Uncovering joy in these lost streets

How one couple is bringing joy in the streets of Sonagachi

When we first entered Sonagachi, people there thought of us as just another NGO trying to mint money. They did not like the idea of keeping their phones switched off during meditation sessions as that meant losing a customer. And the pimps would always be ready to fight. But we were persistent and finally, our first program took off!

The first time the women meditated, they said there was something different about our NGO. Then, they knew as little of us as we knew of them. But as the days passed by, we got to see a side of them which I doubt the world knows. We have seen them dancing and singing devotional songs with utter zest. Only later we realized our satsangs are the only occasions when they did not have to dance to lure a customer. Here, they dance for their own joy.

Life is tough here. After turning 40, the sex workers are left with no source of income. Even when they’re active, they struggle with STDs, regular harassment of pimps, and the unending stress of making ends meets. With all this, it is hard not to have a physical ailment. To help, we conduct medical camps on weekdays between 7 to 9 pm. The patients receive free medicines, irrespective of their price.

The children of these women also have a hard life! The young girls face the risk of getting into the profession and the boys of becoming pimps. Once I saw a mother having to go to see a customer in front of her own child. I thought that no child should have to see this.

We try to make a space for these children where they can just be! We teach them yoga, meditation, dance in a small room here. Once, when we organized a stage show for them, you could see customers bargaining near the stage. While all that happened, these little talent houses performed classical Bharatanatyam with so much beauty, that they received a standing ovation. We were awed! Next year, we are sending them to the best cultural festivals in the city. We are also working to build a residential school for these kids, which will be functional in July 2018.

After all the hiccups, Sonagachi is finally supporting us. The other day when we organized a Rudra Puja, it seemed like the whole of Sonagachi was present. In just an hour a place of drunken fights and screams transformed into a place of meditative silence. The women were overjoyed. And so were we. And then when we got married, the people here sent us a shawl.

We keep coming back here every day because this place has become a second home brimming with stories of love and wonder.

- Arnab Acharjee, Project Head, Project Udaan and Mahua Sil, Volunteer Dance Teacher

Written by Vanditaa Kothari