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The Rediff Special/A Ganesh Nadar in Chennai
January 16, 2003
Don't use my name," she said. "Why don't you put 'Bhanu' instead?"
"You are the president of this society and your name has already appeared in two newspapers," I said. "So what's the point of hiding it now?"
The fair, middle-aged former sex worker thought about it. "Okay," she said. "Use my name, but not my picture."
B Baby, mother of two school-going kids, who now makes her living as a housemaid, belongs to the Indira Female Peer Educator's Collective. It came into being on January 3, and is one of the first registered society of sex workers in India. In that profession for 10 years, Baby had quit after she came in touch with the Indian Community Welfare Organisation, a Chennai-based social outfit.
The ICWO trained her as a 'peer educator', someone who would teach others like her the dangers of unprotected sex.
The IFPEC works out of the ICWO office. Its main aim is to help girls who want to leave the profession. And also to prevent the children of those who don't want to leave from joining it.
Its other objectives are:
As of now, the outfit has around 20 members, between ages 20 and 50, all of them former sex workers. Their modus operadi is simple. The first step is to win the confidence of sex workers. Members, thus, enquire about their health, and help them get medical aid when needed.
"Once they trust us, we tell them about this society and ask them to join," Baby said. "They have to pay a nominal fee, Rs 15, to join and then Rs 10 every month."
Member Vanitha said, "The first thing I tell them is to use condoms. I do not talk about our society till I win their trust."
She has two sons, both attending school. The social workers have not only paid their fees, but arranged for private tuitions too, she said.
For obvious reasons, brothel owners and pimps hate the IFPEC, and sometimes put up strong-arm resistance to its operations.
"Then we seek police help," said Baby.
Being the president, she spends two hours every day for the organisation. Secretary Kalaivani puts in six hours, while Vanitha makes it a point to come in at least four days a week.
The IFPEC has its own street theatre group, which performs plays on AIDS awareness at venues selected by the Tamil Nadu government. Each performance earns it Rs 1,800.
Why did they choose the name 'Indira' for the organization? "Because she [the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi] proved that a woman can rise to the highest post in the land," Baby said. "She is known for her guts."
The members rely on word of mouth to let people know what they are doing. Among their targets, in the first year they hope to enrol 500 members.
The IFPEC is planning a fund-raising event in Chennai, by the end of February.
Indira Female Peer Educator's Collective
Image: Rahil Shaikh
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