Out of brothel, Latur woman fights HIV, child abuse

NEW DELHI: Rekha (name changed) is a key member of a Gurgaon child helpline which comes to the aid of children in distress. From the confidence and activism this 25-year-old displays, no one can tell that she is HIV-positive, has fought her way out of the brothels of Delhi’s largest redlight area, G.B. Road where she was forced into prostitution for nearly four years and is now fighting against her trafficker and the brothel owner in the Tis Hazari courts. It’s her fight, she says, to restore her honour.

Times of India

NEW DELHI: Rekha (name changed) is a key member of a Gurgaon child helpline which comes to the aid of children in distress. From the confidence

and activism this 25-year-old displays, no one can tell that she is HIV-positive, has fought her way out of the brothels of Delhi’s largest redlight area, G.B. Road where she was forced into prostitution for nearly four years and is now fighting against her trafficker and the brothel owner in the Tis Hazari courts. It’s her fight, she says, to restore her honour.

Visit her office in Gurgaon and you cannot miss Rekha animatedly talking about her plans to build awareness and preparing diligently for her outreach tasks. Her day is full, including, at times, visits to police stations. No one can tell that just a few years back she like thousands of women on G.B Road shuddered at the mere mention of the word police.

Rekha has accepted her HIV-positive status. “Anything can happen anytime but I want to live with dignity,” she says when prodded about her medical condition. Her busy days obviously help her to cope. “I take calls on our helpline, visit police stations in connection with cases and also work on outreach projects to spread awareness,” she says, summing up her day’s routine.

After she managed to get out of G B Road, she got her trafficker arrested. Despite her medical condition, she never misses a date at the court. “Main har bar apni haazri laga kar aati hoon court mein. (I mark my presence in the court each time the matter comes up for hearing),” she says.

Born in a poor family in Latur in Maharashtra, Rekha was one of eight siblings. Poverty drove her family to marry her off at the tender age of 13. Fights with her alcoholic husband happened almost every day and soon she had two children. Four years after the marriage, her husband abandoned her. As she took to odd jobs to provide for her children, she was drugged by a woman “friend” and found herself in a G B Road brothel. For days she was beaten up and denied food for refusing to “entertain” customers. It was only when the pimp hit her one-month-old daughter and three-year-old son that Rekha gave in out of fear for their lives.

Rekha reveals that for four years she worked in G B Road. Every time she would refuse, she would be thrashed. Gradually she managed to put her two children in a hostel so that they were out of the hostile environment. Soon after, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Not prepared to put up with the exploitation any longer, she stepped out of the brothel one day three years back when the in-charge had gone out. “Mein bahar nikli aur dar ko apne man se nikal kar bhag gai (I stepped out, putting my fears behind and ran),” Rekha recounts.

When she came to the main road, she realised that she came from a different world. “Sab mere chote kapde aur dark make-up dekh rahe the (Everyone around was staring at my short dress and garish make-up),” she says. She then got in touch with NGO Shakti Vahini which works for the welfare of prostitutes on G.B Road.

Out of the brothel, Rekha found herself in the middle of a fresh battle against HIV. But she has taken it in her stride. Her life now revolves around her work and the welfare of her two children. As far as her own aspirations go, she says simply: “Zindagi kab shuru hui, kab khatam hui pata hi nahin laga (I didn’t even get the time to realise when life began and came to an end).”



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