[Survivor Series] This former sex worker says no other woman should undergo what she suffered
In this week's Survivor Series, Lakshmi tells us after four years in an abusive marriage, her husband abandoned her to fend for herself and two small children.
I have come a long way since my husband left me after four years of severe abuse. Even when I was seven months pregnant, he would continue to beat me. After he abandoned me, I tried to go home, but my own mother refused to accept me back. With no skills to get a job, I ended up working as a housemaid and was cleaning vessels to feed my children and myself. One day, a man approached me and offered Rs 100 if I slept with him.
I had no work at the time and we were starving, so I took him up on his offer. That is how I first became involved in sex work. I tried to sell vegetables to make a living, but the vendor said that he would only give me vegetables in exchange for sex.
I was forced to take his offer and he gave me vegetables worth Rs 2,000. I spent the next few years like this, but I had no choice with two small children to care for and no one to help me. My husband had walked out on me, my own family had disowned me. I spent nearly four years like this. The only people I met were my clients and once their job was done, they would leave after paying me Rs 10 or Rs 20.
My life changed the day I met Tabassum Shaikh. She had stopped to buy vegetables from me. When she handed me the money, I fainted. I had been starving for more than two days. Tabassum was working with the Bekalu Mahila Sangha, a community organisation, which is part of Taaras Coalition, a platform for marginalised women. She got me clothes as mine were tattered. She even got blouses stitched for me. When I visited the NGO office, Suresh Gudadari sir and Leela Horakeri madam, who are service coordinators, asked me about my situation. I told them my whole story -- how my husband abused and left me, and how I was forced to opt for sex work to make a living.
After joining the organisation, I realised that I was not the only one who went through this trauma, and that there are many like me. The organisation helped me find a home, got my children admitted to a school, and spoke to the vegetable vendor and cautioned him to never coerce me into having sex with him.
I availed benefits under the Chetana scheme where I was given Rs 20,000 to restart my business on my own. My children are my strength; they are my courage. I keep pushing myself so they can have a bright future. I am grateful I met Tabassum as she helped me to get me out of my misery.
If anyone solicits sex from me, I boldly tell them, “Get away! I am going to my organisation if you force me. I work hard and earn a living. If any of you touches me, I will call my organisation members. You used to make me drink and dance to your tune. Now if you force me to drink, I will beat you instead”.
The struggles I have gone through, no other woman should ever undergo.
Lakshmi Bamani is a member of Taaras Coalition, a national platform for women in sex work leaders and their community organisations.
Edited by Diya Koshy George