Wildcard Entry for: – 29th July 2012
Name of the intern: – Divya
Institute: – Christ University, Bangalore
Organization interned with: – SWACH (Society for Women and Children’s Health)
In the summer of 2010, I and a friend of mine in Panjab University, Chandigarh were busy studying for our annual exams, when we came across a feature published in a local newspaper. It mentioned the prevalence of prostitution in India, and how the city proudly flaunts its clean character. Being a student of sociology by profession, enthusiasts by nature, and activists by interest, I and my friend decided to delve deeper into the issue and we started looking for an NGO which could give us as on-field experience.
Luckily, through a acquaintance we got to know about SWACH, Society for Women and Children’s Health which is an NGO in Panchkula. The National AIDS Control Organization scheme was running a Target Intervention scheme in Panchkula via this NGO. As soon as we wrote our exams, we went to meet the Director of the NGO and submitted our proposal and joined the work.
June 2010: scorching heat, one small office, four members, one team. And we were to join this team of four — which included a gynecologist, two psychologists (counselors) and one outreach worker. From what we could find from the internet, Target Intervention Scheme was a program of the Ministry of Health started by Government of India to check the incidence of HIV AIDS and STDs among sex workers in rural slums of India.
Unlike the regular orientation sessions, our project manager asked us to accompany the team to the field, and experience the work involved before committing ourselves to field work. Sounded challenging, and it was indeed. After a fifteen minute drive, we found ourselves in a slum, with unmetalled roads leading us to filthy streets. We were welcomed by smiling faces of naked children, drenched in sweat and mud. It was strange to accept that within such proximity there existed a world at such contrast to ours.
As we entered, the gynecologist and counselors were already busy talking to ladies, most in their early 40s and few in the late teens. Young and old, all faces had a story to tell. As we over heard the counsellors and doctors speak with them, we could figure out that the ladies being attended to by the doctor were the sex workers, and as per the scheme, clinical check-ups and camps were organized in different slums every week to counsel the female sex workers, and distribute contraceptives free of cost.
We had come with the simple intention of familiarizing ourselves with the extent of prostitution in and around our city, but the experience we got was much more intense. Girls aged 12 years and ladies as old as 90 years would come to complain how they were raped and injured by their clients, how the brothel owner would under-pay them and abuse them, how their neighbours would humiliate them, and society had ostracized them!
There was a neat hierarchy of sex workers- home based, brothel based and street based workers. The most striking was the former, wherein family members including the husbands and sons would get clients for the ladies of the house. It runs like a family business, where daughters are trained by the mothers. There was a network of eunuchs, male sex workers, pimps living in close proximity to each other.
For the first few days, we only went and listened to the horrifying tales, before we could acclimatize to the newly discovered reality. Then we got down to real work and recognized two different individuals who could be the subject of our case studies. The purpose of writing case studies was to highlight the concealed realities, which never come to light. As a part of my individual project, I chose to cover a seventeen year old boy whom I met at one of my visits to the brothel. The wrinkles running across his face well concealed his age, but there was innocence in his eyes. He had lost his childhood when he was twelve, and was sodomized by his senior at a local government school. Scared of the consequences, he chose not to report the incidence to his parents. And three years later, he found himself a dropout, ostracized by his family and peers, earning his living by selling his body.
On questioning the role of police, we found that police is in fact a beneficiary of the sexual pleasures sold in these dark, damp rooms. The police officials pay a regular visit, collect their “bhada” (regular commission), molest the sex workers, and arrest them if they refuse to oblige to their demands. This is how most “official” raids at brothels end up, but the horrifying experiences of sex workers go unreported.
The two months of internship with SWACH left an indelible impression upon my mind. There’s still a lot more to be said, many more stories to be told, many more incidents to be revealed… my intention behind sharing this experience is to suggest the youth in general, and students of social sciences in particular to look for organizations like this which can give a beyond-the-book experience into the real world. There is no better way to learning more about sociology, psychology, economics, law, politics than being a participant observer. Students of investigative journalism can expect the most unexpected stories, and students of health economics can work with the managerial staff to conduct cost-benefit and cost effective studies. NGOs like SWACH do not promote themselves much, but such places have a genuine experience to offer. So if miseries of people bother you more than filth, dirt and odour of the slums and you are ready to trade off your quality time, without expecting a stipend, then look for the NACO’s Targeted Intervention project in any state all over India. You walk out with a fresh and broad perspective on social issues like prostitution which none of the books can offer.
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