SalamatRaho, an initiative by NomadLawyer, presents to you the inspiring story of Manju Vyas. When we talk about prostitution words like sex workers, brothels, human right, right to work with dignity, sexual harrassment ring a bell. Is prostitution a criminal offence in India? Well the answer is ‘No’. Next question- who protects the rights of the sex workers? As individuls, we are generally ignorant to them and feel there is a stigma attached to the word Prostitution. Are there activists or people who are working for the welfare of prostitutes and their families? Through this blog we shall highlight the story of a brave crusader Manju Vyas- Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC)
Impact of Brothel Based Prostitution
One of the major issues of brothel-based prostitution in India is the impact that is felt by children of these women. These children are born in the brothels and are brought up in those surroundings.
There is no provision under the law, which makes prostitution per se, a criminal offence. However, seducing any person for the purpose of prostitution or running a brothel is illegal in India. Yet, the efforts the government is making is not enough to safeguard these women or their children.
Who owns up the Responsibility
The society? The mother who was forced into this dark hole? Or the children and their fate?
We never get the right answers. Who will take responsibility? Did these children have a choice?
There are lakhs and lakhs of such children growing up in these brothel areas, who have no future, no education, no family support, not even a father’s name to go by with.
Most remain illiterate as schools don’t accept them. They have no skill sets as they are not allowed to look beyond the brothel experience. They don’t know people who can help them as the only people they meet are the brothel inmates or clients who visit the brothel. These girls are forced or lured at an early age and not exposed to outside help as they are expected to take over from their mothers and become service providers too. They are born there, grow up there and die there. Do these children have any future?
Contribution of Manju Vyas/Apne Aap Women’s Collective(AAWC)
Yes!!! Now they have, because of brave crusaders like Manju Vyas and organizations like Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC).
Manju Vyas has come into their lives like a silver lining in a dark cloud.
There are many projects that people initiate to help the needy, but to have the nerve to walk into a red-light area, face the violent gangs and brothel owners who don’t allow you to meet these prostitutes and also to accept that the Police is also ineffective in front of this powerful mafia, yet, to have the strength to walk in, and bring these children out and show them a bright future, is no common feat.
We can imagine Manju looking like Rani of Jhansi walking in with a sword, but no. Manju too is just like us, from the same conservative upbringing and family background most of us have.
Background of Manju Vyas
Manju was born in Indore, MP, has three elder brothers, schooling was in Kendriya Vidyalaya, good in academics, sports and was always enthusiastic about learning new things and meeting people. She did her Masters in Botany and leadership positions during her college days helped her interact with the youth and understand their issues.
Manju got married, had a normal life with her husband and a child. But life is never stable for long. Her husband passed away at an early age and she had to take charge of bringing up a young son. She had her family support. Yet, being well qualified, Manju took up a corporate job to support herself financially.
Life was moving smoothly till one day, she received a request to be an interpreter for a journalist friend who wanted to write a story at Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC). During a conversation with the mother and child, she asked the young girl of aged just 5 years, what she wanted to become when she grew up? the reply was-“A Madam, a ghar waali ” – a brothel owner, because according to her, the gharwaali gets to control all the other girls, has all the money and power. This hit Manju deep down.
She felt torn within and felt strongly connected to this young child. This girl wanted to learn English and Manju took up the challenge to at least do this much. Soon they got connected emotionally too and Manju started feeling responsible for this young child.
Also Read: Volunteer Projects Archives – Nomad Lawyer
The turning point in Manju’s life
During her visits to teach this girl, Manju got a peek into the lives of these women who lived in the red-light area of Kamathipura https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamathipura , Mumbai, and the spark was ignited.
Manju joined this new organization called Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC), which was just in its teething stages, working to bring change in the lives of Women in Red Light areas. She used to work with them on weekends. Visit the brothels, meet the prostitutes, listen to their plight, arrange medical treatment for them, save the children from mafia gangs at times along with her team at AAWC. Slowly, women gained confidence in her and started sending their children to a learning center at AAWC. This is how the journey to bring sunshine into their lives was started.
There were apprehensions from her family, yet she went forward.
Then a time arrived when she had to choose between her corporate career and taking over as an administrator at AAWC, which incidentally, did not pay much. Manju realized that a stable financial status will give her material comforts but soul satisfaction she would get at AAWC, being a catalyst in changing the future of hundreds of these children. The decision was already made.
