Connecting local responses around the world
Sex work – the world’s oldest profession. A world of shadows and sleaze. A world inhabited by thousands of faceless, nameless individuals. Walking and talking bodies dolled up in glittering clothes and deceiving make up, flashing frozen smiles, willing to sell themselves for a square meal. But carrying within them tarnished souls and fractured dignities. These are stories of women, men and hijras (or transgender) who have come together under Aastha Parivaar a federation of sex workers to give a face to their community and claim the dignity that they deserve as much as any other person. A JAICO publication, “Not Like Most Young Girls” is a collection of short stories that peeps into the real faces behind the masks. Written by young minds from eminent educational institutions from Mumbai, these stories give words to the lives of these invisible wraiths and attempt to bring out and present before society the human beings hidden within the sex workers. Ones that are hardly encountered on the streets and alleys of the sex work hotspots of the city.
But “Not Like Most Young Girls” is more than a book – it is an attempt to fight the stigma and shame loaded upon this community by our society. It is an attempt to bring out of the shadows, these individuals who breathe, feel, and give back to society, just like any one of us – or perhaps more.
Over 40 students from St Xavier’s College, Wilson College and TISS participated in FACES – a short story writing competition, organized by the Aastha Parivaar and FHI 360. Based on the real life incidents of the community members of the Aastha Parivaar, one of India’s largest sex worker federations representing 30,000 male, female and transgender sex workers; this initiative provided an opportunity for the students to get sensitized on issues related to sex work as well as provide the sex workers with the chance to share their stories with a wider audience.
FACES is a unique and first of its kind sensitization and empowerment strategy, where real life stories of empowerment were shared and penned down to reduce stigma and discrimination against the sex worker community.
“Presenting the sex workers’ stories within the context of their empowerment was the key focus of the competition. We want to change the stereotypical images of sex workers that most people have. This was an ideal way of reaching out to the general population,” says Seema Sayyad, Manager, Aastha Parivaar, a federation of 14 CBOs across Mumbai and Thane.
Today, Aastha Parivaar has sold more than 840 copies of the book, the proceedings of which will go for the cause of PLHIV sex workers. The books are available across India in all Crosswords bookstores or can be bought online here.