NPR

A Ray Of Hope For The Children Of Sex Workers

The New Light shelter in Kolkata offers a safe home. Founder Urmi Basu was inspired by a walk through the city's red-light district. This year, she was given India's highest civilian honor for women.
Urmi Basu, center in red dress, with some of the children who live at New Light, the shelter she established. Source: Windsor Johnston/ NPR

When Rashida Bibi was 16, she left her native Bangladesh and came to Kolkata, India, with the promise of a job as a nanny.

It was a lie. In fact, she was a victim of sex trafficking.

"After giving me shelter for a few days, the family told me that they couldn't keep me and that I had to start working as a prostitute," Bibi says. Tears well up in her eyes when she remembers that moment.

Some 30 years later, Bibi is one of an estimated 11,000 sex workers in Sonagachi, a notorious red-light district in Kolkata.

And she is the mother of 16-year-old Madhabi, who attends secondary school and dreams of being a hip-hop dancer in Bollywood. The teenager spends hours each week trying to perfect the art of "B-fusion," a mix of classical Indian dance, Bollywood choreography and hip-hop elements. She's teaching herself by watching TV and movie dance scenes.

The reason that Madhabi has high hopes? An organization called which educates and cares for children of sex workers in the red-light district of Kalighat in Kolkata (about 10 minutes from the Sonagachi neighborhood where Rashida Bibi works). Its founder, Urmi Basu, this year was a recipient of India's highest civilian honor for women, the Nari Shakti Puraskar award, given by the Ministry of Women and Child

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