted women, outside the Sonagachi Apne Aap centre. Everyone at Sonagachi calls her 'Ma.' She tells me stories of how she befriended the women in Munshiganj and Sonagachi by getting them and their children come to the Apne Aap centres to take baths and wash their clothes because in these parts of the city, bathrooms and water are forever a problem.
The dynamic trio. Baby Haldar told me when I was leaving that I should come again and we should have a good 'adda' session where we discuss literature, lives, music, and films. I promised her I will come again for a longer time.
Looking outside from the Apne Aap Sonagachi centre
Walls of the centre
This is Uma at the Apne Aap Khidirpur centre. As a child, she used to come to the Apne Aap centre at Munshiganj where Sahana di used to run a learning centre for the children of prostituted women. Uma also used to stay back at this centre in the night, with several other girls from the area. Uma told me that for some five - six years, their mothers made them stay back at the Apne Aap night shelter to protect them from traffickers and pimps. 'This centre here is my home,' she told me about the Khidirpur centre, 'I have grown up here. I have had several skill training here, including how to use the machines for making sanitary napkins.' Uma has been running the Apne Aap sanitary napkin making unit for a few years now.
A poster outside the Apne Aap Khidirpur centre