Robin Chaurasiya on living life with a ‘triple-minority’ status and founding Kranti, an organisation that works for the daughters of sex workers
Robin Chaurasiya blasts the ‘Big American Dream’, says it does not exist and that what there is, is racism and prejudice. The reality of the United States (US) armed forces of Hollywood films and TV series, she says, is different from the real thing.
The social activist’s NGO, Kranti, works with the children of sex workers in Mumbai. They are encouraged to become ‘agents of survival and change’. Whatever the lives of their mothers might be, they are given a chance to be what they want to be and find out what they can do.
“Instead of just provide food, clothing and shelter we want to give them opportunities to go find out what they want to be. In fact, if they are given the same opportunities they would do far better than their peers.” She was in the city to participate in the recently concluded INK Talk series.
The ‘American Dream’ comment comes up in the context of her having been born, brought up, educated and having worked in the US and then giving it all up. To come, live and work in India is something those dreaming of a life in the US might not comprehend.
But Robin jokes, “In the US I was a ‘triple minority’ – coloured, woman and lesbian. Here at least I got rid of one ‘identity’ – I am the same colour as everyone else.” She was also in the US Air Force which, she says, is extremely misogynistic and especially so if one comprises the ‘triple minority’.
The post-graduate in gender studies, who graduated in psychology, quit the military and travelled across the world to countries such as Turkey, Brazil and Uganda to work with NGOs before reaching Mumbai. “I had travelled a lot, studied so much and it seemed irresponsible not to do something with it.”
While volunteering in Mumbai she encountered girls, daughters of sex workers, who were taught skills such as tailoring and papad-making. “There was so much else these girls wanted to do but there were no opportunities.” The observation led her to founding Kranti in 2010. Kranti means revolution and with her Kranti, Robin says, she wants to create a group of strong and confident young women from red-light areas.
Kranti is housed in an apartment with “10 girls, three staff, three cats and a turtle”. Most of the girls have suffered trauma and abuse but Robin wants the girls to be proud of themselves. Various types of therapy — art, dance, movement or regular — is scheduled for the girls so that they can emerge empowered.
“Abuse affects the brain as it affects life. Different kinds of therapy work for different children. And we encourage the girls to go back home often and visit their mothers.” She doesn’t believe in keeping them away from where their mothers live because it would induce a sense of shame about their mothers, and as a result themselves.
Attitudes and mindsets are difficult to change in a hurry. For instance, getting a place to stay is difficult; building societies do not like to rent out space to them.
The resilience that the girls pick up as a result gives them an edge over their peers.
Some of the girls at Kranti work as peer educators in schools sharing their experiences with their peers in regular schools.
“One of our girls, Shweta has been selected to go to Bard University in New York. Her scores were not great but in terms of her life experiences she had much more backing her than a privileged applicant. By the time she had appeared for the Bard exam she had attended close to 50 different conferences and spoken at these venues which, despite her scores, made her a more suitable candidate. And she got in.”
Life hasn’t been easy for the 28 year-old, her ‘triple minority’ status has given her some tough times but, “I could have either felt bad or I could have turned my experiences into positives and done something constructive which is what I believe I am doing.”