Kindling hope among the distressed for the last 14 years is what makes Urmi Basu a true change maker

9th Aug 2015
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Meena (name changed) is a survivor of trafficking at the young age of 11 years. For years she was totally withdrawn about her past. It took the counsellors at New Light a great deal of patience to initiate the healing process for her, though even today her scars are too deep. She was lured away from her village in North 24 Parganas by a neighbour who was already involved in human trafficiking. The woman took her to Bihar and sold her to male traffickers who abused her and then forced her to dance as an adult at wedding parties to pay back her price. Meena was regularly injected with growth hormones so that she would look older than her actual age. Somehow she managed to escape from the clutches of her traffickers and landed in Kalighat. Having begun her formal education rather late it has taken more than normal time for her to finish her schooling. In June 2015 she finished her Higher Secondary education and has gone on to obtaining professional training with the support of New Light. Meena is a very hardworking and responsible young woman who has survived and won against untold suffering and abuse. She is a winner today.


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Hema (name changed) is a trafficked victim who became a survivor at age 10 when she was rescued by the Police from a brothel in the notorious red light district of Sonagachhi in Kolkata. It was actually the woman who claimed to be her foster mother who pushed her into child prostitution. Her early years and teenage was spent at a government approved shelter for survivors of trafficking. Once she attained adulthood and was released by court order she came to Sonar Tori, a home run by New Light, for safe shelter. She has been at Sonar Tori for the last few years. Currently she is preparing for the senior secondary examination through open school. A very graceful dancer Hema has trained under experts and wishes to pursue a career in dance sometime soon in the future.

The enlightened one

New Light has indeed brought hope to girls like Hema and Meena. Set up in Kolkata in 2000 by Urmi Basu, New Light is a shining example of how change is possible. Activism runs in Urmi’s family. Her grandfather was a doctor who set up a school for dalit children in his own home. Urmi says her family “Always challenged everything that’s traditional in India.”

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Urmi Basu

“A walk down the dark lanes of Kalighat way back in 2000 changed my life forever. Fifteen years ago my passion for gender equality and my background in social work joined forces with two young members of the Kalighat community, Krishna Mondal and Shib Narayan Bhattacharjee. Together, using Rs 10000 and no blue print for success, we set up New Light,” remembers Urmi Basu, who has done her Masters in criminology and correctional administration from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. In her early life Urmi had the opportunity to work at the cell set up for women in distress by the Mumbai Police Department and that left a lasting impression on her mind. She was also a relief worker during the Bhopal gas leak tragedy in December 1984.

For 15 long years Basu worked with both small and well-known organisations involved in the developmental sector. She had the opportunity to address issues related to urban and rural economic development, empowerment and protection of vulnerable groups (such as women engaged in sex work and subjected to extreme violence), street children, trafficked child labourers, and young people in exploited situation.

Providing a safe haven


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It is every child’s right to grow up in a world that is safe and secure in every aspect. Unfortunately this is something which has been neglected for years in India. As is the case with many other social evils the ugly head of child abuse and molestation remained covered in the shroud of denial for the longest time. At New Light the need for a safe shelter was felt from the very beginning. “In the lanes of many red light districts where the mothers need to work in the evenings and sometimes all night long children are often left with indifferent adult supervision or are totally unattended. Years ago I felt the need to provide a safe and secure shelter for the children of the community and started an evening crèche. The same services today have been extended to all other programs under New Light which try to guarantee highest level of child safety and security. Today New Light runs 3 homes for children including two for girls and one for boys,” says Urmi Basu.

Enabling an atmosphere of care and protection

“With an estimated 40,000 new trafficked sex workers in the city each year, it’s no small task. But with my dedicated team at New Light, we have consistently created a safe haven for the children, the women, the survivors of trafficking and people living with HIV/AIDS with bare minimum infrastructure and limited resources,” informs Basu.


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The mission of New Light is to promote gender equality through education and life-skill training and reduce harm caused by violence and abuse to women and young children. “We don’t support legislation of prostitution as we believe in the fact that most women involved in sex trade are victims of circumstances and would choose a different life if they have the opportunity to do so,” adds Urmi.Marginalized population is largely neglected and remains completely incapable of accessing the right medical care through the government healthcare system. In order to bring basic healthcare services like emergency support, immunization, treatment for chronic illnesses and lifestyle diseases New Light has been providing comprehensive healthcare to the entire sex workers community for the past 14 years. Healthcare support is also extended to the immediate community and also to people outside the red light district. Operating out of two locations, the clinic set up by New Light operates five days a week and is visited by a general practitioner, a paediatrician and a gynaecologist. Six health workers, a full time trained nurse and an assistant nurse provide emergency medical care to the mothers and the children of the target population round the clock.

Paving the path to empowerment

‘Good health is of no use if there is no purpose in life’ says Basu and for a purposeful engagement of the rehabilitated women at New Light she empowers them through creativity, cooperation and conservation. “Our training program involving women both from the sex-workers’ community and Dalit groups gather around in a circle of sisterhood creating stories of struggle and triumph in recycled cotton fabric. The project called Aanchal creates alternative, sustainable avenues of employment and income for exited or ready to exit sex workers and other distressed women. These unemployed, socially and economically marginalized women are trained and equipped to produce exquisite Kantha embroidery. The project uses the traditional creative skills to develop marketable products, household utility items, out of old, discarded saris, dhotis or other soft clothes by embroidering those together,” says Urmi, the firebrand social developer, under whose leadership New Light has rescued more than 40 trafficked or sexually abused women and children.


 

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Paving the path to empowerment


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‘Good health is of no use if there is no purpose in life’ says Basu and for a purposeful engagement of the rehabilitated women at New Light she empowers them through creativity, cooperation and conservation. “Our training program involving women both from the sex-workers’ community and Dalit groups gather around in a circle of sisterhood creating stories of struggle and triumph in recycled cotton fabric. The project called Aanchal creates alternative, sustainable avenues of employment and income for exited or ready to exit sex workers and other distressed women. These unemployed, socially and economically marginalized women are trained and equipped to produce exquisite Kantha embroidery. The project uses the traditional creative skills to develop marketable products, household utility items, out of old, discarded saris, dhotis or other soft clothes by embroidering those together,” says Urmi, the firebrand social developer, under whose leadership New Light has rescued more than 40 trafficked or sexually abused women and children.

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