Swathi Mahila Sangha was started by four determined women. It is an organisation that works tirelessly to protect women who are engaged in sex work from HIV infections. They provide regular health checkups and counseling, and organise awareness drives. Critically, they also provide women financial support and any other leg-up they may need to be able to cope with their problems and get out of this work, if they ever feel the need for it.
In this episode, T.M. Hajira shares her story, which is both tragic and inspiring.
The only daughter among five sons, she was the apple of her father’s eyes. He married her off very young because he was scared that something bad will befall his daughter. She was just 11 years old while her husband was 25. She did not even know what it meant to be married. “I thought it was a game and complained that the mehendi was applied badly!” She wasn’t prepared when her periods began. She didn’t understand why her husband hit her every night. She didn’t know exactly what was expected of her. Eventually, she learned from people she spoke to that her husband expected her to sleep with him.
By the time she was 18, she had four children, one daughter and three sons, and two abortions. The first time that she was undergoing an abortion, she didn’t even know what was happening. Her sister-in-law had decided that she was too young to have a child and had taken her to a doctor; the two injections had done the rest.
Her husband, a lorry driver, brought hardly any money home, and sold her body to men on the streets to earn some extra money to support his drinking habits. Her four children blamed her for what was happening to her. Their argument – she must have done something wrong, so bad things were happening to her as punishment.
She struggled all her life. When her first husband left her, she was stuck in Dubai with no idea of how to get back to her country. Nevertheless, she managed to secure loans to get her children married.
Fortunately, not all was lost. She found her happy ending when her friend turned sister-in-law told her about Swathi Mahila Sangha. “This place is home and these people are my relatives,” she says today, tears escaping her eyes. She wants to live for herself now, but she has little money to herself. Once in a while, her children visit her but they come only for her money. Her second partner does not work, so she has very little money to spend on herself. But T.M. Hajira lives on hope, with the support of a family that has become closer than blood relatives.