Married At 14 And Forced To Become A Sex Worker To Survive, Kalpana Bilwal Is Changing Lives Today
- IWB Post
- May 14, 2019
“In the Labana Community in Rajasthan, when a girl, at a very young age, gets married, every man in the family of her in-laws can have a sexual relationship with her without her consent.”
Appalled? Shocked? Well, I was rendered speechless when Kalpana Bilwal, a member of the NGO Jeevan Ashram Santha, shared this disturbing and gut-wrenching information with me.
“As they mostly kill the girl child before she is born, it becomes an issue when it comes to getting their sons married, so they buy young girls from Mumbai and what happens to her is pretty much what a girl from community suffers through,” she shared.
Accompanied by the founder and director of the NGO, Radhika Sharma, Kalpana visited Jaipur as a part of the Woman Up Summit, which brings together women achievers from diverse fields, who can guide women in their respective fields and catalyze their growth in the same.
Married to an alcoholic, Kalpana was left to bear the responsibility of financially aiding her family as well as looking after her four kids singlehandedly. As she had only studied till class 9th and couldn’t find employment despite her efforts, she had to become a sex worker to ensure the survival of her and her family. Her life took a positive turn when she met Radhika and joined Jeevan Ashram Sanstha.
Today she is actively working towards spreading awareness among sex workers about HIV/AIDS and their rights to make sure that they are not denied justice on the grounds of their profession. Chatting with Kalpana, on the grounds of Jawahar Kala Kendra, I realized that though it may take years for such archaic practices and society’s negative mentality to end, at least there are people who strive to make a change, no matter how small.
I read that you had a child marriage. Do you remember the day you were married?
Kalpana- Yes, distinctly. I had just turned 14 and gotten my first period like eight days ago and as people of my community say, I wasn’t a child anymore. The day of marriage still feels like a dream to me because no matter what others say, I was a child who was enamored by what was happening around her- the decorations, the jewelry, the music. It was like a party for me of which I was the focal point, not something that was going to crash my world.
My first night with a man who was more than double my age and what followed, well… it took a long time for me to understand what was really happening. I got pregnant and exactly 10 months from the day I got my first period I had a baby girl in my hands and zero ideas about how to be a mother. By the age of 20, I had given birth to three more children.
So, how did you become a part of Jeevan Ashram Sanstha?
Kalpana- I met Radhika ma’am here when I was a sex worker. They were on one of their HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns. She told me about the work she was doing and it motivated me to join them in their noble cause. As I already knew a lot of these women, I could reach them and talk to them about the dangers of having unprotected sex and why using a condom is important.
Jeevan Ashram Sanstha has been actively working towards spreading awareness among sex workers about HIV-AIDS. As we can’t assure them that we can support them and their entire families, we are no one to ask them to leave the profession of being a sex worker, what we can ask them is to be safe about it.
As an active member of Jeevan Ashram Sanstha, how are you aiding them in their noble task?
Kalpana- Apart from spreading awareness, we also make sure that they get their rights like when they muster up the courage to report any sexual harassment or torture they went through, the police rarely treats them as a human worthy of getting justice. In such scenarios, they call us and we make sure that their complaints are heard, their rights are not violated and they get justice.
If someone has already contracted the disease till the time we reach them, we connect them to the ART center so she could get free medicines every month. And, of course, we still stress on the need to use a condom.
Radhika- In the last five years, she has helped at least 300+ sex workers! Imagine the compassion she holds.
It’s pretty significant! I can’t imagine the challenges and struggles you battled and even then hold no grudge against society.
Kalpana- No matter how many years have gone by since I quit being a sex worker and have a job, our samaaj still calls me a sex worker and judges my children on its basis. Men leer at my daughters, imagining that as I was a sex worker, they will be too. They pass comments, judgments on their upbringing, what they will end up being.
Radhika- Even her own son judges her, the mother who did so much for him holds no respect in his heart. Just some time ago he called her to inquire, yes to inquire, about her whereabouts and who she was with. He demanded her to send him her picture with me to prove that she is indeed where she says she is.
I… don’t know what to say. If a son who saw her mother making sacrifices for his sake still chooses to accept what others say about her, we can’t really hope that the society is going to be more understanding in the future.
Radhika- Yep, exactly. Change will come but the journey to that haven is very, very slow. I once met a former sex worker who had HIV/AIDS. She was a widow and had a son and till that point, no one in their vicinity had no idea that his mother had been a sex worker.
The sole reason he denied to provide her with proper medication was that for that he has to accept that his widow mother has HIV/AIDS and as our society’s mindset works, there are no others ways that someone can contract the disease except sex. And that’s a big taboo for a widow because as per our society she must pretty much cease to exist the moment her husband dies.
Kalpana- Sadly, this is true. If any woman tries to stand up against the wrong, society immediately certifies her as being characterless and thus unworthy of having rights. Though the government brags about women and men having equal rights, they are mere words.
First published on Oct 31, 2018.