A friend of mine in Delhi sent me an article about Lalitha and I had to get in touch and find out more about what she’s doing. What I discovered was amazing.
I first met with Lalitha in a coffee shop to find out more about her. 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 while waiting to see a dentist later in the day, we had an amazing conversation.
She started working in her home state of Karnataka in 1988 against the trafficking of women. Still a big problem worldwide, but especially in South Asia, she worked toward ending this. Especially sad is the Devadasi caste system in Karnataka. From what I understand, a girl can be “married” to a temple at birth. She then will have to maintain it, clean it, and provide for it. Often extremely poor, these women often end up being forced into prostitution. Some of these women are also trafficked around India.
This practice was outlawed in Karnataka in 1982, and all of India in 1988, but in reality the practice continues.
Realizing that her impact on existing prostitutes was limited, she 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 to the rescue!
In 1991 she moved to Delhi, speaking almost no Hindi but armed with a passion to make a difference. She 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 a bit. But now she waits 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 channeling these women to other organizations that help teach skills, making jewelry 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 jewelry. 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, etc.
What she does takes place in a nondescript building in a part of the city most residents would prefer doesn’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 in Delhi’s red light district.
If you’d like to help her fund the organization, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with her.