It was a tough call, listening to the stories of these women every day and how they had been sold to these brothels, was not easy. So many of them went through HIV and she had to get them treated and create awareness through workshops. Children’s plight took a toll on her emotionally. These women were constantly intoxicated and drugged so that they could not escape and could only abide by their clients demands. I did ask Manju, why do these women not escape and restart their lives elsewhere? Manju explained that these women were sold to these brothels at a young age by their families for money or were kidnapped and sold by goons etc. That amount, in future, has to be repaid by these girls by servicing their clients and they cannot leave the brothel till this loan is repaid. This loan keeps multiplying due to medical expenses, diseases like HIV, police cases, childbirth, clothes etc. So, they cannot leave and soon they outgrow the service age and then it’s too late to leave with nowhere to go. Their families never take them back.
There were moments when Manju wanted to give up but her passion and perseverance to help these women and children pushed her forward. The mothers were also given complete support, to lead a healthier life even if they could not get out from there. Initially the mothers were not forthcoming because they preferred that their daughters join the flesh trade and lead the same life, once they retired. The income was a huge temptation and an insurance for their old age. There were times when Manju was threatened and attacked by the goons to oppose this movement but Manju and her team did not lose heart and kept on pushing the children of the center to do better and slowly, the rest of the mothers started supporting the project. They allowed AAWC to move their children into shelter homes and start a new life.
Udaan project: Manju Vyas
Then soon, the Udaan project was launched which was extremely successful.
Manju got into it with her spirit and zeal and took this initiative forward. People started trusting the work being done and funds started coming in. She actually succeeded in putting the children into normal school with all legitimate paperwork.
Many new projects were introduced like mental and physical healthcare, diet, education, counselling, career options, relocation and regular assessment.
Manju started with 4/5 ladies and that single girl child in 1999 and after spending over 22 years with AAWC, she has managed to work with more than 4500 prostitutes, about 800 girls and 500 small children that they saved and relocated.
There are three main centers now with a government approved shelter home for young girls. There is a staff of over 50 people to manage various centers and projects.
Examples of contribution in Iife of children
Manju and her team have transformed the lives of hundreds of children and some of them reached great heights. First time, a girl from a red light area, took a degree in catering college, with her own merit, passed all the entrance exams, and actually became a chef in a five-star hotel. Another girl became a qualified nurse in the oncology dept. while another did masters and became a financial analyst and so on…. Some girls went to attend children’s international festivals in Poland and Sweden and performed on stage. They became role models for the younger girls at the center and helped them dream big.
The most satisfying moments were when these qualified confident girls who were earning well, used to pull their mothers out of that hell hole and give them a more respectable life. They even spent for the education of their younger siblings and changed their future too. Manju confidently quotes that since the past 10 years, not a single girl child has gone back to her mother’s profession- prostitution.
She has travelled nationally and internationally to give lectures, on speaking tours, presentations in Japan, Australia, Poland, Sweden, Singapore and USA. Also represented the organization while participating in several national and international conferences, workshops and conventions.
Accolades and Awards
Many personal as well as organizational level accolades and awards has been received by her to name a few Inspire Awards 2019 for Leadership and Vision, Mahatma Awards for social good 2019, Global Giving top ranked organization in 2019 & 2017, Women’s Icon Award, FOGSI (The Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India) Women’s Achiever’s Award, Gulabrao Ganacharya award for exemplary work to prevent second generation prostitution, Guidestar India NGO platinum certification, “CERTIFICATE OF MERIT” at World CSR Congress Award, Jury’s Choice Award at the 5th Annual Spirit of Humanity Award, Top 10 Small NGOs at the ‘India NGO Awards’ sponsored by The Rockefeller Foundation, EdelGive – DASRA Girl Power Awards – finalist, Project Inspire Singapore etc.
Manju has always been one to do her best In whatever she takes up. Hence, four years back she took up a course on Strategic Management of Non-Profits from Harvard Business School beside enrolling herself to update her relevant knowledge and information on social work from Dasra, Tata Institute of Social Sciences and Nirmala Niketan.
Manju Vyas- The Changemaker
Manju Says that -the biggest satisfaction in terms of takeaway is when the mothers say that-“we have given birth to these girls, but you have given them the actual life”, no other reward or award can be bigger than this. It has been an extremely fruitful journey with not a moment of regret. In fact, I have now got a purpose in life to wake up and reach out to more girls like these and help to transform lives”.
Salamat Raho salutes women like Manju Vyas. She has set high standards for those who want to follow their heart to becoming a changemaker. We hope you get inspired and someday decide to join people like Manju and impact the lives of many more.
Please connect to AAWC at www.aawc.in or mail info.aawc.in
Team NomadLawyer salutes the story of Manju Vyas!