Garstin Bastion Road or GB Road is one of the most notorious neighborhoods in India’s capital where one can shop for electronic goods and automobile parts. Yet at night, the business landscape morphs into one of the most famous red-light districts in the city, with multi-story brothels and thousands of women selling sex. Kat Katha, a charity promoting the empowerment of sex workers on GB road, testify that many of these women are victims of human trafficking.
In the 2022 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, India is still not fully compliant with international human trafficking laws, but it is making significant efforts to improve. For this reason, the report categorizes India as a tier 2 country. The report also revealed that in 2020, there were 6,622 victims of trafficking, with 59% of trafficked persons being female and 47% being children.
It has been well established over the years that traffickers target those who are most vulnerable to socio-economic disadvantages. When fewer options are available to those that experience economic insecurity, the risk of being exploited and falling victim to human trafficking is far greater. Gender discrimination and experiencing poverty play a large role in determining women’s economic opportunities, and many women’s and girls’ decisions regarding education, career and marriages are far more restricted than men’s.
Kat Katha’s Vision
Gitanjali Babbar founded Kat Katha in 2011. After performing an inspection on GB Road for the National AIDS Control Organisation, she saw the living conditions of the women in the brothels. They had limited access to hygiene facilities, slept in crowded bedrooms and had to work until 4 AM tending to clients. Indeed, she reported hearing women say “humari zindagi toh narakh se bhi bhattar hai” (our life is worse than hell).”
The absence of autonomous choices and isolation from the mainstream community in their neighborhood characterizes the life of these women and their children. Stigma follows the sex workers and their children whenever they leave GB Road. Whether it is to purchase a train ticket or to attend school, authorities inspect their Aadhaar (identity cards), and this reveals their infamous address. The issue of stigma also impacts the experiences of children of sex workers; they experience bullying in schools due to the reality of their mothers’ line of work. What’s more is that some of the women do not even have Aadhaar numbers, meaning that they have great difficulty accessing state-provided welfare schemes or other government relief programs.
But Babbar and the rest of the Kat Katha team do not believe that these women and their children are mere victims of their circumstances. Hence, the organization aims to inspire mothers and their children to pursue a life of “Dignity, Ownership and Compassion.” Kat Katha’s mission is to empower women on GB Road, helping them realize their agency and independence and to give them the chance to lead a free life that is far removed from forced sex. The organization sets about achieving this goal by providing education through the Kat-Katha Bridge school and implementing skill-based programs.
Kat Katha’s HeARTshala program teaches beneficiaries sewing and tailoring skills, equipping them to make products such as bags and face masks. The program opened in response to the shock of COVID-19 and its effect on the sex industry, as many women sought to find alternative means of income. HeARTshala provided steady work and even partnered with Goonj, an NGO in New Delhi that provides disaster relief. Goonj ordered 350 double-layered masks to hand out to surrounding communities, creating alternative income opportunities for the women enrolled in the program.
Kat Katha provided a training stipend and rent allowance to aid the women to not have to depend on sex work for survival while they dedicate themselves to developing skills that can help them secure alternative means of income in the future. So far, more than 50 beneficiaries have now left sex work and now lead alternative livelihoods.
Through its programs and initiatives, Kat Katha is working to empower sex workers and their children in the notorious GB Road neighborhood. The organization aims to break the cycle of exploitation by providing education, skill-based training and alternative income opportunities. With several beneficiaries having already transitioned away from sex work, Kat Katha is making a positive impact and offering hope for a better future to those affected by human trafficking in India.