HeARTshala is a tailoring workshop/program, where the sex workers are trained in stitching and tailoring.
Aarzoo, a member of Kat-Katha tells us that “Ever since the lockdown, the women at GB Road have somehow started looking for alternative means of earning and that was when they started coming to HeARTshala more actively. Now, HeARTshala is providing an alternate means of earning. There are some women who have completely left sex work and have joined HeARTshala and some who come to HeARTshala regularly and only look back to sex work when a major financial crisis comes to them.”
When the lockdown happened, there was an assessment survey conducted for 600+ women, around 70 % of women on GB Road wanted to enroll in alternative livelihoods. Considering the pandemic at the moment, as their usual economic activities slow down, the idea of HeARTshala becomes even more relevant and necessary. (Obtained from Thelkha)
At HeARTshala, Aarzoo said “these women come to these workshops and learn to stitch. They make masks, they make heart hangings they make Jhola Bags and other cute little things, and further, Kat Katha helps them sell and earn from it. They had even collaborated with Goonj who bought most of their masks and distributed it to people in need.”
About Kat – Katha
Kat – Katha is an organization that works with commercial sex workers and their children at GB Road, which is the largest red-light area in the capital city of India. It was founded by Gitanjali Babbar with the idea of liberating sex workers in brothels by helping them learn lear and join mainstream life with skills like stitching, painting, embroidery, etc. The organization not only manages to look after these women but also works to provide them with an alternate means of earning. At the heart of the organization is encouraging community learning. With her initiative, Kat Katha works for 3500 to 4000 sex workers, and especially during the pandemic, it has been a source of vital support for the sex working community.
She also tells us that apart from HeARTshala, they also have been running a bridge school where they are engaging children in online classes. “Children use their mother’s phones or there is a computer that we have installed at our centre, so the children can come and attend their online classes. In non-CORONA days these were the things that we used to conduct this physical space too.”
When the lockdown started, there was a huge fear of how will the sex workers deal with the pandemic as there is no real hope for sex work to get resumed even after the gradual unlocking. To which, as Aarzoo told, “sex work resumed the very day the lockdown ended. Though it is ironic to the present times, it can now at least ensure some financial stability for these women, yet the fear of them getting infected with the virus is still there, and even higher. The women are conscious, they are taking health and sanitation measures properly but the fear is there.”
Although, what the consequence of it is still not on the side of the workers here. Since sex work has started yet the exploitation is yet the same. Aarzoo, a member of Kat-Katha told us that “the sex work resumed from the very day the lockdown ended. Yet the worries are still the same. The initial days after where actually parallel to what happened when alcohol shops resumed the alcohol, as there were huge lines for alcohol, there were fairly enough customers here who had a need to meet.” Yet, I can’t say the exploitation has decreased. After a long spell of unemployment and economic slowdown due to lockdown, the workers and the clients both have faced a financial crunch. Where the clients have started to come, yet, their paying capacity is expected to vary from earlier. And sex workers here, in need of money, will end up accepting more customers to meet the ends. So on a whole, though it is too soon to tell, this is something we are really afraid of.” says Arzoo, telling about the main issue that the women here are likely to face.
Counting the success stories of HeARTshala, she points out that “there are a lot of success stories, and every once we are able to produce around 2000 cloth masks. As of now, there are 7 women who have engaged here, at HeARTshala on a regular basis who spend all their time, here only and not at the brothels. Basically, they have kind of let go of sex work and using it as a primary means of earing. There are 3 women who have completely left GB Road and still continue to come to HeARTshala. Another one worth mentioning is the story of the women who have gone back to her hometown and have started earning by stitching clothes for children.”
All in all, she concludes with saying “HeARTshala has become a place that can remove their dependency on sex work but what is basically difficult is giving them that confidence to come here, at HeARTshala and learn the new skills to become financially independent and in a position to leave sex work forever.”
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