'We are poor, so we understand the pain of those who need help. As an individual, I cannot do much. But when all the women in my profession come together, we have been able to do our bit for mankind.'
A Ganesh Nadar/Rediff.com reports.
Sex workers from Maharashtra's Ahmednagar district have donated Rs 100,000 to help the flood victims in Chennai.
They handed over the cheque to District Collector Anil Kawade (Read their letter here). The money will go the Prime Minister's Relief Fund.
"Earlier, we had given money for earthquake and tsunami relief work. This time, I gave for the Chennai floods," says Deepa, a sex worker for 20 years. "We all give small amounts. Together, we can make a difference."
"I have been contributing to good causes for the last 20 years," she adds. "In a month, I give about 10 per cent of my earnings to social causes. I feel happy that, in my own way, I can make a difference to other people in need."
"We are poor," says Asha, who has also been a sex worker for 20 years. "We have to help other poor people. I gave Rs 200 to help those affected by the Chennai floods. Earlier, I have donated for the tsunami and other causes."
"Sometimes," she adds, "I don't get enough money for myself. Those days, I cannot think of others. We are poor, so we understand the pain of those who need help. As an individual, I cannot do much. But when all the women in my profession come together, we have been able to do our bit for mankind."
Girish Kulkarni, founder of the Ahmednagar-based NGO Snehalya, told Rediff.com this is not the first time the sex workers have come forward to help victims of a disaster. It began in 1993, when they first donated Rs 12,000 for the Mumbai blasts victims.
Since then, says Kulkarni, they have given donations to support the victims of various calamities, including the Latur earthquake (1993), the Gujarat earthquake (2001), the Kargil war (1999), the Maharashtra drought (2013) and the Kashmir floods (2014).
Ten of the children affected by the Kashmir floods are now being looked after in the ashram run by Snehalaya. Their expenses are sponsored by the sex workers of Ahmednagar.
Snehalaya, which has been working with women and children since 1989, looks after 400 children at this ashram.
There are 3,500 sex workers in Ahmednagar and all of them are members of Snehalaya, says Kulkarni. They donate Rs 10 per customer to the NGO. Former sex workers support Snehalaya as trustees.
The sex workers don't just help during calamities.
He recalls the time the child of a domestic worker had obtained admission at a university in the United States. The sex workers donated Rs 30,000 towards the girl's education expenses.
They have lent their support in other ways too. These sex workers were among the many Indians who sat on dharnas to support Anna Hazare's Lokpal agitation. They also participated in the agitation for the Right To Information bill.
They support each other as well. They also ensure no minor in ensnared in this profession in Ahmednagar.
If a woman faces problems in their area, Asha adds, everyone helps her financially. "The younger girls earn more, so they give more; the elder ladies earn less and so give less."
Apart from donating for calamities, Asha says she has helped orphans in her area. "I often give them money to buy clothes or books or whatever they need. We live a life of sin. We earn a little punya (salvation) by these acts of kindness. The government doesn't do anything to help us, but that's another story."
As far as helping the Chennai flood victims is concerned, Kulkarni says in the next couple of months, they plan to collect Rs 400,000 from small donors across Maharashtra. "We will give that money to the NGO Goonj, which is going to work in Chennai."
Goonj, he says, will send truck loads of relief material to Chennai, accompanied by two ambulances from Snehalaya. Snehalaya will also send books and educational material.
Photograph: Kind courtesy Girish Kulkarni