At the age of 40, Jayamma Bhandari works with women sex workers in building a respectable source of income. Through Chaitanya Mahila Mandali (CMM), she is taking up skilling and livelihood courses so that these women step out of the murky business with dignity and financial help.
For someone who is today known as a crusader, Jayamma has had her own share of past that is as haunting and disturbing as women stuck in the flesh trade. Orphaned at a tender age of three, she was forced into the business by the man she married. Through her organisation, she has given a new lease of life to over 5,000 women and over 3,500 children.
CMM, which works in high-risk slum communities to raise awareness on sexual rights and reproductive health, trains these women to take up skilling and livelihood courses. Very recently, she was conferred with the Nari Shakti (Women Power) Award on International Women's Day. Fondly known as 'amma', she has also won the Exemplar Award in 2017, says indianwomenblog.
Hailing from the Nalgonda district, she grew up in poverty. Her extended family, who wanted to get rid of her, got her married to a man who physically and mentally tortured her for money. When the family denied fulfilling his wishes, he pushed her into flesh trade. Recollecting those days, Jayamma says that she considered killing herself several times. But her young daughter was always a source of strength and courage, she adds.
In a chance encounter, she met Jai Singh Thomas, who was then working with an NGO. He persuaded Jayamma to set up an organisation that will hone sex workers' vocational skills after he noticed her impressive leadership qualities in an event. He then offered her the job of coordinator. In 2001, Jayamma moved out of her job to set up CMM in Andhra Pradesh. In an interview with IANS, she talks about the hardships of convincing women to leave behind their past. She says,
It's really a daunting task to convince them as some of these women have become addicted to alcohol, drugs, smoking, sex and living in that environment. They have many questions: will they be able to earn enough to support themselves and their kids? Won't their situation be more miserable if the world doesn't accept them due to their past? We have the challenge to win their confidence and persuade them by offering help and support. Forcible rehabilitation doesn't work in such cases and, as such, de-addiction, counseling, and slow, long-term therapy become necessary to restore their lives.