32 years old Jayeeta (name changed) has been working in the Munshigunj brothel of Kolkata for the last 7 years. Desperate to leave her profession, she joined Divine Script in September 2012. She took her work very seriously and learnt the techniques quite well within a very short time. After working for one and a half years, she got employment in a leather factory as a full time employee with a higher salary. Now she is no longer in a brothel and lives a dignified life.
Like Jayeeta, 28 year old Farzana (name changed) also worked in a brothel for 12 years. She was brought to Munshigunj by a pimp a few years back. Then a well wisher sent her to Divine Script in January 2013. Last March, she got an opportunity to work as a caregiver. It is a full time job and she is earning a reasonably higher salary than before. She has left her past behind and is happy with her new identity.
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Bringing in change
Like Jayeeta and Farzana, many others from the red light districts of Khiddirpur area of Kolkata are getting a new direction in life after joining Divine Script. Founded by Mahua Sur Ray, Divine Script Society is an NGO working for underprivileged women, most of whom were or still are working in brothels.
All through her professional years in social development Mahua worked for seeking complete and long term solutions for the hapless victims of prostitution. “During my entire professional career before I created Divine Script Society, I had always felt that the need of two basic ingredients in any social development programme – effectiveness and sustainability. Even during my last employment as Deputy Director in a reputed NGO, I felt that the methodology that is being adopted to help the hapless victims of prostitution is falling far too short of expectations and would hardly mitigate the miseries of the women. This led me to think of a sustainable way of lessening the pains – both psychological and financial – of the women and girls of Khidirpur area.”
Mahua decided that it wasn’t enough to bring the women out of the brothels. They needed alternate sources of livelihood if they were to lead a financially independent life of dignity. “We started the organization way back in 2011 with a working girls’ hostel to ensure that these girls who are the children of prostitutes are not directly or indirectly forced to enter the flesh trade just because they have to share the small rooms with their mothers. Subsequently we set up a production unit where we produce several products made from recycled cycle tyres and tubes. From the export of these items we sustain this initiative of providing an alternative livelihood for the marginalized girls,” says Mahua.Safety first
Armed with an MA in Economics with more than 20 years of experience in diverse fields including project management, sexual health and reproductive child health, Mahua was determined to provide a safe shelter for girls over 18 years of age whose mothers were working in the brothels. “These girls mostly stay with their mother at night which makes them vulnerable to trafficking. Sponsored programmes are also undertaken by Divine script through which children from red light areas are admitted to different residential boarding schools where they get proper education, healthy diet and an enabling environment to grow till they complete 18 years. Once they complete the course they gain a position to get some kind of mainstreamed job by which he/ she can take his/ her mother form brothel and live with dignity. The organisation also runs a production unit where the women from marginalised communities and red light areas work in two shifts,” she informs.A dignified life
Providing an alternate livelihood to the women of red light areas is the primary focus of Mahua’s work and in achieving that she has started her own initiative. “We don’t claim that the prostitutes will leave their main profession overnight but the work in our production unit helps them to get themselves mainstreamed. As they mix with other groups, it is easy for them to get jobs outside. They also get training on interpersonal communication which helps them to gain confidence. The products are mostly exported and are also listed in Amazon.in and Paytm. The society creates an alternative livelihood for the girls and helps them to stand on their own feet and live with dignity. To give this opportunity to more women our prime focus is to expand the demand for our products in other countries. This is the only way to get more women in our unit who are desperate to live a dignified life,” says the philanthropist.The best part of Divine Script is that it doesn’t discriminate between women and girls from red light areas. The girls are a mixed lot which makes it easy for them to get opportunities in mainstream jobs. The discipline, office decorum, target oriented attitude and cleanliness that are inculcated in them help them grow and get self confident.
Road to empowerment
Life takes a 360 degree turn for the victimized women of Khidirpur area once they join Divine Script. Mahua works tirelessly to steer the course of the lives of the women from the sheer darkness of the narrow alleys to the main thoroughfares of a dignified life. “We have given shelter to 14 girls during different points in time during the last 4 years and have been able to give them support when they required and mainstreamed them at last. Through sponsorship programmes, we have been able to give support to 11 children altogether. And in our production unit, 32-35 women are working at present and building their capacity based on their aptitude level. They get training on different issues like counselling, interpersonal communication along with skill building on different product making. From our unit, 6 girls have been mainstreamed during the last 4 years of our operations,” signs off the fierce philanthropist.