From a fallen woman to one who mothers children of sex workers

From a fallen woman to one who mothers children of sex workers
Highlights

Tears of joy well in Bandari Jayamma’s eyes as she begins to talk about how one girl among the scores of children of sex workers she has sheltered and raised with motherly care for years, providing education and life skills, cleared the MBBS final examination.  

Hyderabad: Tears of joy well in Bandari Jayamma’s eyes as she begins to talk about how one girl among the scores of children of sex workers she has sheltered and raised with motherly care for years, providing education and life skills, cleared the MBBS final examination.

Many of the other girls under her protective care have got jobs in top software companies, with some of them settling down in the United States of America. Not many would believe that Jayamma is a woman, who, in less than two decades, turned around her life from being a docile married woman forced into prostitution by her husband to head an NGO that caters to the needs of children of sex workers, after isolating them from the underbelly of degraded urban life.

Jayamma, 39, hailing from Nalgonda district, is the moving spirit behind the vibrant Chaitanya Mahila Mandali, an NGO she founded with a clear mission. “I am an orphan. My parents died when I was a child. My maternal uncle brought me up. I studied up to 10th class. I fell love with a person, married him, and moved to Hyderabad from Nalgonda in 1995… It was only after I gave birth to a girl child that I realised my husband’s originality,” she recalls, with palpable bitterness.

According to her, he harassed her for three months, asking her to be a sex worker. When she refused, he threatened to kill their daughter. “To save my daughter, and left with no other option, I became a sex worker in 1997. No one helped me,” she said, wiping away tears streaming down her cheek.

While doing sex work, she came across many other women who had tried in vain to battle challenges before resigning to their fate. But, then she intensely prayed to God for help to save her from the hell and give her a job, even if it is something that would get her only Rs 1,500 per month.

Those were the days when she and other sex workers encountered harassment by police personnel, local goondas and pimps. It was during those infernal days that she resolved to do something to come out of the trap, and bring succor to the other helpless women.

Around that time, the undivided Andhra Pradesh government introduced HIV prevention programme. Jai Singh, belonging to an NGO, met her as a part of the programme and listened to her story. Seeing her enthusiasm to turn around her life, he offered her a job for Rs. 3,000 pm.

With proper training, she learned skills to motivate sex workers to adopt methods to prevent contracting AIDS and HIV. Over the next one year, as part of her work, she met people from many other NGOs working for sex workers.

Finally, she decided to dedicate her life to transforming the lives of sex workers. Against odds, she chose to start an NGO to rehabilitate sex workers. At that point of time, there were around 6,000 sex workers in Hyderabad alone.

Recounting the opposition that she had faced then, she says, “No one supported my plan to launch an NGO. Even sex workers discouraged me, saying: How can we form an organisation? Will anyone listen to us? How can we introduce ourselves as the world sees as ‘chedipoieena vallu’ (fallen women)?

Not the one to give in, Jayamma launched Chaitanya Mahila Madali. “I have since faced many problems from the police. Many people insulted me. There is no recognition for our work. Hurdles continued for two years,” she points out.

Gradually, thanks to her sincerity, she got support from some of the sex workers she had approached. The Andhra Pradesh State AIDS Control Society (APSACS) also recognised her efforts in prevention of HIV among sex workers.

Having worked jointly with an NGO for one year in 2004, it was not difficult for her to meet sex workers in different settings and understand the issues they face with regard to health and children’s education. She soon realized that her own work in the future was cut out. She used the experiences as seedbed for the NGO she had in mind.

Looking back, Jayamma says: “I observed that many children of sex workers were imitating their mothers and entering sex work as if they have no other choice. Lack of mother’s affection made the children choose wrong ways and learn vulgar language. Boys were becoming thieves, brokers for mothers and sisters. I counselled the mothers to keep away children from their work.”

In 2002, Jayamma started a programme called ‘Second generation prevention into sex work’, with 120 daughters of sex workers on board. The aim of the programme was to protect the daughters of sex workers from eventual exploitation by educating them and making them fit to take up decent jobs.

Initially, she gave them accommodation, food and helped them complete schooling. After the children completed 10th class, she put them in hostels, guided them to take appropriate courses, and followed up on their progress after studies.

“We provide them (children of sex workers) clothes, school fee and books”, she says. Children of around 70 sex workers got jobs and finally we could reintegrate them with their parents,” said Jayamma.

It was a tough journey. She faced a major problem with girls as almost all them had been showing signs of depression. “The ages of girls who came to us were between six and seven years. With no knowledge of who their father was and why their mother was talking to so many men, they were in a state of confusion. Why wasn’t their mother staying with them at night, but slept all day? Such doubts caused depression among them. They need separate care. It took us around one year to make them normal by counselling and sharing motivational and inspiring stories.”

Jayamma soon became adept in nurturing children of sex workers and helping them through their education and until they were settled. In 2011, Jayamma started a Model home, which takes care of orphans and daughters of women forced into sexual slavery. Her objective was to focus on early intervention so as to prevent the girls from falling into the trap of predators in the dangerous living environment.

“As of now, we have two girls studying Intermediate, five in 10th standard and other school going children. The school-going children are speaking fluent English. They are good at painting, singing, playing musical instruments and dancing,” she gushes, with maternal pride.

Jayamma is focused on protecting girls from rural areas who are vulnerable to be trapped in cities. “We are targeting 8th, 9th and 10th class girl students from 14 government schools at Maheswaram, Budevel and Shadnagar. We are educating them about reproductive health, apart from human trafficking and how girls like them could be targeted.

We also instruct them in ways of overcoming HIV infections and addressing its consequences,” she shares. In addition, the children get support in improving the soft skills and computer skills.

All this continued for last five years. Now, some donors and NGOs have come forward to provide computers and other infrastructure. Thanks to Jayamma’s unremitting efforts, the girls who pursued studies got jobs. They are now able to help their family financially. In April this year, Jayamma received the CII Foundation’s ‘Woman Exemplar Program 2017’ award from none other than President Pranab Mukherjee.

By V Naveen Kumar

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