Surviving horrors

It just breaks my heart

This story was published on August 8, 2013 (in a newspaper I work) and is the toughest one I had to write so far. Sumaiya and Saira Sheikh bear testimony to the fact that we live in a broken world. It’s also a reminder when I feel my problems are bigger and more important… for there are many others walking around with pierced hearts worst that mine.

Born in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh (India),15-year-old Saira and 12-year-old Sumaiya Sheikh are just like any other kids — they like to “play the piano, movies are a must and they would “love to see the world”. In fact, Sumaiya has already picked China as a possible destination because… she “likes the boys there”.
Everything’s normal about these two, until you dig a little deeper – revealing a shocking history of sexual abuse and social struggles. Their mother is a sex worker who was forced into the seedy lanes of Mumbai’s notorious red light district and Saira was sexually abused by her alcoholic father for two horrifying years, from the age of five.

Helping hand

But now, it’s been a year since the two have been staying with the NGO, Kranti, which aims to empower women and is currently taking care of 10 such young women in the age groups of 12 to 18. The NGO was in the news for helping 18-year-old Shweta Katti go to the US for higher studies.

“My mother Sumaiya and I shifted to Mumbai when I was 8 years old,” says Saira, now a Class X student. “We used to stay in Nellore, but I never got a stable education there. I was sometimes put in Class III, then we would shift houses and I would be put in Class II and so on. But that changed once I came to Mumbai and started studying in the National Institute of Open Schooling.”

The second oldest among four siblings, Saira, remembers more. She says that her mother had to move to Mumbai after the father sold their family’s food business. With no other ways to sustain her family, Saira’s mother was forced to go to Mumbai to earn a living. “We have been living in Mumbai for seven years and I came to know about Kranti through my tuition teacher.

“Now, we stay at Kranti and my mother stays in the red light district; we get to see her twice a month,” says Sumaiya. Before joining Kranti, the two used to stay at the red light district and was being taken care by an NGO till the time their mother would get back from work.

Turbulent childhood

Talking about the sisters, Robin Chaurasiya, founder of Kranti, says, “Their mother is originally from Chennai, but was trafficked to Mumbai and started working as a sex worker from the age of nine. Their father was one of her customers and wanted to marry her. And after marriage, she moved with him to Nellore. But he turned out to be an alcoholic and there was a extreme violence in the family. In fact, the truth about Saira being sexually abused came out in the open only last year when they had gone to Nellore to meet some relatives,” reveals Robin. More than her father being sent to jail or some legal action taken against him, Saira just wants him to admit the wrong he did and… apologise.

Though the two were never ever forced to be in a compromising position, they had no idea what a sex worker’s job was all about. “They would see women getting dressed up and riding in, sometimes in fancy cars… they would think their mother was a movie star,” says Robin. “Eventually they came to know the truth about the trade. But we taught them that even though people might say that their mother was doing a ‘dirty job’, they needed to remember that she was a wonderful person and was doing everything in her power to give them a better future.”

“Sumaiya is very young and she still doesn’t understand a lot about what’s going on. But she’s a joy to have around. She’s the comedian in the group, always making people laugh,” adds Robin.

Time for some dreams

Though Saira wants to really talk about the abuse she faced, many of their relatives are trying to bury the matter from fear of giving the family a bad name. “It’s a difficult situation for Saira, because some relatives are blaming her. They are scared that the oldest daughter, who is 19, won’t get married if she talks about the abuse. But the truth is the truth. Her mother is supportive and so are Sumaiya and her youngest brother who is 11,” says Robin.

But amidst all this chaos, the girls have found some hope and have learnt to dream. “It’s a lot of fun here. We wake up, play and trouble the seniors, go for our classes at 1 and get done by 6. I love singing and dancing, but when I grow up I want to be a doctor. I also want to help poor children and want to see them be happy and rich,” Saira says.


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