The street lights brighten up at 6 pm.The women splash make up on their faces,I just saw my mother standing on the roadShe went off somewhere with two strange menI ask her at night who they areShe beats me up in return.
(poem written by Afreen, a Core Group member of Diksha.
A 10 x 10 feet room. No windows. 40 children huddled together. Space might be a constraint but the beaming smiles are proof that this is their own space, a space which gives them solace, away from the harsh and brutal realities of life. It’s a 24 hour drop-in centre where children can be safe while mothers are at work, offering protection against possible abuse at night.
It’s amazing to know that this same 10′ x 10′ room is the soil in which the seeds of bright effusive minds are sown. This group of young minds – adolescent boys and girls – have created a space of their own. They form a very aware, empowered and vocal group, dealing with the problems of a red light area in Kalighat, Kolkata, India.
The children express themselves through collage. They pen down their thoughts in poems. They script their own plays on the rights of a child & stage them too, in and around their neighbourhood creating awareness. Important messages are thus communicated to the community through these mediums. This group of yound children act as “change agents” in the community. They report incidents of abuse or trafficking; are trained in the methods of self-defense especially the girl children.The groups are encouraged to share their struggles, their pain, their joy and dreams as it in turn gives them and others in the group that inner strength, the courage, confidence and faith to stand up and fight for themselves, to speak for their rights.
They also discuss with the mother and children, issues relevant to a red light area – they can take charge of their own lives and emerge HIV Aids, early marriage, trafficking, and abuse among other topics. They also evoke debate among children visiting the sessions on issues like legalization of prostitution, politics of gender. In its efforts, Diksha attempts to show rays of hope to the women in trade. They empower the women to report a case of rape or abuse at the Police Station.
Diksha’s vision is that of safe spaces for all children, adolescents and young people living in this world; to live, to grow amidst freedom, security, peace and love; where their lives are protected from danger and harm; where as leaders of tomorrow.Born in 2001, Diksha works in the red light zones of Kalighat and Khidirpur in the district of Kolkata and Baruipur in the district of S-24 Parganas, West Bengal. Kalighat situated in the southern part of Kolkata is famous for the historic temple which draws thousands of pilgrims every day. Adjacent to the Kalighat temple is the red light area where around 500 families live a life in which human rights, child rights are violated out rightly. Khidirpur on the other hand is situated in the eastern part of the city and is adjacent to the Kolkata (then Calcutta) Port.
The red light area of Khidirpur is only a few kilometers away from Kalighat and similar situation prevails here too.Paramita Banerjee the founder of Diksha has been actively involved in development activities and has concentrated on working with children and adolescents since the mid 90s. Her ideas about participation-based approach for adoloscent development won her a Macarthur Fellowship for Leadership Development in 1999. Diksha is the culmination of her activities with adoloscents living in red light areas during the fellowship period. As a programme Diksha works with adoloscents as partners of change.
It focuses on the development of inner strength and emphasizes the integration of individual development with the needs of the community.Diksha, as an organisation believes in the process of change from within. Its highlight is the unique rights-based approach – the right to protection and right to participation of children. Young people in their early and late teens are the core group of Diksha who themselves have been brought up in the red light areas and fully understand the plight of children in these localities. These groups are the strength of Diksha and have proved the effectiveness of child participation. They interact regularly with the community children with the aim to ensure that the next generation is indeed free from all forms of exploitation and abuse.Today in the red light area in Kalighat, no child prostitutes exist. No children or adocloscents are trafficked into Kalighat.
There is no under-age marriages. Moreover these groups are actively bringing in more mothers and women from the vicinity in their Support Group.These are small but firm footprints & these will one day help in bringing many footprints together to form a better world.
Educates communities about their rights, so that they do not get exploited.
Helps develop a leadership team in the project and teaches them to advocate for community rights.
Funds non-formal education centres and balwadis* for children.
Empowers families and communities to give their children the best possible education and healthcare.
Helps NGOs like Diksha plan campaigns and programmes aimed at mobilising the community.
Provides training and organisational inputs that ensure the accountability and effectiveness of the programme.
Improves health standards by training communities on basic hygiene and healthcare.
Links NGOs through the state and the country, enabling them to share experiences and learnings.
At the core of all this work is the belief that each child has rights that society and the state owe her – the right to survive, to develop, to be protected against exploitation and to participate in the decisions affecting her future.