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#StoriesFromTheGround | From Fringes to the Forefront

By Aditi Joshi

Nur Jahan* came to Nashik when she was merely 8 years old, tricked into believing that she was visiting her parents in UAE by her caretakers. Uprooted from the safety of her home in the village of Karnataka, she was abandoned at the doorstep of a brothel in Nashik. Nur Jahan goes on to tell, “Majhi maalkin khup chhan hoti, tini mala kadhich thevla nahi ya kamaat. Tichya muli sarkha motha kela”. (The owner of the brothel was very nice to me, she did not keep me in the brothel so much, and brought me up like her own child). However, she says all the women are not as lucky as her. She has closely seen the pain and lives of the sex workers and that is how Nur Jahan got inspired to work for their betterment.

She has been working with DMBS, an organization based in Nashik which works for betterment of commercial sex workers, their rehabilitation, guaranteeing their rights and safety in the area. She joined DMBS right after its inception in 2010. She has been leading in the work being done on providing relief to FSWs in whatever manner possible like leaving them back to their homes, marrying them off and if all else fails, guaranteeing access to basic necessities, rehabilitation – finding other livelihood options. They have also been working closely with CAC on ensuring relief and safety for them and their children during COVID times and guaranteeing them access to schemes, entitlements and counseling, etc.

“COVID hit and that created a major loss of livelihoods for them, as we went searching for ways we can provide relief, many organizations and individuals joined us in carrying out the relief work.”, says Nur Jahan. DMBS partnered with #CovidActionCollab during the same time. “This has really helped the organization in helping them not only survive through providing immediate relief like ration kits, etc. but also build resilience and create a sustainable change through the Aarogya Gat network and guaranteeing access to Social Protection schemes.”

Sex workers are a particularly complicated group to work with because the options for them taper down and they do not have avenues like in case of other communities. They face resistance from the society, the government and are even denied the most basic necessities. Without the safety net of basic entitlements like the PAN Card and Aadhar Card, not only for them but also their children, these vulnerable women would have found it difficult to survive through this tough time. The organization has also managed to get maximum women and their children vaccinated in time to ensure their safety.

COVID-19 pandemic closed down the brothels, stopped their income, lockdown brought the children back home and adding to the troubles, these women lost their homes to legal issues, thus providing immediate relief took precedence over everything else. Today, about 200 sex workers in Nashik are homeless and working from lodges or undercover. Nur Jahan says that the organization has been trying to fight the legal battle and also guarantee them alternate livelihood options but the society keeps pushing them to the fringes. The collective efforts have however now translated into a jewellery making unit started by DMBS which engages 25 women, especially the elder FSWs to guarantee livelihoods to them.

Nur Jahan says that their main focus now remains ensuring Financial Security for the women and that they have a safe space to work and live. “Santha ni amhala Mahiti aani Anubhav dila, aadhi bhiti vataychi pan aata aamhi samor yeun ladhto yancha karta.” (DMBS has empowered us with knowledge and experience, we were at first very scared, but then now we stand at the forefront in fighting for their rights.). Nur Jahan has come a long way and today contributes to bring a positive change in the lives of the women in sex work in Nashik. The #COVIDActionCollab has always held betterment of those most vulnerable at its core and is helping organizations like DMBS give Nur Jahan and many other women like her, a voice and a platform to help them #BounceForward.