Transforming Delhi's Red Light District

Our Blogger of the Week, Adam Pervez, meets a remarkable woman changing the lives of children caught up in the Indian capital's sex industry

5 mins

I first met with Lalitha in a coffee shop in Delhi. I think she also wanted to meet me before she allowed me to meet the kids, which is understandable. Despite being in a lot of pain – she was seeing a dentist later in the day – we had an amazing conversation.

Lalitha started working against the trafficking of women in her home state of Karnataka in 1988. In 1991 she moved to Delhi, speaking almost no Hindi, but armed with a passion to make a difference.

Realising that her ability to help existing prostitutes was limited, Lalitha set out to make a difference in another way. These prostitutes often have children. It could be failed contraception, it could be a way of cementing the prostitute to her pimp via the child, and it could be her own desire to create offspring as a form of “social security” for when she gets older and the kids will take care of her. Either way, these kids grow up in a difficult environment and the prostitution cycle often continues.

Lalitha started an orphanage of sorts on G.B. Road, the hardware district during the day and red light district at night. She feeds, clothes, pays the school fees, and provides activities for about 40 children of prostitutes. They stay with her Monday through Saturday. Mothers can pick up their kids on Sunday and spend time with them, which about half of them do at the moment. Lalitha takes no fee from the mothers of the children. Her only goal is to see to it that the kids have the best shot to stay out of the sex industry as adults.

When I was there, I played with the very young kids (2–4 years old) and the older kids (5–13 years old). With the younger kids we played with shapes and small toys. They were all so young and beautiful. As a human being, it’s easy to go down the path thinking how sad the situation is and feel sorry for them. But it’s unproductive thought and it fails to see the beauty of what is going on there. It’s not fair, but it’s a happy story in the end.

I also worked with the older kids on English. We spelled words, did pronunciation, and smiled and laughed as much as possible. The smiling and laughing was quite easy. They aren’t used to meeting foreigners and pretty much anything I said in Hindi made them laugh.

I continued my conversation with Lalitha and found out she is now moving back toward helping the prostitutes as well. It is important, she says, for them to come to her, as they must want to change their lives first. The biggest obstacle to changing their lives is having a new livelihood (and source of income) to move to. When your skill set is prostitution it’s not easy to carry those skills over to a new career.

Lalitha has begun channelling these women to other organisations that help teach skills, like making jewellery for example. When I mentioned I had a wedding coming up, they rolled out the red carpet to see if I was interested in adorning the soon-to-be bride with some of their hand-made jewellery. Of course I was! I see this kind of stuff everywhere I go and never buy it since I'm neither interested, nor do I have the money or space for them. This was an exception though.

I paid $5 for a necklace/bracelet/earring set that I liked. They also make silk document holders and other stuff. It’s a start, and hopefully they’ll continue with other avenues for the women to find a new lease on life. Sadly, though, the pimps often have them firmly under their control via threats and/or drugs.

Going back to Lalitha, those kids she started taking care of back in 1991 are all grown up now. The result… none of the kids she’s raised have gone into the sex industry. Moreover, she has produced many teachers, doctors, engineers, nurses and so on.

What Lalitha does takes place in a nondescript building in a part of the city most residents would prefer didn't exist (including Lalitha). But where others see despair, Lalitha sees opportunity and beauty. She’s a hero in my opinion, and I have met few people in life thus far with a heart as pure as hers. I thank her for letting me in to take a glimpse of the amazing things she is doing.

Adam PervezHappiness plunge | Adam Pervez

I quit my  job to explore the six continents. The Happy Nomad Tour is my Happiness Plunge – staying off the beaten path to learn how others love and pursue happiness while blogging about their stories and my own. In doing so, I have created a life serving others that fulfils me and makes me excited to get out of bed every morning.

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