Posted on March 28 2018
Women’s Day could not have been more relevant for me this year, spending it here with the Mumbai prostitutes and my three incredible Coco Bombay girls. They have been through unimaginable suffering and still have the strength to try and make new lives for themselves. I arrived at the workshop to find Aruna, Nalini and Dipika dressed in their best sarees and looking beautiful. I realised how special this day really is for them. I have taken my freedom as a woman for granted all of my life.
Since my arrival they have been trying to put me in a saree, which I have resisted due to the pure fact that I would look like a moron. Today however, I had promised them that I would be their mannequin. I was wrapped up in 6 meters of fabric and Dipika applied lipstick (a shade which although looked beautiful on their dark skin, made me look like a tranny).
After an hour of photo taking, I headed off with the Purnata team to Sonapur (Red Light District) for an International Women’s Day celebration. Many of the prostitutes from the area came to the Purnata event. The constant goal is to try and get these women out of the trade and for them to start new lives in safety. Aaboo (the Purnata director) played some movies of students and other people who are trying to stop human trafficking. I looked around the room at all the faces as they watched the screen. Many of their expressions were blank and numb. I wondered what was going through their minds as they were watching. These women have been lied to and abused their whole lives, and to see people who are trying to help them must be strange and confusing. In my time here I have seen that they don’t really know how to react to warmth and love.
One lady who particularly affected me whilst visiting Sonapur is a prostitute who came running to hug and sit with me today. She is a mute and clearly has severe learning difficulties. See the post ‘Stories Around Sonapur’ to read about my first meeting with her. She is covered in burn marks and I have since found out that after her husband died very young, she went through years of sexual abuse from all of the men in her village before being sold to a pimp here. I am glad that I make her smile.
I gave a speech (with a translator, as my Hindi still amounts to ten words) to all of the women. I explained how I have two girls working with me now and how I would love to give jobs to many more of them. I said how there really can be a light at the end of the tunnel. As much as I absolutely despise the unjustified respect that having white skin in India gives me, I hope that in this case they will be inspired by me. Maybe if they see that a foreigner truly cares for them, it will make them trust more and believe that they can succeed outside these streets of abuse and despair. Looking into their eyes as I spoke, it gave me even more determination to succeed with Coco Bombay and transform more lives.
(Photos from this article were taken by Diane Elschner as unfortunately the women do not want their photos taken in Sonapur anymore)