Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Story of Apne Aap and The Selling of Innocents, Ruchera Gupta's film on Female Sexual Slavery/Prostitution

an initiative to end sex-trafficking
every woman free, every child in school
[image of logo and statement is from here

TRIGGER WARNING: HORRENDOUS STORIES OF SEXUAL ABUSE OF GIRLS AND WOMEN IN SYSTEMS OF PROSTITUTION AND SEXUAL SLAVERY

Why does someone have to be some man's mother" or some boy's sister to be SOMEBODY!? And why does being a prostitute and sexual slave make a girl or woman NOBODY? -- Julian

"The Selling of Innocents" (Part 1 of 6; 6 is closing credits) on Sex Trafficking by Ruchira Gupta, Executive Director
Apneaap Women Worldwide
The story behind the film:
It began like a routine assignment, triggered by a journalist's nose for news. Ruchira Gupta stumbled upon the subject while walking through the hills of Nepal in 1994.

"Many villages in the hills had no women between the ages of 15 and 45," remembers Ruchira. "It was strange and I started making inquiries. The answer was always the same: 'They have gone to work in Mumbai.'

I found that there was a system to procure girls and carry them in trucks to the Indo-Nepal border and then in trains to brothels in Mumbai’s Kamatipura. I saw procurers on the prowl, parents selling their daughters, money changing hands and tin-roofs and radios in Nepali homes with daughters in Mumbai." Ruchira knew she had a story and rang up her friends to help find someone who would be interested in it.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) sent down its team and the work began. "I had already researched for nine months," said Ruchira. "My networks in Nepal with the pro-democracy activists helped. But those who had spoken so frankly clamped up the moment they saw a camera and crew."

That was just the beginning of the many problems that awaited the crew. "Certain politicians were involved and the mafia did not want us to continue," she said. "We were stopped on the road, our helicopter was denied permission to land, and our car was stoned."

Ruchira spent months hanging around the brothels getting to know the women, building trust and slowly gaining access. "I didn't go through anyone in the power hierarchy in the area," she said. "I kept the police, politicians and NGOs out. I had to make friends with the women in prostitution, talk to them on terms of equality. I told them intimate details of my life before I got to know theirs. I promised them that they could walk off camera whenever they wanted, reveal only what they wanted to and ask me to stop filming at any time."

"I told the girls I had a job to do," said Ruchira. "Some wanted to help because they thought that their story needed to be told, for others it became a game in which they helped conceal the camera to film how the clients behaved with them."

Once the 40-day shooting schedule was over, Ruchira realized that she 'couldn't walk away'. To begin with she admitted the girl she bought in Katmandu, into a school. She then took her documentary to different forum to raise awareness on this global crime against women and girls. It was screened at the Stockholm World Congress on Sexual Exploitation of Children, UNICEF regional workshops, UNAIDS conference in Manila and UN in New York.  It was dubbed into 6 languages with the support of UNAIDS and shown in South and South-East Asian villages to put forth the horrors of brothel life.  The 47-minute film called The Selling of Innocentswas made for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and she won an Emmy for Outstanding Investigative Journalism in 1997 for it.
 

Ruchira continued to keep in touch with the women in the red-light areas of Mumbai who had helped make the documentary. They asked Ruchira to help them change their situation and protect their daughters from falling prey to prostitution. However, Ruchira asserted that they have to help themselves and she would facilitate. And so Apne Aap was born. Apne Aap means self-help in Hindi.

Apne Aap started out as an informal group of women and girls who gave Ruchira information, advice, protection and physical and emotional support.

"Discussions over a period of time began to range from what I could give them, to what they should demand from the government and society. Most of the women had daughters and wanted to prevent their daughters from getting into prostitution."  The group started by meeting in parks and on beaches. The main concentration was on breaking the sense of isolation that the women and girls in the community suffered from. This informal group began to learn the strength of collectivizing. They realized that when they bargained together they were treated with more respect. A group dynamics emerged.

The group then needed space to institutionalize its work. It needed money for medicines and food. It needed legal support to protect itself from extortion and money. It needed sponsors for its daughters.  Apne Aap was finally registered in August, 2002 as an NGO in Mumbai, India.

Through the efforts of a board member Apne Aap was given a room in an abandoned municipal school on Falkland street- the heart of Mumbai's red-light area. These quickly become a drop in centre. This room was a safe place to meet, chat, sleep, stitch torn clothes, bathe and to get mail. It was also a place to hold meetings and classes.

