Meena was born into the traditional ‘Kolhati’ tribe of Maharashtra. According to their traditions and customs, Meena’s parents offered their daughter in the service of God. This meant she was unable to marry, and with nowhere to go, she was forced to find work in the sex trade. After being ‘forced into prostitution, Meena then had to face atrocities at the whim of her owner, pimps, and the police.
She was trapped in this vicious cycle for almost 25 years, becoming addicted to alcohol and other vices as a release from the daily traumas she was made to suffer. Despite hours of work each day, her financial condition worsened. She was spending most of her income on her partner, who had started falling ill recurrently. Meena just couldn’t seem to find her way out. Then she met a peer educator of our Snehjyot (sex workers outreach) project, she talked with Meena and introduced Pravin, Snehjyot’s project leader. Initially, he counseled her on how to take care of her health and avoid contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and Meena started regularly attending our monthly health camps. She also attended the counseling sessions we offer for de-addiction.
Through the support we offered, Meena felt empowered to make her long-wished-for leap of leaving prostitution. Today, you can find Meena outside our city office, where she runs a small tea and snack stall. On top of this, she also works as one of our peer educators, supporting the sex workers in the nearby red-light area and keeping an eye out for trafficked and forced sex workers. Her mother also helps with the business.
We have given Meena a much longed-for alternative to sex work, and she has become an example to other women like her. She has also helped us with pimps, brothel owners, and police who no longer trouble her and instead treat her with respect for the role she plays with us. She also makes a great cup of chai.
We believe in sharing our knowledge, experience, and expertise to encourage and motivate social work, crucial to our nation-building. In doing this, we work with many other organizations and individuals to share best practices and models of success. Each year we like to recognize and celebrate those who inspire and motivate us in their contributions to the betterment of society, including our staff, through our Snehalaya Awards. In 2018, these recipients included Meena, and her mentor and our Assistant Director for Health, Pravin.