Kamathipura is a neighbourhood which is synonymous with the word ‘brothel.’ It is notorious for being known as the city’s ‘red-light area.’ A place in which you and I would never dare visit in our life. As our reputation would be tainted even if were passing through this locality.
At one time this colony of brothels was Asia’s largest red-light district. It is still said to be India’s second largest red-light district. The infamous locality in Mumbai was neglected for a long time, as no one stepped in to understand what were the real issues faced by the women living in this area. No one truly understood the grim reality of the conditions that these women were living in,
Owing to our narrow perception of the lives of the sex workers, we not only cringe at their situations but look away from anything that is remotely associated with them.
But, one day, way back in the year 1986, a woman stepped in this area. She overcame societal stigma with sheer determination and courage. Her sole aim was to work for the welfare of this community. And she did not let people who were questioning her motives bring her down.
We introduce you to Priti Patkar, the founder of an NGO named ‘Prerana’ foundation, which works with an aim to provide a better healthy life for the children who are born in the brothels.
Priti Patkar and her NGO, ‘Prerana’, work for the all-round development of the children of Mumbai’s red light areas, preparing them for a brighter future away from the darkness of the alleys in which their mothers work.
In 1986, the first ever Night Care Centre in the world was conceptualised by Prerana to provide shelter for children of women working in red lights areas
In our current series on women empowerment, My Medical Mantra spoke to Priti Parker, about her experience and the journey that lies ahead.
Priti Mumbai started her intervention in the infamous red light area of Kamathipura in 1986 where the exploitation of women and children was ultimate and the situation grossly neglected by the state and the civil society alike.
While speaking to My Medical Mantra Priti said, “In 1986, I had been to Kamathipura, in connection with a social project associated with the civic-run schools. The things that I had witnessed and the images associated with it are still clear as day in front of my eyes. Children who are born in the brothels had no right to education, and healthcare was also an important aspect which was severely neglected.”
Priti further stated, “As their mothers were sex workers, the prevalence of drugs, tobacco and, liquor was also very high among the kids. As they had an easier access to them, as they have no place to live, they used to sleep on the roads. Sometimes, people used to drug them. And at times they were forced to sleep under the bed.”
After completing her education in social work from Mumbai’s Tata Institute Social Science (TISS), Priti began working in the red-light area. She has been working relentlessly for these women and their children since the past 32 years.
“We began interacting with the women who have been living in these brothels. And, then numerous aspects of their life unfolded. Kids use to stay away from the house. A few days later I got to know that, several kids have gone missing as well. Then, we decided to start a night crèche for the kids who are living there,” says Priti.
Through the ‘Prerana Foundation’ several health check-up camps are also organised in Kamathipura. The health check-ups are done regularly to ensure that no child is affected with HIV-AIDS, and to also check if their mothers are infected.
Priti further stated, “In Kamathipura, we have started three night shelters with the help of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). With this, we have also focused on the rehabilitation of the women and the children. The comprehensive health camps are proving to be effective, as no child has been tested positive for HIV.”
With Priti’s efforts and determination, and her unbreakable will to work for the children who are born in the brothels. Till this day, the lives of more than ten thousand children have been retrieved from the red light region of Mumbai through appropriate education and a quality life, made possible by ‘Prerana’.
She has managed to secure the future of thousands, who otherwise would have been deprived of equal opportunities, healthcare, and an education.