SOS  from Mumbai’s red-light area



{This is one of the articles I wrote for the newspaper I work for. While the tragic stories rattled me, their strength proved to be a testimony that despite the ugliness, there is still goodness left in the world}


Robin Chaurasiya had everything going for her. A career in the United States Air Force, friends and for seven years, she went on about daily life. Until this 28-year-old needed a “revolution”.

A victim of domestic violence and discriminated for being a lesbian in the USAF — it was during the time when gays or lesbians were prohibited to serve ‘openly’ in the military — Robin quit the forces and decided to help the helpless. In 2010, she founded Kranti (which means Revolution), an NGO that aims to empower girls from Mumbai’s notorious red-light district to become agents of social change.


The NGO currently houses 10 girls aged 12 to 19 years. Recently, Kranti was in national focus when 18-year-old Shweta Katti won a scholarship to become the first-ever girl from Mumbai’s red-light district to make it to the United States.

“Though Shweta was an example that got a lot of coverage, there are many more girls from Kranti who have had breakthroughs in their lives — be it in academics or therapy,” says Robin. “All the things that I have done in my life have been connected to my personal journey. Rather than moping around and being called ‘you poor thing’, I soon realised that I had the resilience and the strength to fight back. It’s the very same thing I intend to do with the girls under my care. I want them to know that they don’t have to give up.”

Robin’s India stint began over six years ago, when she arrived in Mumbai to do more than “just distribute cash to underprivileged children”.

“The girls I came across had no expectations in life and were all cooped up in restrictive accommodation. My aim is to tell them that if you want to be an astronaut, you can be one and there’s no stopping you just because of your background. I want to be able to take the girls for travel trips round the country and have a fulfilling childhood. Our monthly budget comes up to Rs 3 lakh and despite criticism from other groups that claim they manage their affairs at half the cost, my point is this, I want the girls to have the best.”

But while the new year spells hope and fresh starts for thousands, for Robin and her NGO, 2014 might mean living without a roof over their heads.

“Getting an accommodation for single girls was already a challenge. But since we house those from the red-light areas, that challenge turned out to be bigger. Society so far has not been very supportive and we face problems on a daily basis. The building that we are staying in… the landlord has rented it out to us till May. I don’t know where we’ll move after that. My greatest worry is getting kicked out,” says Robin. “But we are just going to keep trying. On the positive note, there are a lot of programmes and workshops being planned by the girls. Our aim is to make Kranti a self-sustaining organisation. That’s what we’ll working towards next year.”

Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world.

(Ann Voskamp)


PICTURE 1: One of Kranti’s co-founders Bani Das (in the middle) with the girls currently staying at the building rented by the NGO

PICTURE 2: Robin Chaurasiya


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