Updated: Feb 27
The people I interact with at work, come with immensely rich ground experience and bold vision of change for their community. I see them as the unsung heroes of modern era leading waves of change in the fight against inequity in education.
As part of our second Learning Circle, we visited one such unsung hero’s site in New Delhi to learn more about their work, team and the Fellowship Model under design.
On this November morning in the gas chambered city of Delhi we were going to step into the largest red light area in India. Yes you read it right! We were going to witness extremely inspiring work of Kat-Katha with the Sex workers (read Didis) and their children.
GB Road closely looks like any other busy roads in the city. Constantly
moving traffic, narrow lanes, commercial buildings and the usual hustle of the crowd. This wasn’t my first time coming to this area. I spent three years in Delhi University and regular visits to Chawri Bazaar for some Kebabs were mandatory.
But it was my first time truly understanding this area. Gitanjali, Founder of Kat-Katha explained how 4000 women are forced into sex work in 70 matchbox sized brothels.
Gitanjali casually warned us to keep our wallets and phones safe. Last time someone from Teach For India visited them, they went back without their phones.
She also added how pimping begins from the metro station itself by the rickshaw drivers. Extended eye contacts could probably land me a customer status too. Amidst the "Rickshaw, bhai?... Rickshaw?" they slip in some "Virgin, bhai?.. Virgin?". Unsettling with every step.
We climbed through a dark and narrow staircase, bright light emerged at the end of the 3rd flight - A yellow door opened up with colourful walls and warm love from Kat Katha’s team.
The hostile and unwelcoming nature of GB Road suddenly turned into something warm and homely. Anita Didi, one of the oldest members of Kat-Katha welcomed us with some Nimbu Paani and a hand stitched heart shaped badge for each one of us.
Pyaar Ka Mauhalla as they call it - where women and children find the courage and resilience to face a cruel world that can make a person question his/her fate. I patiently observed the locality from the terrace, subtly excited about the interaction with people from a completely different walk of life.
As the day passed we got to meet some of the most inspiring people from Kat-Katha.
Meet Arjun, a usual 23 year old boy born in the dark alleys of G B road to a sex worker. As a kid when I was enjoying love, care and holistic upbringing, Arjun witnessed the violent and brutal attitude of the society towards his mother and siblings. Constant ill-treatment in the society from his friends and teachers at school made him quit studies at 6th grade.
In search of purpose, Arjun joined Kat Katha as a volunteer. He shared with us how, love, acceptance and freedom in Kat Katha helped him find his true passion as a photographer and become the voice of thousands of women who are dejected and violated on a regular basis by the society.
Check out these powerful videos produced by Arjun and his crew, depicting the life and conflicts of mothers and kids from GB road.
Sangeeta was born in Morena, Madhya Pradesh in a family of traditional dancers. Her fate was decided from birth. She was sent to Mumbai in her teens for sex work and was sold to a man at the age of 19. Mother of three children, she met Kat Katha in 2014 and tasted freedom by getting involved in different activities. In 2016, Kat-Katha conceptualised a Tiffin service project. The idea was to prepare healthy meals and deliver it in the brothels and shops.
Sangeeta always had a special interest in cooking and she immediately connected with the project. There started her journey of transformation.
This group now consists of 5 women working full time in the project and preparing more than 4000 meals per month. They broke the shackles that tied them down, and stepped into a new world of possibilities. Serving love and dignity with each meal.
We started the day with a very soothing prayer inclusive of all religions. Soon Gitanjali’s team presented the fellowship model they have been working on. Aimed at creating safe spaces at conflict hit communities through love, acceptance and freedom. This will be a 2 year intensive journey for Fellows to work closely with the Didis as well as their children with an intention to understand and initiate a journey of change.
This program is going to bring courage and resilience to children and didi just like Arjun and Sangeeta found the courage to break their shackles of society and understand their true potential. Through this Fellowship the children will receive education and exposure that will help them to pursue their passion and live a life of their choice. In the long run, these children and Didis will become change agents and inspiration of the community, transforming brothels and conflict areas into safer spaces.
Later in the evening we met the children and observed the volunteers take their classes. The volunteers understood the space and importance of love, acceptance and freedom. Their conversation with the children showed how deep-rooted their trust is. This of course wasn’t achieved over a short time. Kat Katha’s volunteers are selected after a rigorous process to ensure the best experience and bond with the community. I was truly inspired by their courage, determination and engagement with the cause.
This experience definitely broke my perception of what existed behind these greasy walls. It filled me with hope and strengthened my belief in the work our tribe is doing everyday. I hope the Didis as well as each one of us find not only the courage within ourselves to accept our situation but also the strength to have a vision for a better self and do what it takes to get there. Kat-Katha’s deep-rooted work in this community will definitely bring out countless stories of acceptance, courage, love, resilience and freedom. Their Fellowship will be launched in a couple of months. We have exciting times ahead! Stay Tuned.
About the writer
Kevin Panicker works towards TFIx's continuous visibility and growth. With a mathematics degree from St. Stephen's College in Delhi University, he joined Teach For India's fellowship programme right after college. He taught 120 students in a low income private school in Hyderabad. Post Fellowship he joined TFIx as Communications & Development Associate, to support the Entrepreneurs with Marketing and Fundraising. He is a sports & food enthusiast and loves backpacking and exploring new places.