Imagine a life outside your cushioned environment where poverty, illiteracy and prostitution are looming over the society. Tough, isn’t it? Jayamma Bandari’s journey and how she emerged out of prostitution is one to reckon with. She did not just revive her own life, but that of thousands of sex workers and their children.

Orphaned at three years of age, Jayamma was born in a small village of Nalgonda in Telangana, where her uncle brought her up. “I had a huge desire to study but nobody helped me in getting education and I could study only until 10th standard,” Jayamma, founder and president of Chaithanya Mahila Mandali (CMM), based in Hyderabad, told SheThePeople.TV.

“We were a middle-class family and my uncle had five children of his own. So it was difficult for him all to take care of everyone,” said Jayamma. But poverty does not bother as much as sexual abuse and domestic violence, she stressed.

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Jayamma fell in love at the age of 19. In 1998, she got married without her family’s approval. “For a year, everything was fine. We even had our daughter but he showed his true colours as soon as we came to live in Hyderabad.”

“I had nowhere to go, so I came back to Hyderabad and worked as a sex worker for four months.”

“He started abusing me and asking me to go earn money by sleeping with other men. I was distraught and did not know where to go,” she added. Jayamma ran back to her village to find solace at her maternal house. But since she married without their approval, Jayamma was again shown the door.

“I had nowhere to go so I came back to Hyderabad and worked as a sex worker for four months.”

Prostitution
Jayamma Bandari

Prostitution has many underlying problems, including gangs working within, police, sex workers and there is no one to help, said Jayamma.

In 1999, HIV AIDS awareness had just begun in India. And many organisations were looking for people to spread awareness among sex workers in the country. It was by chance that social activist Jaya Singh Thomas came across Jayamma. She offered her a job of spreading knowledge about HIV/AIDS. In return, she would get Rs 3,000.

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Jayamma accepted the offer but with a condition that she would help her in her goal of supporting the sex workers she was working with. “I worked as an outreach worker for two years and travelled across the country. After coming back, I formed my organisation to help sex workers in rehabilitating their lives, supporting them in times of need, legal aid etc.,” said Jayamma.

“First thing was to start police advocacy as cops beat sex workers and behave very badly with them. About 10 of us went to police and told that we are taking up this work and asked for help.”

Initially, people brushed it off with comments like “who cares about a sex worker’s collective?”, but Jayamma did not accept defeat. “First thing was to start police advocacy as cops beat sex workers and behave very badly with them. About 10 of us went to police and told that we are taking up this work and asked for help. Then we met policy makers to talk about funding and how sex workers can get relief from the government.”

Jayamma’s organisation worked day and night to provide better education and amenities to sex workers’ children. They studied well, became engineers, doctors etc. Some even moved abroad but when they were asked who their parents were, they were ashamed.

To tackle this, in 2010, Jayamma started a home — Second Generation Prevention Home — but nobody came forward to fund it. “People discriminate among sex workers’ children. They say why to support their children? They will also do the same thing. It is still there, but now a few people understand why it is important to support sex workers’ children.”

Jayamma said that even today, it is so difficult to talk about prostitution with the government and people.

While it is very difficult to change a mother’s life in prostitution, Jayamma said that it is relatively easier to give a chance to their children. “We try to catch young girl in the beginning itself, so it is easier for them to leave prostitution. Then we also try to help the girls of second generation sex workers and also the general vulnerable community who are in the rural areas.”

“We provide them counselling, behavioural change and addiction therapies. Unless one applies these three methods, it is impossible to get a girl out of prostitution even if a great alternative livelihood is available.”  

According to Jayamma, there are four types of sex workers — executive sex workers who are willing working in the industry to earn extra money, those who are forced into prostitution because of poverty, those who are born to a family where sex work is taking place for generations and those who are trafficked into prostitution.

“We mainly work with girls forced into prostitution. But the success rate is not very high as before getting into mainstream prostitution, the pimp turns them into addicts. The most commonly used drug given to sex workers is whitener. So it is very difficult for the sex workers to come out and lead a normal life,” said Jayamma.

“We provide them counselling, behavioural change and addiction therapies. Unless one applies these three methods, it is impossible to get a girl out of prostitution even if a great alternative livelihood is available.”

Jayamma has received laurels for her consistent work to reduce prostitution in the country and to make society a better place for sex workers. She is on the board of many influential trusts and societies, including the National Sex Workers Forum, New Delhi, and the advisory board, Andhra Pradesh State Legislative forum.

Six years back, Jayamma moved out with her daughter to live alone. “It was my daughter who asked me to leave my husband’s home. She told me that she doesn’t like how her father abuses me when I work all day for the family.”

Today, Jayamma has direct impact on 4428 women, of which 1000 are now engaging in alternative livelihoods. CMM reaches out to 3,332 government school students in areas where a majority of sex workers live to prevent them from harm. Her prevention home currently has 43 children of sex workers.

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

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