A day at the Brothel

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One night there was a special mail from my dear friend, Pratyush, that read

Would like to invite you to an afternoon of art and fun with kids on Feb 2 (Sat). Pls read on for more details.

Time: 2-5 pm

Location: GB road, Delhi (will meet at New Delhi metro station, 0.5 kms from there)

Background

Our dear sister Gitanjali (she came to the 1st Awakin also) has been engaging with the didis (sex workers) and their kids in Delhi’s red light area on GB road. In terms of project activities in the past 1 year, she has focused on developing tailoring skills among the didis (the ones interested and allowed to come) and also providing an environment for their kids that is conducive to fun and learning. They do quite a bit with the approx. 20 kids now that some more volunteers have joined in (dance, art, school subjects, etc) Its been quite a journey for her and the group, one that we cannot imagine!!! At some point later, hope to hear her story J

Among the various ripples that the group’s fearlessness and determination has generated, one has been that a brothel owner has given them a space for the kids, on the top floor. This ‘play school’ area is at present barren, and can be made more child-friendly! So, we thought of inviting our dear ones over to come and unleash the artist in them! And, of course, spend time with the kids J

At that moment, I did not stop to think about the ‘red light area’ part or the ‘sex workers’ part as I was too consumed in my excitement to get crafty and  to creatively do up a certain space. Never having seen a brothel before, I was quite oblivious to what was in store for me. Saturday morning was all about brainstorming about the possible crafts, making a list, hopping to the closest market and getting down to some pre-preparations. By 1pm, I was all set to go with my box full of craft goodies.

As our car entered GB road, we were taken aback by the sight of the sex workers waving from window grills from above the line of shops on the ground floor. A chill ran down my spine. Just then, Pratyush came in, helped us park and showed us the way to the staircase leading to one of the brothels. The climb to the topmost floor where the children were waiting seemed to take a lifetime. The dark green walls, the women sitting around, the man leaving hurriedly, the claustrophobia had me shivering from top to toe. I was clenching Amber’s hand as tight as a tick!

By the time, I met the kids, I was dumbstruck. So I went about decorating the place and making it look more creative and colourful, all with shivering hands and stammer in my speech. But as time passed, I realised how these children were no different from any other children I’ve ever met. The boys were naughty, smart and proactive while the girls were shy, patient and artistic just like in most homes and neighbourhoods.

Some of the Didis too came upstairs and one of them sat with us to make a beautiful piece of art. They were all pleasant and kind and quite oblidged to see so many of us contributing. But you know what I think? It is us who should be immensely grateful to them for facing the dark side of brutes, the shame of the society and freeing us to enjoy the good life.

I found myself regretting all the times I would have in my mind abused another woman to be a ‘whore’. You see, it isn’t an abuse at all! Whores are women with a profession that earns them a livelihood. They take in their stride, various forms of frustration and desperation, which otherwise maybe you or me would have had to face. Can we not give them a little respect, if nothing else?

If I had stopped to think about the consequences of visiting a brothel, maybe I would have turned down Pratyush’s invitation. But my ignorance dragged me there and I am glad I was able to help make a very small yet significant difference in their lives. Hats off to Gitanjali and her team for being so dedicated in their cause.

Turning a blind eye to such a glaring reality of our society is anything but praiseworthy. Wouldn’t it be a beautiful world if we saw all the diverse aspects of our society, free of judgement, and learnt to give each human being his/her due respect and acceptance.

Yes, it would be!

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Belief System in the Real World

bribe

In this Article I would like to share my journey 6 months after SOIL, focusing specifically on the belief system that I had developed and its implications in the real world since then.

Bribing and getting the work done is something that has seeped into every system of our society. While studying at School of Inspired Leadership (SOIL) a lot of emphasis was given on being ethical no matter what may come. We were exposed to lot of live examples of people who have done really well in life by walking the straight path. One of them, with whom we all closely interacted, was the CEO of our school himself, Mr. Anil Sachdev. He in an inspiration to a lot of us and has helped us all strengthen and sometimes develop a belief system to fall back upon.

In the last 6 months I have faced 3 situations where I have been asked for a bribe. I have tried to narrate them below in the best possible way:

Story 1: July 28th 2012, my wife and I boarded the Kolkata Rajdhani from Kanpur at 6:00 AM to go to New Delhi. We settled into our seats when the TC came to check the tickets. He pointed a mistake which was, while booking the tickets I had forgotten to select “Female” for my wife and hence the default entry “male” was reflecting against her name. To clarify further, the TC asked me to come to his seat with a valid Id proof of my wife.

