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Can Legal Rights Change Sex Workers’ Lives
Taru Bahl

Lilting notes of a popular Hindi film song gently waft through the air. Then the stillness of the night is broken with the music grinding to a screeching halt, as a bunch of men and women run helter-skelter. Within minutes, half a dozen girls are queued up and paraded to the police station, which is a stone’s throw away. Crowds gather on the street and sneer at the girls who trail the men in uniform, submissively? This scene is one that is repeated with an eerie frequency in almost all of India’s busy red light areas. Sometimes such ‘rescue acts’ find their way to an obscure column of a newspaper. However, rarely does the reporter or those who have witnessed the ‘spectacle’ bother to find out what happens to the girls thereafter. Where do they go? Do they live happily ever after, freed from the clutches of their tormentors? An absence of any concrete rehabilitation plan leaves these women with few choices. However, what can perhaps enable them to deal with their vulnerable situation better is awareness of their legal rights.

“To be treated like a thing and not a person is something that dissolves all sense of feeling, emotion, desire and even pain. I don’t want my girls to experience that feeling.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDO121 1250 words

Zia Mody On Life At 25

India is changing; it’s being shaped by those who make up its majority – the youth. At 25, there are many young people across small towns and cities, who are willing to take a risk. The millennials are running businesses; they are leading teams. But life at 25 cannot be only about chasing success. It’s also rife with challenges, confusions and chaos. In her latest book, ‘When I Was 25 – The Leaders Look Back’, published by Random House, writer Shaili Chopra turns back time and gets 13 eminent personalities to open up about the tough choices they had to make to reach where they are today. In this excerpt, Zia Mody, lawyer extraordinaire, a woman after her own dreams and passions, reveals how she strikes a balance between being a dealmaker in the corporate world and championing the cause of women.

‘I basically understood it was a much harder ladder for women to climb. I could see the audience in the court myself, they were all men. I was, with a few other women, the exception.’

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDO124 900 words

Zip, Zap, Zoom… Kusumlata Mobilises Tribals To Drive Out Malnutrition
Shuriah Niazi

In the villages that dot Niwas tehsil in the tribal district of Mandla in Madhya Pradesh, it’s rare to spot a woman riding a two wheeler. Kusumlata Bhavedi, however, is an exceptional young tribal woman on a mission to fight the poverty and hunger. Overcoming the barriers of social convention as well as mobility – that does not permit women in the region to step out of home if not for working in the fields – Bhavedi today is busy spreading awareness on issues like health and nutrition, education, rights and government welfare schemes. She is a Gram Mitra, or friend of the village, who zips around on her scooty, day or night, reaching out to the community with information and solutions. It’s been a couple of years since Gram Mitras like Bhavedi, a group of specially trained volunteers are working in 60 villages of Niwas and Bichiya tehsils to enhance livelihood opportunities and improve health indicators in the region under a unique food security initiative.

“Women and young girls have become more aware about their health. Personally, too, I feel more confident of myself, as I am able to effect positive change into lives of people. It enables them to look forward to better life opportunities and a brighter future.”

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDO112D 1200 words

From The Shop Floor, Women Workers Confront Sexual Harassment

Anju began working as a tailor in a garment factory in 2013, when a quality checker there started pressurising her for sexual favours. She resisted his advances till one day while going to the washroom, she happened to see him hand over Rs 500 to the line in-charge and say, ‘either you violate Anju’s honour or else throw her out of the factory’. When she confronted both men they denied this but from then on they started setting high production targets for her and repeatedly pointing out mistakes in her work. After several months of taking in the harassment quietly when the duo passed a lewd comment on her she retaliated in anger. Eventually, she lost her job… Sexual harassment in the workplace is a lived reality for many garment workers like Anju. And yet, these women can’t really speak up or seek redress because of social stigmas as well as poor enforcement of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013. ‘Struggle within the Struggle: Voices of Women Garment Workers’, a study by the Society for Labour and Development details the experiences and insecurities of women on the shop floor. An excerpt.

‘The management told me that you are maligning someone’s image, and therefore, please take all your dues and leave. If anything happens, then it is always the woman who is blamed.’ – Lalita, tailor.

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: INDO114 1200 words

Favela Girls Pirouette Out Of Poverty
Kamayani Bali-Mahabal

Tatiane Gama, 31, is a successful professional dance instructor, whose moves are sheer poetry in motion. As part of an internationally acclaimed dance company this talented artiste has travelled around the world, experienced different cultures and met new people. However, as a child from a crowded, impoverished ‘favela’ (slum) in Brazil, Gama had never imagined that she would ever step out of her neighbourhood, let alone the city or country. Everything changed the day she walked into a school that opened up in her favela where she got to attend regular classes, learn ballet and even have one hot meal, a cherished ‘perk’ at the time. And once she graduated she had a ready career as a performer in the Edisca Dance Company set up to induct gifted performers. Like Gama, over the years, several children have found their way out of poverty and illiteracy, pursuing valuable careers as journalists, artists, and dancers…

‘Our education happens in stages. At the onset we dance. Ballet teaches discipline. Then we learn the basics of reading and writing. There’s also psychological counselling for most children traumatised as they are by witnessing street violence day-in and day-out.’

[Photographs Available]

 WFS Ref: BRAO112 1030 words
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