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Gitanjali Babbar: Social Change Agent, Love Warrior, Uplifter of Women and Children
Jul 4, 2015: A Force More Powerful: Transforming Delhi's Brothels



Read: Call Transcript (Also: What Women Can Teach Us About Compassion)

Delhi's GB road is the biggest red light area in the nation's capital.  Behind most of the faces lie untold stories of pain and suffering.  More than 4,000 women and 1500 children live in 77 brothels, most of whom are there by force, having been kidnapped, sold as young children, or trafficked.  But these sex workers have found a friend in Gitanjali Babbar, who has made it her mission to empower them through love. ​ Three and half years ago, Gitanjali found herself launching Kat-Katha, a nonprofit that's quietly been transforming G.B. Road brothels into classrooms, community centers, and safe spaces for the women and their children to learn, explore creative arts, and come alive with a sense of connection, expression, and possibility.  Through See full.
Delhi's GB road is the biggest red light area in the nation's capital.  Behind most of the faces lie untold stories of pain and suffering.  More than 4,000 women and 1500 children live in 77 brothels, most of whom are there by force, having been kidnapped, sold as young children, or trafficked.  But these sex workers have found a friend in Gitanjali Babbar, who has made it her mission to empower them through love. ​

Three and half years ago, Gitanjali found herself launching Kat-Katha, a nonprofit that's quietly been transforming G.B. Road brothels into classrooms, community centers, and safe spaces for the women and their children to learn, explore creative arts, and come alive with a sense of connection, expression, and possibility.  Through Kat-Katha, Gitanjali provides women sex workers in New Delhi with caring support and the chance to pursue a basic education, to develop job-related skills for alternate livelihoods in tailoring, weaving, and craft making, and to form a basic understanding of their rights and a foundation for self-esteem.  Kat-Katha also offers classes to children living in brothels.  ​Today, through her initiative, Gitanjali has worked to uplift more than 3,000 sex workers over the past several years, and Kat-Katha (consisting of 120 volunteers from around the globe) works with all 77 brothels on G.B. Road and runs a school for 17 brothel children.  “It pains me to see women, with fine spirits and pure hearts, isolated from mainstream society facing tremendous challenges," Gitanjali says.  "But when I see them overcoming challenges through our initiative, it makes me so proud of being a woman.”

A graduate in journalism and a post-graduate in development communications, Gitanjali Babbar's journey began when she became involved as a student with National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) where she was tasked with surveying groups including brothel women on topics related to contraceptives and family planning.  As she probed the women on such intimate topics, she came to feel that the survey conversations were forced and mechanical.  She used to wonder, “I don't even know these women.  They don't even know me.  How am I supposed to ask them such personal and private questions?”  She realized they needed a support system to talk to about their personal issues apart from the regular information they they received about safe sex.  Gitanjali did just that.  Through the strong bonds of friendship she forged with them, she realized the unfairness of their existence.  She felt they were trapped into these brothels where all their dreams were suppressed and instead they were treated as "€œpuppets" satisfying the desires of others.  She wanted to break the strings holding these women back from living a life of their own choice. And one day when a woman asked her that she wanted to learn to read, Gitanjali started her work by teaching women in the brothels. Soon their children joined in and took over the learning space. Next came the demands for learning alternative skills and a small tailoring centre began at G.B. Road. KatKatha has grown organically by listening to the needs of women and children. And as Gitanjali opened her heart to hear the women's stories more deeply, she discovered -- even amid the grim reality of these sex workers serving 20-40 customers in a day -- that "in every brothel, I found some person or another who was waiting to love you.”  

Kat-Katha's impact has been profound, yet has grown organically and serendipitously -- powered by Gitanjali's willingness to continue to open her heart in increasing ways to the goodness around her.  Amid all her external impact -- including being named among the 100 "Amazing Indians" of 2014 and having graced the May 2015 cover of Femina with her inner and outer beauty -- Gitanjali cares most about connecting with the human spirit.  She stops to reconfigure her inner alignment.  Last February, she partook in a 30-day "In-Turnship" at the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, where she engaged in daily practices like meditation and sweeping, and held circles with servant ladders from all walks of life.  At the star-studded evening earlier this year in which she received one of the L'Oreal Paris Femina Women's Awards, she brought as her guest one of her students from Kat-Katha who wants to be an actress.  Gitanjali wanted this young woman to be able to visualize what her future might look like.  As Gitanjali says, "When I meet volunteers who say they want to make a change, I tell them to change themselves first -- that is how we can make this world a better place."

Gitanjali Babbar is woman on a mission, a seeker journeying the path, and a sister connecting with family in the most unlikely of places.


Five Questions for Gitanjali

What Makes You Come Alive?
The very presence of My kids, didi's, volunteers keeps me energized all the time.<br />This was beautifully experienced recently when I was nearly crippled with the news of my Fathers heart attack, and at the same time was to embark on an eagerly awaited Yatra (Kat Yatra) with the Children and Didis to Ahmedabad. I was not sure how to handle both which is very dear to me, so when I came to school to see how the preparations were going on, I found that the kids were preparing a surprise dance for our hosts there. And the dance involved the presence of a big person, so they asked me, to be the person and while I was so caught up with my fathers condition, I couldn't say no to them and I accepted their proposal. We danced for an hour and then had a circle of sharing in which I almost cried and noticed that even my 5 year old is praying. The next thought was, why am I scared when the prayer of my kids are there with me, and that was the time, I regained my trust in the universe.

Your Greatest Inspiration?
When I initially started visiting the brothels on G.B. Road, I was curious about the lives that these women lived. I had a lot of questions to ask them but when they started asking me questions about my life, I withdrew. I was not comfortable sharing my life with the women and this made me question my intentions. If I was not willing to share, then how could I ask these women about their lives. This was THE turning point for me.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
Once I was going back home, after spending time at one of the brothels, it was late evening so I took an auto and was waiting at the signal when I noticed this women. Some people say that she was also a sex worker but from past one year I have noticed her roaming on the road, people call her mad but I feel that in real sense she is living her life. She spends her whole day talking to herself, shouting laughing, and we are great friends though every time we meet our friendship starts with a round of introduction<br />This one evening I saw her, she was standing next to a man who was hurt and was unable to stand, he was begging, so she went to him, sat with him asked him something and then ran to a tea shop and got 2 cups of tea and offered one of them to him, then she went back again, said something to the shopkeeper and he gave him 3 packets of biscuit, though she never pays but that day she took out money from her pocket and gave it to shopkeeper and came back and offered two of the biscuits to the man and then sat there and started laughing and had tea with him. That moment I questioned myself "what service means"??<br />

One Thing On Your Bucket List?
Creating GB Road a street of love and working towards turning two brothels into a temple of love.

One-line Message for the World?
In a gentle way you can shake the world.


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