Scripting the future of children of a lesser god

New Delhi, June 23 (IANS) As Chaya, 6, draws a rose on the dull-yellow wall, 10-year-old Raju is busy solving math equations, while Rahil, 14, is quietly filling the water cooler to provide relief from the sultry weather. These may be everyday school activities but what links the trio is that all of them are born to sex workers and their school's address is G.B. Road, Delhi's infamous red-light district.

There are no big boards to welcome you to the school, called "Kat-Katha", or the story of a puppet, as one enters G.B. Road, a busy commercial area in the daytime. Also, it doesn't look like a typical school as it has no blackboards or benches. In fact, the volunteers here follow an informal approach to teaching children.

What had initially started in 2012 as an initiative to create recreational space for sex workers has now managed to build a "trust relationship" with their children - and is now aiming at redirecting their lives.

"It took me a year to build a good relationship with these children. The process is still on because they don't open up easily. It was important to have that rishta (relationship) first," Kat-Katha founder Gitanjali Babbar told IANS.

"Now, I want to seriously focus on these childrens' studies so that they can get out of these brothels and don't waste their time on Delhi's streets. Education has the power to change. I am doing my bit to transform their lives," she added.

The journey has never been smooth for the 26-year-old, who had to vacate three places in G.B. Road before she could move to the current address.

But she continued to sustain the school, which runs purely on donations from friends and well-wishers, even in tough times.

There were times when Babbar had no other option but to teach the children and their mothers in different brothels at different times. But it was the overwhelming support from brothel owners that kept her going. The area houses 77 brothels, around 3,500 sex workers and 1,500 children.

"I enjoy coming here. Earlier I used to roam on the roads or would go to India Gate. It was to kill time. I no more need to do it. I like it here," Raju (name changed) told IANS.

Gifted with a creative mind, Raju dreams of becoming a police inspector.

Babbar, who earlier worked as a programme officer with the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO), said when she started, some of the children used to make abusive and threatening calls to her.

"But times change and they realised that my intentions are honest," she smiled.

"If I am late, they will accompany me to the Metro station and irrespective of any man staring at me or not, they will tell him: 'Aankhen neeche karo (keep your eyes down)'. And this comes from these 14-year-old boys who are now my bodyguards," she chuckled.

Before she could elaborate, 14-year-old Sahu breaks into a Honey Singh rap number and a volunteer teacher, Narendra, reprimands him. "A year went into teaching them to refrain from abusing in the class and in their daily lives," said Narendra.

But Sahu isn't listening. He continues rapping. It is evident that Sahu is a problem child and needs more counselling and understanding as compared to other children, said Narendra.

Sahu's sparkling green eyes conceal the sadness and pain, but his blunt replies and witty questions are evidence of a beautiful mind.

"He is a very smart kid, but to handle him is a challenge for us all. For the past few months there are problems in his home. So he is annoyed and irritated all the time," Babbar explained.

Interrupting, Sahu asked inquisitively "Are you talking about me?"

Babbar immediately corrected him.

The children, the youngest being two years old, spend at least nine hours in the school.

Babbar said their mothers too come there to spend some time.

"They don't have any time of their own. They don't have any life. When they come here, they know they can do whatever they want to. From painting, to dancing to sewing - they do it all that here without thinking about their work or about their difficulties," Babbar added.

She said she wants more children and adults to enroll in the school.

"At the moment, we have 15 women and 23 children," she added.

"So far we have managed to get into 40 brothels. But it is difficult to convince them to send sex workers and their children for studies," Babbar rued.

"The crime rate is high here. Most of the boys end up becoming pimps and girls get into the flesh trade. It is possible to change the trend. And we are trying our best to do it," she added.

She is also keen on sending some children to hostels in various parts of the country.

"For them to move on in life, they have to first move out from here. I am hopeful," Babbar added.

(Shilpa Raina can be contacted at shilpa.r@ians.in)

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