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Love, smiles and sunshine at GB Road
Gitanjali Babbar was a Gandhi Fellow. She worked on an assignment with National AIDS Control Organisation at Garstin Bastion Road (GB Road) sensitizing the sex workers about the need of AIDS control by distributing condoms and other medical aids to them. It was towards the end of that assignment when one of the sex workers asked her, "Apka aur hamara safar yahin tak than na? Aur NGOs ki tarah aap bhi condom baant ke chali jayengi? (Your association with us had to end here, right? Like all other NGOs would you distribute condoms and go?" This was the beginning of Katkathaa for Gitanjali.

Katkathaa is an NGO that operates from GB Road in New Delhi - a stone's throw away from the New Delhi railway station, GB Road (officially called Swami Shradhanand Marg) , largest red-light area in Delhi. Jostling for space since the time of its inception - somewhere in the beginning of 2012, Katkathaa has recently lost the evacuated brothel from where it was functioning due to some ongoing legal dispute over the property. This is for the fourth time over a period of seventh months that Katkathaa had 'begun anew' from this empty brothel.

Kushal Sinha, a member of Katkathaa informs, "We work to create a model of change in GB Road - something that could be replicated later in other areas where sex workers live and work. Currently, we engage with the didis (sex workers who come at Katkathaa are called didis, the volunteers here) and their children and try to give them a platform to think and dream as freely as any of us do." He adds, "Lot of things need to be done at this juncture. Most of the didis lack confidence on their capabilities, have no belief in their selves and lack a sense of individuality. This is an area where we are intervening right now. As an immediate goal, we look forward to reduce their alienation from the mainstream society."

Gitanjali says, "As of now, we try to ensure that Katkathaa becomes a place for our kids and didis where they see a world beyond brothels." Piya (name changed), a learner at Katkathaa quips, "We dance, sing, paint, watch movies, learn tailoring, tell stories and also study."  Elaborating on the futuristic aim of engagement, Kushal shares, "We want to adopt a structured and systematic model to help the kids receive education they deserve. We also want to help open alternative livelihood and lifestyle options for the didis. We want to expand our reach beyond GB Road once we have created a tangible impact. 

Gushing over the successful strides of Katkathaa, Akanksha, a volunteer says, "One of our didis, after a few days of association with us, expressed her interest to opt out of prostitution. She is currently working as a help in a household. Our didis made some 200 batuas(small purses) and all of them were sold. There has been a marked change in the behavior of kids now. They have become more respectful in their habits and sensitive to the kind of language they use." 

Talking about the journey so far, Gitanjali says, "We have started from scratch so many times that the beginnings have become a part of our journey by now. Each time we are out on the streets, looking for space to settle and work, it is a moment of rediscovery for Katkathaa."

Asked if this frustrates and irritates, she answers, "There have been times where we have had no room(s) to work from. We have often roamed on the streets of GB Road in hot summers and held classes and our activities in the open. But slowly, perhaps because we continued to stay and did not go back frustrated and lost, we have been able to make some place in the hearts of the didis. Perhaps they trust us a little more now. Perhaps they know by now that we are here to share love and work with them by being here - with them and near them. Didis have been generous to lend out their own rooms for Katkathaa so many times. The love the didis and their children have for us and the attachment that we have developed for them will make us stick through."

Opening up on the question of Katkathaa's interaction with the Delhi Police (a police beat is place right at the entrance to GB Road), Kushal says, "There is an interesting dichotomy in how the administration treats the didis. While on the one hand you have some police officials who do not shy away from taking advantage of the vulnerability of these women, some of them have come forward and gone out of the way in providing Katkathaa a place when we were rendered homeless." He adds, "The roots of prostitution is deeply entrenched in history. In a situation where you have no control over its existence, the administration has the option of either legalising prostitution or maintaining the status quo. As much as we support the former, at the moment, we would continue with our amiable relationship with the police – a certain section of which has been extremely supportive of our cause."  

Commenting on the source of funds for Katkathaa, Kushal says, "We have individual donors and organisations who volunteer to support us. Recently, we won the Mahindra Spark the Rise Award. We have also been trying to reach out to the CSR wings of companies and corporates."

Recently Gitanjali gave a TED talk and Katkathaa has been noticed on a far spacious platform. The didis and members of the Katkathaa family celebrated Independence Day with elan.

Katkathaa looks forward for volunteers and any kind of support from individuals and organizations. It can be reached at katkathaa@gmail.com.

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