Nominated by New Light.
I have been told that my father was killed by dacoits (robbers) deep in the forested delta of the Ganges in the Sundarbans when my mother was seven months pregnant with me. Life in the Sundarbans is hard enough for families but for a pregnant widow alone with a five year old son, it became a story of the living dead. My mother, an illiterate village woman, had no option but to travel to Kolkata along with her young son in search of work. What unfolded was the classic story of a woman landing up in Kalighat and being put to prostitution. An elderly woman whom I grew up to see as my grandmother provided shelter for my mother and my brother and looked after them like her own family. I was born shortly thereafter on the terrace of where New Light is located today. As I write this, I lead a very committed and driven team of extraordinary people into creating history in the red light district of Kalighat Kolkata. Our mission is to fight inter-generational prostitution and trafficking of young girls and women for the purpose of sex trade.
If the story of the beginning of my life does not motivate me to fight for the rights of women and saving of young girls--if this is not my mission in life--I shall not be worth my salt. In 2000, when I came face to face with one of the other founding members of New Light, I realized what could be the purpose of the story of my life. At age 17 I had very little choice about what my future would be. A moment’s decision altered my destined path and I continued to create the life that I saw for myself. I chose to give my voice and my commitment to the women in prostitution and their children in Kalighat. There seemed to be no greater fight than saving each and every girl from the untold abuse and indignity of the life of a prostitute which is more or less the given picture of inter-generational prostitution in India. I see my life as an example of what is possible if we decide to challenge the existing mores of this marginalized society and create new models that can be replicated in each and every red light district of this country.
If awarded this extraordinary honor and financial assistance, I plan to expand my current work. The awarded funds would be used for extending micro-credit assistance and creating income generating options for the women of Kalighat. The project would involve older and ex- prostitutes who for want of financial support very often are forced into looking at recruiting younger women and girls into prostitution. Very often the older women use their own dwellings to engage younger women to work for them. Financial stability and dignity in every day living will encourage these women to stop looking at new recruits as a source of livelihood. In my fight against inter-generational prostitution and trafficking, it is vital to create alternative livelihood options and nothing would mean more than providing this assistance to the women whom I have seen as aunts, sisters, friends and neighbors.
I believe change is possible. I feel I am empowered enough to fight against something that has plagued this part of the world for many years. But this cannot be just one person's fight. Every single day, thousands of girls are lost to the horrible reality of prostitution in my country. I seek friends and partners from around the world to join in and continue in this fight. Each and every person around the world can contribute more than their share of voice, pen, ink and muscle to stop what can be viewed as the worst form of exploitation.