STORIES FROM THE FIELD
This is the story of Rakhi Dilip Gaikwad. JPSDP first met Rakhi on the streets, asking anyone and everyone for a little change to spare. Children are often valuable sources of income for parents as people are more likely to give them money. She lived on the sidewalks of Pune with her mother and siblings. At times, it was the one near the train station, on the back road, other times they occupied the shady space beside that park. Ever changing, ever moving, Rakhi’s life was guided by the sound of police orders and whistles.
Her mother had severe alcohol problems and did not want to put her children in school as they provided most of her income. Furthermore, in order to be admissible to any school in Pune, one must have a fixed address. When JPSDP met Rakhi, we immediately offered her and her siblings a place at our children’s shelter. This implied leaving the streets and their mother and coming to live at the shelter. Her mother was extremely resistant. She refused to let her children go despite numerous counseling sessions and conversations with her. Outreach workers and counselors at JPSDP worked with the family, meeting with the mother and children regularly to check-up and provide some support. After months of trust building, the mother finally allowed her children to join the shelter.
Sureka Dattatraya Baravkar was born in Poona District in a poor family. At the age of 11, the young girl was married off to an older man who quickly developed bad drinking habits. He would get drunk and wander off to the Tamasha, rural Indian dancers who sell sex and performances. After a few years, the husband’s mother found another wife for him, leaving Sureka alone to fend for herself in the streets. Vulnerable and young, Sureka was kidnapped by a brothel manager who brought her to a brothel in Mumbai. She was expected to see customers all day long, old men, teenagers, foreign tourists and Indians. Finally a lonely and kind customer helped her escape and dropped her back home in Pune. Yet, her luck was short-lived. Back in Pune, she was once again taken in by a brothel manager, Mr. Sheik. For the next 4 years, Sureka worked countless hours and got in the habit of drinking. At 15 years old, Sureka was a commercial sex worker and an alcoholic. Her prospects were grim. During that time, she developed an affinity with one of her clients who finally took her in. They lived together for nearly 15 years during which he beat her regularly and also developed alcoholic tendencies.
As of 2005, Sureka joined Saheli organization, a sex worker support program. The peer educator groups provided her the support the end her partnership with the client and invest more time into sex worker mobilization. As of 2006, Sureka got involved with JPSDP as a peer educator and community mobilizer. She was trained by Pathfinder International, JPSDP’s principal funding agency. Today, Sureka is oversees 250 street-based sex workers and 4 Peer Educators. She conducts trainings for community-based organizations and peer educators in 10 districts across India. In 2009, she conducted training sessions in sex worker organizing at an international conference in Malaysia. She is also a resource person and consultant to NACO, the National Aids Control Society of India. Sureka is a testament to the importance of giving sex workers the tools to take responsibility for their well-being and community.