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Kat-Katha: Hope for the former sex workers

Gitanjali Babbar, the founder of Kat-Katha (Photo courtesy of Kat-katha website)

An Indian, Gitanjali Babbar, founded the non-profit organization Kat-Katha in 2011 to create a safe space for the sex workers to live independently.

A social worker who left the lucrative government job, Gitanjali, created the Dream village for the sex workers to gain their dignity and respect. The team helps them to be confident in standing on their own feet with proper skill. 

She received many awards such as L’oreal Paris Feminal Women Awards for her amazing work in education presented by renowned actress Sonam Kapoor in 2015, Times Now Amazing Indian Award, Zee TV Fempowerment, Mahindra Rise Award, Tejaswini award from Doordarshan, Reebok Fit To Fight award to honor women who have been relentlessly working and have established their own identity on December 16, 2016, PNB Women of the Year, Radio Mirchi “Delhi Ke Hero” on September 30, 2015, and others.

Gitanjali recalled her first experience to meet with the sex workers at the brothels on Garstin Bastion Road (GB Road) in Delhi, India. 

She was sent by the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) and it was a challenging project. She saw the poor living of the sex workers in brothels with small dark rooms, with no ventilation, and with two meals a day.

From her visits with NACO, Gitanjali came to know that there were 30-40 girls at a brothel. She wanted to talk more and listen more to them but she did not get the chance to discuss except the official concerns of protection and sexual health.

She said in the story on Kat-Katha’s website, “Thereon, every time I had to visit the GB Road center, I would make sure that I went inside brothels, took a closer look; and I found out that they were deprived of all rights and freedom. They were slaves.”

She decided to make a change for them to bring back dignity and respect. She started her intention with the help of her friend Ankush who later became the regional head of “Yuva Parivartan”, an NGO facilitating skill development for youth. They started with the training of newer skills for their livelihood. For the space, Mr. Raess offered a floor of his nursing home.

At first, they did not dare to trust because they were cheated in their lives to be sex workers and were not willing to trust again. For the first time, two women joined the program. She took this opportunity to prove to others how the team helps.

They taught them how to sew with a trainer. And the other two women joined. A volunteer, Abhay, joined the team and he became the responsible person for the administrative work of the team. 

The team searched the volunteers to teach the women how to read and write. Radha willingly accepted to come to the GB Road and teach them. She enjoyed teaching them and became friends with them. 

Gitanjali realized that they need a home so that they could come out of the brothels.

As expressed in ourbetterworld.com, Gitanjali shares, “Staying in that space, one cannot live the life that one desires. Till the time you do not come out of the brothel, the owners hold your life, and your agency will not be in your hands.”

She found the difficulties to find a place for them.

“Nobody wants to give their space to sex workers and their children. So, whenever we set up our space somewhere we were asked to move from that space for some reason,” explains Gitanjali. 

After ten years of searching, Kat-Katha has recently secured a place, appropriately named “Dream Village” for the women to move into and make their own. 

“There are others also who, like us, want to do better. There are many “didis” [sisters] who want to come out of there but are helpless and cannot leave. We have a dream that we come out from that space and do some good work,” a client said.

The client adds: “People should not see us through that gaze. I am also a mother, a daughter, and a sister. How one sees people in their homes, we want people to see us the same way.”

According to indiatoday.in, published on May 27, 2022, there are about 0.825 million sex workers in India as of September 2021. 

“My interactions with, 'them': The Untold Story,” says Gitanjali.

The team was growing and extending the stitching classes, bridge school, and other training programs for the sex workers and their children. 

The Kat-Katha has four phases;

The first phase is relationship building; the team focuses on building a strong relationship with the community for the foundation of transformation after identifying the needs of women and children through research and surveys.

The second phase is bridge school at GB Road as education to bridge the gap between the community and society.

The third phase is Empower Projects which is to empower the victims with the training, exposure, and financial support for their livelihood so that they can choose a meaningful life.

The fourth phase is freedom from forced sex work which is the victims and their children can live a life of freedom, even without the support of Kat-Katha. 

The team impacted over 2,200 trafficked women and 200 children on the GB Road within nine years.

Whenever Gitanjali felt low or happy, she reminded herself to leave a mark so impactful that even God is delighted. 

Despite many difficulties, Gitanjali expressed her conviction, “I am certain, we will witness the day when all of 2,900 women will be skilled, literate, and have a livelihood other than sex work. 

They will get the chance to hold their heads high, and the culprits will be held culprit for their follies. And, they will not only be accepted outside the G.B. Road but also receive support and respect.” - Patrick Soe Htun with the inputs from ourbetterworld.org and kat-katha.org

 

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