Apne Aap's needs and ambitions grew. The members wanted to reach out to other sisters trapped in prostitution. It wanted to dismantle the system of prostitution itself by going after the buyers. They decided to replicate the programme in Bhiwandi and also in three other states of India-Bihar, Delhi and West Bengal. They decided to lobby in Parliament for a change in the India anti-trafficking law, ITPA to punish buyers more severely.

Apne Aap mobilizes and mentors community based groups of trafficked and vulnerable girls and women to empower each other. The Centres provide the safe space and opportunities for legal, education and livelihood training to the groups of girls and women to develop the skills and abilities to resist traffickers. This strategy has a) empowered mothers to rescue their daughters and put them into schools breaking the cycle of caste-based intergenerational prostitution and b) empowered women to rescue each other by demanding access to the right to livelihoods other than prostitution, education and safe housing in their small group structures.
Apne Aap now runs women-led self-help groups, residential and non-residential schools/classrooms and legal support cells.
It has reached 10,072 women and girls. Of these 812 girls are in regular schools, 1,200 women have formed small business cooperatives known as self-help groups, and 3,042 women have submitted a petition to Indian Parliament asking for a change in the anti-trafficking law, ITPA (Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act), to punish buyers and protect women and girls.

It brings out its own newspaper, Red Light Despatch, which is written by women and girls in prostitution for their sisters who are survivors and victims’. The women of Apne Aap want a world in which it is unacceptable to buy or sell another human being and to imagine an economy in which one does not force one to sell oneself.
[source: http://www.apneaap.org/about.html]

2 comments:

JENNIFER DREW said...

By coincidence I happened to learn about Ruchera Gupta's work on helping women and girls to exit prostitution earlier today. I also learned that Indian politicians apparently believe prostitution is inevitable and hence must be legalised.

Thank you for publicising the work Apne Aap does in that it assists and mentors community based groups
of trafficked women and girls to empower each other and work towards having a life free from prostitution.

I mean of course that it is male demand which ensures prostitution has become 'sex work' and I recognise that women involved in prostitution are the experts with regards to helping other women involved in prostitution to exit and begin the very, very long journey of seeking lives and economic security to enable them to escape the clutches of traffickers and pimps.

Women involved in prostitution are never responsible - responsibility always lies with the innumerable Johns and traffickers who view women and girls as men's sexual service stations.

Not forgetting of course, the tourist agencies, hotel chains and other big business enterprises which believe profit always supercedes women's human right not to be reduced to men's disposable sexual commodities.

Julian Real said...

Hi Jennifer,

By coincidence I happened to learn about Ruchera Gupta's work on helping women and girls to exit prostitution earlier today. I also learned that Indian politicians apparently believe prostitution is inevitable and hence must be legalised.

I'm so glad more people are learning of her great work!

Thank you for publicising the work Apne Aap does in that it assists and mentors community based groups of trafficked women and girls to empower each other and work towards having a life free from prostitution.

You're welcome. Yes, word needs to get out that this is happening and that it may serve as a model for other areas where women and girls are trafficked, sold, exploited, and abused by procurers and pimps.

I mean of course that it is male demand which ensures prostitution has become 'sex work' and I recognise that women involved in prostitution are the experts with regards to helping other women involved in prostitution to exit and begin the very, very long journey of seeking lives and economic security to enable them to escape the clutches of traffickers and pimps.

Yes, I've always believed women survivors of [fill in the blank of male atrocities] are the experts and that anyone else ought to be assisting them to whatever degrees they welcome assistance. Apne Aap clearly shows that women are fully capable of caring for one another and helping each other get out of this horrendous trap.

Women involved in prostitution are never responsible - responsibility always lies with the innumerable Johns and traffickers who view women and girls as men's sexual service stations.

Responsibility lies with those with the most power. And the economically desperate and anyone of any age who is patriarchally coerced and forced into systems of sexual exploitation and abuse are never the ones with the most power.

Not forgetting of course, the tourist agencies, hotel chains and other big business enterprises which believe profit always supercedes women's human right not to be reduced to men's disposable sexual commodities.

Totally. Well stated. It's all just so disgusting: what men will do for a bit of profit or a bit of "pleasure"--at such human cost to those used and abused.