LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL: CASE STUDY OF A FEMALE SEX WORKER FROM KERALA



This is the story of Ms. Suma, a 40 year old woman, who faced a lot of struggle in the street as a sex worker. Suma is a good looking woman who belongs to Naduvil Village, a distant rural village of Kannur District in Kerala. She hails from a lower middle class family and her parents are
agricultural labourers. At the age of 19, she had been forced to marry a middle aged alcoholic, with rude and bothersome character. He tortured her sexually, physically and mentally. Her matrimonial life was a failure and she disassociated her husband after six years of marriage, solely due to his cruel behavior towards her. During this short period of matrimony, she became the mother of four children.



After disassociation, her life with four toddling children was pathetic and she found difficulty in meeting their daily needs. Because of extreme poverty and sufferings, once she tried to commit suicide along with her children, but failed due to the timely intervention of compatriots.


This incidence provided opportunity to a circumventor to establish rapport with her and he offered employment opportunity to her at Kannur Town. She fell in his trap and came to the town with him in the year 1990. Actually he was the connecting link of a sex racket in the town and he coerced her to have sex with his clients. The hapless woman had no other option, and she agreed to have sex with them. He paid a share of his earning to her. Slowly she got accustomed to the new occupation that provided enough money without much hardship and became a fulltime sex worker of Kannur Town. The companionship with the members of sex circuit and the new occupation, gave her the opportunity to consume alcohol and drugs. Gradually she became a drunkard.



Severe alcoholism caused a shift in her client profile and the high yielding middle/upper class clients avoided her due to this bad habit. When the income reduced, her herder deliberately eliminated her from his home to the street. It was during the middle of 1990s. In the street her life was heinous and rocky. As a street based sex worker, she suffered a lot, both from the sex circuit and from the public.



The Targeted Intervention Project implemented by Jeevana Samskrity- a Kannur Based NGO identified her and established therapeutic rapport with her in the year 2000. They helped her to contact a de-addiction counselor and gave an opportunity to understand the value of her life and how to lead a valued life at its best. Regular visit to the Project provided opportunity to interact with other sex workers who hailed from same or even severe situation where extreme poverty, physical, mental and social harassment, etc. These exposures changed her attitudes towards life. By realizing the worth of her life, she wanted to work for the welfare of her peers. This urge helped her to become one of the founder members of Chola – the Community Based Organization of female sex workers in Kannur District. The bitter experiences from the street and
professional training from the Targeted Intervention Programme made her strong enough to vie for the rights of her equals.


She has been democratically elected as the President of Chola during the year 2006. During her tenure, Chola become independent from its Mother NGO and took up the responsibility of implementing TI Programme among female sex workers in Kannur District. Now it is one of the best community led targeted intervention programmes in the State of Kerala. Under her glaring leadership, Chola developed strong networks with various governmental and non-governmental agencies. As a result she could start a shelter (Protective and Rehabilitation Home) for the aged female sex workers in the district who were compelled to lead a miserable life in the street. She
could also start mid day meal programme to the poor women who visit the drop in centre promoted by Chola. She could set –up a strong crises management team in the CBO to deal with vulnerability factors that affect the life of female sex workers in the district.



Now she is trying to find out means for free medical care to her community members and income generation programmes to the CBO for its sustainability. She is committed to develop second line leadership in the CBO and hence promote shadow leadership in it.



It is obvious that the targeted intervention programme in Kerala has a great stake in the accomplishment of Suma as leader. She is certain that she would not be on earth now, if she has not been identified and cared by the Targeted Intervention. Now she leads a worthy life with her children and her children are also happy with her change. She is satisfied with the recognition she receives from the Society as a Social Reformer. She is content with the love and care she receives from her community. Her positive spirit and effective leadership will certainly change the lives of hundreds of hapless female sex workers in the State. Suma believes that life has been her biggest teacher. She understands the women she works for as she has lived her life like them. With her empathy and understanding she could easily identify key areas that needed to be addressed.



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BEST
PRACTICE DOCUMENTATION UNIT
IEC DIVISION, KERALA STATE AIDS CONTROL SOCIETY
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM, KERALA
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Management
Support by:
HINDUSTAN
LATEX FAMILY PLANNING PROMOTION TRUST (HLFPPT)
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Comment by Maaike van der Velden on September 29, 2010 at 5:41pm
Thank you for sharing this story. This is a good example of peer support. I would love to learn more about the way Suma changed the life of her peers in Kerala and what issues they tackle.

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