Seven decades back in time, an entire nation rallied behind the dhoti clad mahatma and claimed with no declamatory phrases, no high dramatization, and no bloodshed, a destiny of their own. The world had then stared with apprehensive eyes at our infant nation, with the hard pressing question-“will Nehru’s gamble with democracy, our tryst with destiny work?” Democracy is a word shrouded in paradoxes, and with the development of the subaltern school of thought, it was as if the Pandora box was suddenly opened and all these ideas that were otherwise embedded in the social fabric came out in the open. With this paradigm shift came the representation of those at the margins- with their major flaws and petty triumphs, constantly struggling with the desire to move up the social ladder and held back by the intricate web of interpersonal relations, fear of society and their own inhibitions. The “Red-Light” area of Kamathipura in Mumbai is a manifestation of the “othered”-those who have been left behind to fend for themselves as the wheel of governance crushes them. The mood is somber as one enters this hub of flesh trade. In the garb of heavy makeup, young girls and old women hide the bone chilling horrors of prostitution. The act of prostitution bears the stigma of illegality in India and therefore those engaged or forced into flesh trade have to compromise on basic human rights and facilities. In the glamour of the economic capital, these women and their children become increasingly irrelevant, or as Ms. Priti Patkar puts it-“invisible.”
Ms. Patkar is the proud owner of “Prerana (inspiration)”, a non-governmental organization that works towards the upliftment of the children of these prostitutes. Often one finds that children raised in the vicinity of Kamathipura end up picking the same livelihood, thus becoming a part of this vicious cycle of despair. “Prerana” aims at breaking the shackles of this inter-generational trafficking by educating the children of Kamathipura and making them aware of alternate choices in life. It is interesting to note that Ms. Patkar is a renowned medalist from the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and instead of a plush cushion job, has remained true to the spirit of path breaking groundwork striving to give back to society. While initially her presence in the area was looked at with suspicion, over years she has successfully treaded paths with the “madams (brothel owners)” and the power brokers. As a result of her tiresome efforts, her organization was able to start a night-care program wherein the children were tended to while their mothers worked. The fee for the same was a mere 5 rupees, thus relieving the mothers of back breaking expenditure. Over the years, the organization has seen the light of the day and now has 4 centres covering holistic aspects of these childrens’ personalties including education, interpersonal skills and nutrition. Ms. Patkar also actively engages herself with other NGOs and various government bodies, encouraging them to adopt and implement a similar model elsewhere.
The word “Prerana” literally means inspiration and Ms. Priti Patkar and her team of forty truly embody the same. Their story should be a stepping stone for aspiring academics such as myself and should constantly be a reminder that the real purpose of studying Hegel and Foucault lies in the implementation of their ideas in the material world.
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