This morning I came across a very interesting story about a 18-year-old girl named Shweta Katti, being the first girl from India’s red-light area to study abroad. “Send Mumbai Red-Light Area Girl to NY University” is an initiative where you can contribute and help to fund this young girl’s dreams. Yes, Shweta has been selected for a course at the prestigious Bard College in New York to pursue a degree in psychology on 50% scholarship. However, she needs a bit of help from us to fund for the remaining portion of her fees.
In April this year, Shweta Katti, who speaks and writes fluently in English, was featured in Newsweek’s Women in The World: 25 Under-25 Young Women To Watch for her efforts to uplift young marginalized girls. But reaching this phase of her life hasn’t been easy. Daughter of a devdasi, Shweta was brought up in Pila House, Kamathipura. Kamathipura is Mumbai’s oldest and Asia’s second largest red-light district.
Shweta speaks: “Growing up in Kamathipura wasn’t easy. My father was an alcoholic, so my mother used to work in a factory. I studied at the local municipal school. I had to reach home before 8 pm, as the streets would be crowded at nights teeming with customers. There were frequent police raids and I would often see sex workers running in nighties to escape the cops. When I was 10 years old, men would proposition men”.
Shweta was also regrettably sexually abused by her father. “Initially I didn’t understand what was happening. He would touch me inappropriately. I never told anyone, but managed to stay away from his prying eyes and he got the message. Today we share a complicated relationship. Only few years ago, I confided in my mother. Initially, she was shocked but was very understanding and supportive.”
But the sexual abuse and difficult living conditions weren’t the only hardships that she faced. Shweta elaborates, “I am quite dark. Since early childhood, my classmates and neighbours would pass snide remarks at me and call me ‘kaali’. Over a period of time, these taunts left an indelible impact on my mind and I started suffering from low self-esteem.”
On her mother’s behest, Shweta started going to Apne Aap, a women’s collective at Kamathipura that works with the children of sex workers.
“My mother knew my potential and urged me to pursue my education seriously. I would go to Apne Aap to study in the evenings. But I wanted to move away from Kamathipura, explore the larger world and concentrate on my studies”, Shweta added.
That’s when the team at Apne Aap helped Shweta get in touch with Robin Chaurasiya, founder of Kranti, a non-governmental organisation that works towards the rehabilitation of girls from Mumbai’s red-light areas. After completing her 12th grade, she took a gap year and travelled extensively to Rajasthan, Nepal and Jharkand to create awareness among girls about sex education. On Chaurasiya’s behest, she then applied to foreign universities. Shweta finally secured her admission at Bard College. She will be studying psychology and will be commencing her degree course this August. The college has given her a $50,000 scholarship that covers her tuition fees for the year and half of her accommodation cost. But the total cost comes up to $68,000 per year so the team is trying to raise funds via funding sites such as Ketto.org, Global Giving and by making a page on Facebook. Shweta confesses that after returning to India she plans to run a therapy centre for sex workers and their children.
Well guys, all I can say is – a small gesture can help a young girl fulfill her dreams. She is just looking for one opportunity to understand her full potential.
You can go to the Globalgiving page and if you deem suitable, you may show your support by contributing a small amount for Shweta. This will help her pay for a meal, a room and board as well as other fees. At such a young age, Shweta Katti is already an inspiration of the finest calibre for many girls out there. This just goes to show that it is not where you are from but it is the journey you embark upon that matters.
Let’s help change society’s perceptions about girls from red-light areas.