I read Jayamma’s story on a lazy Sunday morning. It was the month of March, and my local daily carried her story in an obscure corner. I am glad my eyes spotted the column. Every year, ahead of International Women’s day, extraordinary women of India are conferred with the Nari Shakti Award by the government. Thirty nine year old Jayamma Bhandari and her story stood out this year. A crusader for sex workers, Jayamma has come a long way- from being a victim, to working towards rehabilitating women in the flesh trade.
Jayamma’s story may seem to be straight out of a Bollywood film. Three hundred kilometers off Hyderabad, in the district of Nalagonda, Jayamma grew up in her uncle’s home. Orphaned at the age of three, her childhood and adolescent years were strewn with difficulties. Her extended family who saw her as a burden, married her off at the first available opportunity, to a man who inflicted nothing but physical and mental abuse on her. Her husband pushed her into flesh trade, soon after the birth of their daughter. With no family support, income and minimal educational qualifications, she was left with no choice but to succumb to her husband’s pressures. Jayamma was pushed to a point when she considered killing herself. However it was her young daughter, who gave her the courage at the moment to fight it all out.
It is not actually this struggle which stands out, but it is her journey as a crusader that fills one’s heart with admiration.
After years of being a victim of prostitution, Jayamma decided to work with a mission. It was a mission to work for other women, in a similar situation. Jayamma founded her NGO called Chaitanya Mahila Mandali to help sex workers find sources of employment and earn income in a more respectable way. Through the organization women can undertake courses to get onto the path, to live life on their own. Working in high risk slums, the NGO also raises awareness on sexual and reproductive health issues. Preventing victimization of children of sex workers is another prime area of work. Through the Chaitanya Happy Home, such children are provided with education and an opportunity to learn life skills. Today, through her organization, Jayamma has helped better the lives of over 5000 women and 3000 children.
In Jayamma’s own words, “It’s really a daunting task to convince them as some of these women have become addicted to alcohol, drugs, smoking, sex and living in that environment. We have the challenge to win their confidence and persuade them by offering help and support. Forcible rehabilitation doesn’t work in such cases and, as such, de-addiction, counseling, and slow, long-term therapy become necessary to restore their lives”.
Jayamma today is a friend, mentor and care giver to many children and women who have now sought a better life, under her support and guidance. In our country where prostitution is not illegal, but exploitation is rampant, we need more such Jayammas to ensure vulnerable individuals are not subject to a life of sexual and mental torment.
*Featured Image Pixabay
This post is part of the We Are the World Blogfest, a monthly event to showcase stories of compassion. The hosts for this month are: Shilpa Garg, Inderpreet Kaur Uppal, Peter Nena, Andrea Michaels, Damyanti Biswas.