Koppal, a small town in northern Karnataka. Sue, from Zimbabwe, Olinda, from Mozambique, Padma from Hyderabad in India and me from Belgium are entering a small house that is indistinguishable from other houses in the alley. Divya and Murari from Samraksha are coming with us. About twenty women welcome us.They took a four hours’ drive from the neighboring district of Raichur to meet us at Koppal. We gather in a small room: barely one square foot of space is left! But no one cares about the heat and the relative lack of comfort: striking is the pride and joy that radiates from our hosts. Children cast a glance into the room through an open window, but they are quickly asked to play elsewhere, as we are about to have an adult conversation! We did not need to ask any questions. The women make a living from sex trade and want to share their experience. They take turns telling the story of their association Beladingalu Mahila Okkotaa (Beladingalu means Dawn. Mahila Okkoota stands for women’s collective). They explain how at first, it was every woman for herself. "At first, when police would raid at my neighbor, I did not think that was my problem!” Then came Samraksha. What did the members of this association do? "They simply offered us space to meet. At those meetings, we realized how much we had in common: our stories, our concern for our children and our aspiration to be respected by society. So we created small local groups, which quickly merged into our association. Today we are proud that our association is recognized as a legal entity! "


A woman mimics with grace how she entices a reluctant customer to use a condom: "Honey, you do not know me. Who knows if I do not carry the virus? Think of you and your wife! And I do not know you either! " Beladingalu is not so much a professional association, but rather an association of women who help each other
in all aspects of their lives. Their solidarity expands beyond themselves to embrace their families and society as a whole. As a result, they are gaining respect, and many women come from the community to seek for advice from members of Belandingalu.


Still the women are not scared of 'banging on the table' when necessary. "The other day, when a member of our association passed away, the family of Rekha (not her real name) refused to look after her funeral. At Belandingalu, we have a principle: dignity in life, dignity in death. So we went to the councilor to require assistance. We said, when Rekha was alive, she probably voted for you. So, help us to accompany her
to the afterlife! We got help and have organized the funeral of Rekha. Then we met to decide what we should do with her daughter. - In general, mothers are happy when their daughters choose to take on the same job they do. But what mother would like her daughter to enter in our business? We did not want to raise her
close to home because it was too risky. So we sent her to a hostel near her school. We pay for her expenses and we take turns to visit her every weekend. "


After this visit I saw how human rights are an integral part of life. Women of Beladingalu demand their rights because they care for each other, for their family and for society at large.

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Comment by Laurence Gilliot on November 12, 2010 at 11:01pm
Hi Jean-Louis,

Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I'm inspired by the energy, dedication and honesty of these women. I wish i was there with you...

Cheers,

Laurence

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