On reaching there, he started telling me how grave a mistake that was and insisted that I should pay the fine and get a new ticket made for my wife. The new ticket would have cost me Rs. 1900, against the standard price of Rs. 1000 because of the fine for boarding the train without a ticket. I apologized to him for my mistake and requested him to cross check all other details and consider this as a genuine mistake. To that he made me an offer of settling the issue by paying Rs.500 as bribe. I politely told him that “neither I nor you will like if I paid a bribe. We keep cribbing about corruption and now we are indulging in it ourselves (and a little more gyan). If you think that it is such a grave mistake then I will buy a new ticket and later file a TDR for the existing one, but I would not pay the bribe”. He had no defence and so he told me that I can go and need not pay anything.

Story 2: November 2nd 2012, my wife and I reached Delhi from Ahmedabad at 7:00 AM in the morning. It being our first Karwa Chauth, we both were fasting and hence had to visit my In Laws, who stay at a 6 hour drive from Delhi, for the ritual. Although we were supposed to leave Delhi by 10:00 AM, things got delayed and we managed to leave only by 1:00 PM. Hungry, thirsty and extremely late, I thought of making up the lost time by putting my foot down on the accelerator. We were on the Delhi-Ambala expressway where the maximum speed is set to 90 KMPH, however I was cruising comfortably at 110 KMPH. Just before we reached Panipat, we were intercepted by the cops for over speeding. As I stopped on the side, I was asked to come out only to be told that my speed was 110 KMPH.

I was informed of the consequences: A fine of Rs.2000 plus my licence to be punched and be collected from some official in Panipat after 15 days. Ignorant of the law, I had assumed that the amount he quoted would be out of the air. I requested him to fine me for Rs1000 and let me go as coming back and collecting the license will be too much of a trouble. He declined my request but proposed that we can “settle” things for Rs.500 without putting anything in the books. I at no point wanted to pay a single penny as bribe and so I told him the same things that neither I nor he would like if I paid a bribe so it’s best that I pay the fine of Rs.2000. I was also willing to let go of my license and collect it later from Panipat after it had been punched. Something happened that minute, he told his colleague to write me a fine of Rs.300 and let me go. While going back to my car, which was parked at some distance, I crossed him again. He shook hands and told me that “See not all policemen are corrupt and there are who don’t take bribe”. I smiled, thanked him and was back on road at the speed of 85 KMPH.

Story 3: December 8th 2012, I was coming back to Delhi from Bhubanaeswar in Purshottam Express. I had a reservation in 2nd Ac however my ticket was under RAC (Reservation Against Cancellation) so for a 30 hour journey, I had to share my seat with another gentleman. On the first night in the train, I was fortunate to get a berth to sleep on, since many passengers were expected to come in the morning and the TC was kind enough to let me grab one for the time being. However, there was hardly any space the next night. I was told to ask the new TC, who would board at Allahabad Station, to allot me a berth to sleep on, if there is one free. The train had been delayed by 6 hours already and so we reached Allahabad at 1:30 AM. I explained the TC my situation only to be told to come back in 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes he allotted me a berth of a person who had not boarded the train from Allahabad. Thanking my stars, I grabbed my stuff to go to the berth and thanked the TC for his generosity. When I reached my berth I could see that he was expecting something more than some appreciation. He asked me to come to see him with my ticket after I am done settling in. I approached him with my e-ticket and his response was “ Oh it’s on mobile, if you had the paper one I would have written your seat number on it, Anyways Kuch Seva kar dijiye” ( Please do some charity by paying me a bribe). With a puppy face and in a very polite manner I replied back saying “Sir, I am sorry but mae Seva nahi karta hun “(I am sorry I don’t do charity). He was taken aback and came back with “Yeh to bahut acchi baat hae ki Seva nahi karte hae aap” ( It is very good that you don’t do charity). That was the end of the conversation and I slept like a baby on my new cherished possession.
Going through these three experiences I learnt that we always have a choice no matter what. The consequence of not paying a bribe can only be losing out on a personal front. In all these three occasions I had either some money or comfort to loose. Also, it was my fault in the first place for not being careful while booking a ticket or over speeding.

I believe that sticking on to the belief system no matter what the situation is important. One will always get compensated much more than we lose. There is no price tag for the satisfaction of doing the right thing that we gain out of such experiences. As humans, sometimes things become very difficult to handle and we break down, but that should not discourage us from still coming back and trying to do the right thing. After all, our failures should only teach us something.

I wanted to share it as I believe that my one year at SOIL has a big role in restoring my belief system. Learning first hand from people who have lived their life trying to do the right thing has highly inspired me. I wanted to express my gratitude to the institution and the belief system that it is trying to inculcate in its students. Thank you for doing that for the country. This is the biggest need of the hour. – Amber Agarwal