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Shweta Katti: Her journey from the Red Light area to US college

  • IWB Post
  •  May 14, 2015

Humans of Bombay posted a photo of 20-year-old Shweta Katti. The photo was accompanied by her first-person account about growing up in a “red light area” and how she journeyed out of it, all the way to college in the United States.

Here her story comes:

“I’ve grown up in a red light area, surrounded by the flesh trade all my life. At 12, I’ve been asked for my ‘rate’ and cried myself to sleep because I didn’t understand it. But you want to know what’s worse? It’s that the men who came to ask would all be from the ‘upper class’ as you call it with shiny cars and the perception that they could ‘buy’ anything. But the women there are my family…they’ve taken care of me when my mother would have to go work at a factory near by and treated with me so much love and kindness, but I still grew up with a very low self esteem because of my dark color. I don’t know why you have to be fair to be beautiful…and because I’m dark I’ve always been called ugly. Once my 12th standard ended, I decided to make a change. I told the people at my Municipal school that I wanted to study, learn English and make something of myself. That’s when I went to an organization called Kranti.
I spent the next year, traveling across India conducting workshops on sex education and that’s when I realized that not everyone judges me for my background and kind of got my self esteem back. I’ve always been a day dreamer, so I randomly just said it out loud one day that I want to go America (at that point I didn’t even know if it was a continent, city or a country) and through Kranti’s efforts I got a full scholarship at Bard College to study Liberal Arts. We crowd sourced the rest of the money for my accomodation and day to day expenses and my life has just turned around…I’ve been to semester at Sea, I speak fluent English and have amazing entrepreneurial ideas to make a difference to my home…to Kamathipura.
Yes, open your mind about my home. Accept that people have choices and know that so many women there are in it by choice…because it’s their source of livelihood. As Indians, we need to judge less and accept things that are not always in our comfort zone, because my background is not my weakness…I’m me, and no location can define who I am.”

The founder of Humans of Bombay, Karishma Mehta, who interviewed Shweta tells Buzzfeed that Shweta regained her lost self esteem after travelling throughout India conducting sex ed workshops, where she realized she didn’t feel judged for the way she looked or for her background.

Karishma Mehta further said that Shweta has no preconceived notions despite growing up seeing some very scarring things in the red light area of Kamathipura.

“She’s even witnessed men burning women there, and yet she’s focused on giving back to Kamathipura and hopes to do something about the lack of libraries, cafes, and spaces for social interaction in the area,” Mehta told BuzzFeed. “She believes the solution does not lie in eradicating Kamathipura but accepting it because many women have chosen to be sex workers. It is their choice,” she said.

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