“We lived in Kamathipura in a rat-infested room with no electricity and 5 other families. My 5 siblings and I grew up watching prostitutes and druggies on our way to school. Our life was spent living in fear. A curfew was imposed in the communal riots in the 90’s. My mother was pregnant. I was the oldest so, I accompanied her and what I saw horrified me. I saw mutilated bodies and drains were red with blood. A man with a nasty wound was begging the policeman for help. They blamed him for leaving the house in the first place.
My father wanted to move back to the village. But my mother was adamant about our education. She threatened to kill herself and all the children if they weren’t educated because they wouldn’t have a future anyway. So, me and my sister stayed with him in Mumbai while my mother moved back to the village with the younger ones. My uneducated father made sure we were educated–he packed our lunches, tied our pigtails and sat with us for our homework every evening.
After school, I worked at a few odd jobs. I already organised events in our slums. I was just 18 when I started teaching slum kids with an NGO–my first job. And I’ve seen the worst of the worst over those 12 years. I worked with them to rehabilitate runaway girls. We counseled them, their families and reunited them.
After 4 years, I went back for an inspection. One of the girls from Rajasthan was mentally challenged and had suffered abuse before. This time I’d hoped I’d find her in a better place. When I saw her, she was tied outside her house to a pole. She’d sleep and eat there. The family said there was no medical help in the village and if they let her run around, she’d get pregnant and bring shame to the family.
I was shocked! There had to be a place where these women weren’t dependent on families anymore. Where they weren’t just a commodity for these people and had a real chance at making something of themselves. So with the help of an NGO, I started the Urja Trust — since then, We’ve rehabilitated over 500 women and so many of them are still a work in progress.
One of the girls married into a lower caste for love. Because of societal pressure, she was forced to leave her husband and marry a local goon. She had a mental breakdown and lost her baby. The mother-in-law threw her out of the house too. We found her roaming aimlessly on the streets and helped her get back on her feet. She now works in a packaging factory, lives independently and pays her own bills.
Society has women trained to believe they’re incapable of surviving alone. But what I’ve realised through these 500 women is that some can come out of the fire, guns blazing–reborn, to take on the world.”
Reproduced from Humans of Bombay