He provides education and a safe haven for girls from red light areas in Bihar
Over two decades ago, as a young boy, Mohammad Kalam from the Nat community at Forbesganj in Bihar witnessed his mother and sisters being sold into the flesh trade. He grew up with them understanding the shame, pain, exploitation and humiliation that trafficked women undergo everyday.
Though uneducated and working as a sex worker, Kalam’s elder sister educated him asking only that he continue to stay in the community and work for the uplift of the Nat women. Kalam kept his promise and after graduation became an anti-trafficking activist working from within this very backward (de-notified) community where inter-generational prostitution is a norm.
Through his work since 2003 he has helped the police arrest 51 sex traffickers and put 23 girls from the Nat community in school.
In Forbesganj, Kalam also manages a school-cum-home called Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalaya, set up by non-government organisation Apne Aap Women Worldwide (which works for rehabilitation of trafficked girls) and provides education and a safe haven for girls from the red light areas in Bihar. However, Kalam’s dream run did not last long.
Says Kalam: “My work brought along serious consequences and I was often alienated by my community. Things got worse when this June the police arrested me on false charges (a trafficked girl arrested by the police told them that one man by the name Kalam had got her married to a man who later pushed her into prostitution).’’
“Later in July the police forced their way into my school and harassed the nine to13-year-olds there. Some of them were even taken to the police station at midnight and kept there overnight without a lady constable, water or food. The next day they were sent to a government hospital where they were subjected to a humiliating medical examination,” he adds.
Kalam says though he was granted bail, “because of the harassment that girls in my institute faced, it has now become impossible to work in the area. I am working in a community which traditionally supplies women for prostitution and sees it as a source of livelihood. So to fight for a positive change by educating the girls in the community is an uphill task’’.
“However, what saddens me most is the fact that rural ‘ melas ’ continue to be organised across the State where women and girls are trafficked in the garb of nautanki troupes and this is an open secret that police and politicians are aware of,” says Kalam.
He and his team had presented video evidence about this trade “but instead of acting on the information the police started harassing me and those working with me. I am among the very few people in my community who have been educated and have opted to work for the rehabilitation of the women in the community. But this recently police harassment has adversely affected my work,’’ says Kalam, who was in Delhi recently.
Meanwhile, Apne Aap Women Worldwide has now appealed to the President, the Prime Minister and the National Human Rights Commission on behalf of Kalam and requested that they look into the situation of women in Bihar, especially those from the Nat community.