Shweta Katti grew up in an environment where abuse and confinement of women was common. Now 19,what kept her going was her intense desire to study. Born and raised in one of Mumbais biggest red-light areas,Grant Road,Shweta today has admission offers from three American universities where she wants to study for a bachelors degree in psychology.
Shwetas career goals initially changed from lawyer to doctor to teacher,until the NGO Kranti helped her make up her mind to be a counsellor who would set up a clinic in the same red-light area that she grew up in. Impressed by her dream,American University,New York University and Bard College agreed to give her full tuition scholarships. Shweta now awaits an individual or organization who would fund her living expenses in the US.
For the first 17 years of her life,Shweta lived above a brothel,and suffered an alcoholic and abusive stepfather. My mother was my only hope, she said. Poverty had forced her mother to move from her small village in Belgaum in Karnataka to Mumbai.
Shweta had to deal with deep emotional troughs,the biggest blow coming when her mother revealed that her father was actually her stepfather,and that her neighbour and best friend Kavita was really her half-sister from her biological father.
Despite being intelligent and securing 71 per cent in her class 10 exams,the frail teenager was very low on self-esteem. People,including my father,kept telling me how dark,ugly and dirty I looked. It was solely because of the confidence that my mother gave me that I enrolled myself in class 11 at SNDT Womens College.
Things looked up once Kranti,an NGO that works with children in red-light areas,came into her life. Kranti was collaborating with local NGO called Apne Aap when Robin Chaurasiya,one of Krantis founder members,met Shweta.
She was a quiet,reserved girl,completely unsure of herself and her abilities. Despite strong resistance from her father,her mother helped us get her into Kranti. My colleague Katie Pollom and I started working on healing her mentally and psychologically,and she responded very well, Chaurasiya said.
After her class 12 exams,Shweta travelled to Nepal and the tribal areas of Jharkhand for a year with Kranti,giving motivational talks to sex workers and their children. She also spoke at eight womens conferences during this time. From not being able to complete a sentence in English,Shweta can now talk without stammering. I never thought I would speak in English like this. I still make mistakes thoda thoda par bol leti hoon, she said.
Chaurasiya and Pollom helped Shweta apply to universities. I was able to realize the change in my life brought about by therapists. I therefore made up my mind to pursue psychology,so that I could help women like me in the future. Fortunately,the universities were impressed with my statement of purpose. Newsweek recently featured Shweta in its list of 25 under-25 Young Women to watch.
Shweta now lives with Chaurasiya,Pollom and 10 other girls like her in a three-room apartment in Kandivali. Both Chaurasiya and Pollom moved to India from the US to run Kranti.
Other NGOs cater to a large number of girls,but the purpose is not met since most of them are either forced back into their old lives or are given training in activities such as sewing and cooking that neither help their aspirations nor make them financially independent. We are currently working with only 12 girls but we are making sure that each of their lives pan out the way they perceive it for themselves, Chaurasiya said.