Geetanjali Babbar, 30 Ritumoni Das, 31
It was no staircase to heaven, which social activists Geetanjali Babbar and Ritumoni Das ascended when they took the dingy, crumbling flight of steps to the room of a sex worker in a G B Road brothel. Those steps turned out to be the most significant ones they had ever taken.
The sordid experience made them determined never to give up on love. To their shock and dismay, the two change-makers had learned that girls were ‘servicing’ 20-40 customers each day inside that dimly-lit room.
They decided then and there that the agony and humiliation must end. They realised they needed to be there more often to listen to the girls, understand their problems better, suggest solutions to uplift their social and professional status, support their children and give them opportunities for an alternate livelihood.
These aspirations got wings through Kat-Katha, an initiative that helps the unfortunate women and children in the brothels of ‘Delhi’s sin street’ enter the mainstream by acquiring a vocational or an academic skill.
Geetanjali and Ritumoni had walked down a road few other women would dare to tread. Their visits to the brothels were not always met with warmth. At times, it even affected their self-esteem. Fingers were pointed, abuses hurled, their purpose mocked and intentions scrutinised.
“We’ve chosen to walk on a road famous for being infamous, and we will make it a worthwhile journey,” affirms Geetanjali.
‘To dare’ is a necessary part of the philosophy of the two social workers. “You can overcome defeat by sharing your dark experiences with someone who understands and respects what you feel and how you feel. You should have no fear of being judged.
This gives you the courage to walk into a brothel when you know people there will only make you feel unwelcome. But you keep at it with love and compassion, and never give up,” says Ritumoni.
Working with over 1,000 sex workers and changing the way they view themselves made them feel there was gain in pain. The unfortunate girls of GB Road were forced to identify with shame. But Geetanjali and Ritumoni gave them the strength to believe there is more to a person than just what they are forced to do for a living.
The two crusaders have recruited 200 voluntary teachers from reputed colleges, who campaign for change across 42 brothels.
They have trained three women as tailors. Forty sex workers and their 15 children are getting education. Two of the women have started Maitri Meals, a tiffin service delivering food to shops outside G B Road. The two angels of mercy believe that with the right kind of support, the hapless women of Delhi’s most notorious road will be able to open more Maitri cafés and never look back at the street again.