The colourful orange and bright yellow ghagra-choli (Rajasthani attire) with its frills floating in the spring breeze across the balcony, the kohl on her eyes, the neatly adorned lipstick, those carefully crafted jewellery, the brightness in her face and confidence in her sharp demeanour – signals a strong message of ‘empowerment of the feminine’ that 38 years old Krishna flaunts in her world today.
Married off at 14 years as a child bride to an illiterate man, she became a mother a year later. With mounting financial constraints after child birth, Krishna entered sex work to sustain her family’s daily needs. About 10 years back, she was introduced to the HIV AIDS program through Sapna, a fellow sex worker and also a peer educator in the program. She befriended Sapna in order to acquire condoms for sex work. A year later, Krishna volunteered as a peer educator herself and started her work in HIV AIDS. She did her work with utmost sincerity and commitment by maintaining a good rapport with all the women in her community. “Raat ko bhi agar condom ki zaroorat ho kisiko, toh mein jaati thi” (I used to go even during hours of midnight, if anyone required condoms).The women in the community respected her and started believing in her. “Kyon ki mein vada nibhati thi”(Because I kept the promises I made).
In one of the training events organized for HIV AIDS, she made friends with Janaki who introduced her to the world of community bonding,“Sangathan mein shakti hain” (Community groups emanate strength). These women started to informally collectivize and discuss experiences of HIV AIDS prevention work as peer-educators, how to be there for each other in times of conflict like police raids and so forth. In 2014, in another training event for Peer Educators, Krishna explored about means to establish a Community Based Organization (CBO). Witnessing her leadership streak, other women started to support her in this resolve. The master trainer of the PE training event supported Krishna in understanding the techno-legal aspects of establishing a CBO. Finally, in the same year, a CBO for these women was registered with about 100 female sex workers as members.
Through Krishna’s leadership and diligent efforts, the CBO could mobilize adequate funds from various institutions, government bodies, political bodies, philanthropists. They started with small time local work like path maintenance etc. and had now grown to empowering newer sex workers through alternate livelihood generation means (Sewing, parlour work etc.). A total of 300 women have been provided sewing courses free of cost. Krishna is now looking ahead towards building a safe-home for such vulnerable women in her hometown. Her work for social good started getting popular with the days and simultaneously her funding base also increased.
Krishna enjoys mentoring her younger colleagues on simple, quick and catchy techniques of spreading HIV AIDS awareness in the community. Together they have been able to sensitise school principals and have conducted HIV AIDS awareness events for adolescent girls and boys, sensitized sex workers through lawyers on issues of sex workers rights, helped sex workers to find safe accommodation, enrol their children in education and so forth. When asked how far she wanted her CBO to grow, she mentioned “Pure Rajasthan mein phail jaye aur HIV AIDS ke bare mein har ek insaan ko samjha saku” (It should spread across Rajasthan such that we are able to spread the message of HIV AIDS to all people).
Once a female sex worker who had gone to a different district with her client was abused and badly beaten by some locals in an act of hate. The bones of her hands and legs were smashed. As soon as the CBO women heard of this incident they rushed to the place and recovered the injured women. However, after the incident her in-laws refused to keep her at home. The CBO mobilized funds for her treatment and had been able to successfully enrol her in an Ashraya home for a while but was later sent out as well. Krishna believes that such women who are victims of sex-work related violence require better support that can only come from a community embrace. Such incidents have inspired Krishna to start working on establishing a protected home. However, she mentions that the stigma is deep and alive; and aspirations may not always bear result. At the same time, she reassured that her work in this regard would not stop or be daunted.
Krishna admits that her transition from a sex worker to a social worker who is respected and demanded for in society for her hard work and commitment; has been an intense journey. But she adds that the inner transformation that had taken shape within her was far more noteworthy. Krishna celebrates this inner freedom and looks forward to sharing a taste of this independence with women-like-her through the CBO. “Jo Guzar Gaya Who Beeta Kal, Bhul Jana Hi Zindagi Hain. Pehli wali Krishna Jo Hain, Woh Marr Chuki Hain”(The bygone past is better forgotten, To forget about it is life! The old version of Krishna is no longer alive) and she smiles.
This is blog is written by the Technical Support Unit which is being supported by PHFI.
Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) with support of the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) is implementing the Technical Support Units (TSUs) in five states of the country namely Jharkhand, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh since September 2018. The TSUs provide technical assistance to the state HIV/AIDS program to ensure they meet their HIV prevention, care, support and treatment deliverables.