Every week we run a dance movement therapy sessions for women from the red light area. One of the regulars is a young Nepali woman who loved to dance when she was a child growing up in the mountain villages of Nepal. For two hours, she is free to reconnect with her physical-self in a safe, non-sexualized environment. She becomes childlike and playful, as though she has been able to step back to a time of innocence and wonder, a time before she was trafficked into India and sexually exploited. The hope is that, as she experiences these small moments of freedom, she will begin to question the acceptability of the repetitive trauma that she has normalized. At this point, we can actively work with her to achieve freedom. Until this point, at the end of the session, she will hide the little girl as far from the trauma as she can. The mask returns to her face as she leaves the place of safety and walks back down the street and past the other women standing on display in the brothel doorways. She enters her room which is just big enough for a bed and a few personal possessions. She lies on the bed, looking at the familiar damp walls and peeling paintwork and waits for her next customer. She is in the place that she has become resigned to call home.
But this cannot be her home. It is unacceptable on every level.
Over the years, the organization I am working with have helped many Indian women leave the sex trade by offering alternative employment and restorative psychosocial intervention. Sadly, we have had very limited impact on the Nepali community, who account for approximately 10% of the women working in forced prostitution. Often this is due to the higher level of control placed on Nepali women from the brothel they work for. Nepali women are highly sought after and generate a good income for the people profiting from sexual exploitation. These people are reluctant to lose their income generating property.
More importantly, home really is where the heart is. The Nepali women long to reconnect with the place of their birth, the place where their cultural identity makes sense and they can speak freely in the language of their hearts. Even if these women could be liberated from the control of the trade and join our organization, their freedom would likely be incomplete.
The Nepali women need to return to their true home, the place where their hearts live: Nepal.
Kolkata to Kathmandu
Over the past year we, in collaboration with partners in Nepal, have been working to make this journey home possible. We have identified the barriers to successful return in both India and Nepal, as well as those associated with crossing international borders.
Step 1: Kolkata
Our focus in Kolkata is on building relationships with the Nepali community and addressing their immediate health, psychological and social needs. By building a woman’s self-esteem through safe and trusting relationships, our hope is that she will begin to dream of a better future.
Step 2: To (travel)
Often Nepali women were trafficked as children and consequently, they do not have any proof of Nepali citizenship. This would limit their ability to live and work in Nepal. We are able to connect women with appropriate services to resolve this and other legal issues. Once a woman is ready to leave, we will support her travel costs and accompany her on the journey for safety and support.
Step 3: Kathmandu
We have set up a new transition home in Kathmandu, run by a Nepali family who will communicate love and acceptance. During her time in this home, she will be able to access trauma counselling, medical care and other holistic services to help her heal from the trauma. She will be able to develop her life skills, have access to education and a guaranteed job with one of the Freedom Businesses in Kathmandu.
Our hope is that ‘home’ no longer needs to be a place of resignation for Nepali women, but rather, the place where their hearts have always belonged: Nepal.