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Forced Into Sex Work By Her Husband, Jayamma Now Works To Empower Sex Workers And Their Kids

  • IWB Post
  •  December 7, 2017

“Being orphaned at the age of three, I deeply understood the pain of not living with parents. Despite my husband selling me, and being tortured by him, I didn’t leave him because I didn’t want my daughter to go through the pain of not living with her father,” says Jayamma Bhandari, president of Chaithanya Mahila Mandali.

The organization encourages and empowers children and women to lead a better life by supporting them through education, IT skills, vocational training, and building awareness on reproductive health and rights. It also works towards the betterment of women forced into sexual slavery through counselling and enables them to become a part of the organization.

Jayamma is not only a mother to her daughter, she is also an amma to all the parentless children of sex workers, who are now living a healthy life under her support and guidance. Her organization is also a home for these kids, where they get the opportunity to study and build a secure future for themselves.

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Jayamma lost her grandparents at the age of 14. She was living with them in the Nalgonda district at the time, so she then moved in with her maternal uncle, until she met a man at her cousin’s wedding in Yadagirigutta and fell in love with him. She got married to him in 1995 when she was 18.

“Everything was perfectly fine for almost a year. Six months after my daughter was born, things started changing. He started drinking too much and started whining about money problems and slowly forced me to get involved in sex work to bring in money,” tells Jayamma.

Excerpts from a chat:

What did you do when your husband forced you into sex work?

I went to my uncle for help but he refused to take me in. He said that earlier it was just me to care for, but now I am with a baby and he can’t take that much pain. He asked me to do as my husband says.

It must’ve broken you.

Yes. I was clueless and didn’t know where to go. I went back to my husband as I had no other option. We fought daily and he slowly started threatening to kill our daughter if I didn’t join sex work. I worked there for six to seven months, and every minute was a nightmare. I wanted to escape and leave that place. I prayed to God every day to take me out of it. I can never forget the incident when a policeman took me to the station for two nights and I couldn’t even feed my baby who was an infant at the time.

That is heartbreaking. How did you start Chaithanya Mahila Mandali?

I came in contact with Mr. Jaya Singh Thomas, who was working as an executive at IRDS, Hyderabad, and was active in the HIV/AIDS prevention projects. I joined him and started volunteering in projects. In 1999, I became a coordinator in the NGO, and after a unanimous decision to reform the situation of sex workers and their children, we got registered as Chaithanya Mahila Mandali (CMM) by Andhra Pradesh (Telangana Area) Public Societies Registration Act in 2001.

What were the challenges that you faced along the way?

People never took me seriously. Even women, whom I spoke to and counselled, doubted my intention and asked me why I wanted them to come out of it when I was a part of it too. Between 1999 and 2001, we faced many problems while convincing communities.

There are moments that haunt me, when people discriminate on the basis of my past. In 2006, when I went to a jail to talk about HIV awareness, the HIV director of India, a man who had seen me at the bus stop in 1999, recognized me and loudly said, “Aap toh wahi hain na jo bus stop mein thi?”

Also, because I had only studied till X standard and didn’t know the city culture, I was very nervous about talking to dignitaries. I was ashamed to talk to bade log. It took me two years to learn that.

Where there’s a will there’s a way. How do you counsel sex workers?

We counsel them about the benefits of working with dignity. We tell them that their kids will be spared the embarrassment while growing up if they quit that life and start working. Life will be better. We motivate them to fight against human trafficking and sexual abuse. We talk to them about de-addiction and HIV. If they’re educated till X standard, they join us at the HIV prevention project. If not, we get them into jobs like housekeeping and security.

Do you also counsel employers to behave a certain way?

More than the employers, we teach our members how to behave in a professional setting. We tell them to be alert and how to escape if they see any danger. We also teach them how to respond if somebody tries to insult them in any manner. For women who have been in it for more than a year, it becomes difficult to get them out of alcohol and sex work addiction. Dheere dheere hota hai phir (it happens slowly).

Hmm. How do you think we, as a society, can help?

As a society, we can try to understand their background rather than making snap judgments. Of course, it doesn’t make any sense to stop people who have entered the profession on their will. It’s also difficult to counsel someone who has been in the profession for quite some time. But we can understand that everybody is not the same. Show some support, show them the right way.

Do you think sex work should be legalized?

I don’t think it should be legal until the system is managed. There is no system in India and hence legalizing might only create more problems and not solve anything at all.

How is your relationship with your daughter?

It’s amazing! I am so proud of her. She is undertaking a degree course and is currently in her second year of college.

Jayamma has won several awards in the past 18 years. A few of them being Excellence Award for National Social Activity for Outstanding Individual Achievements and Distinguished Services to the Nation, on behalf of CMM, the best state-level HIV Prevention Award, Global Peace Award (2015), and Seva Ratna Award (2015).

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