Typically, when a journalist digs up that ultra-compelling story, she takes a year off, writes a book and moves on. Instead, Ruchira Gupta rolled up her sleeves and stuck around to help the women and children enslaved in Mumbai’s brothels. And that’s where you’ll find her today, embroiled in the spirited chaos that is Apne Aap (On Our Own).
In ‘94, on assignment in the hills of Nepal, Ruchira was struck by the absence of girls and young women in the villages. So she started asking around. She kept getting the same answer: they’ve gone to work in Mumbai. Turns out, she discovered, most had been sold, tricked or otherwise coerced into service in the city’s brothels — a one-way career path that can entrap generations. She went to see for herself, and after months of research, convinced the Canadian Broadcasting Company to commission her to produce “The Selling of Innocents,” a documentary that snagged an Emmy for investigative journalism in 1997.
After 40 days of filming, Ruchira realized that she couldn’t leave the sex workers who had helped make the documentary happen – those who had shared their stories and fended off thugs who threatened to snuff her cameras (and her).
Together, they founded Apne Aap, a center that provides services for the workers and their children — everything from a shower and a place to crash, to health services and computer training. The place isn’t fancy; they’re in dire need of more help and resources. Prostitutes are dying of AIDS, suffering from insomnia and schitzophrenia and watching their children succumb to the sex trade. And with the help of the Internet, sex tourism and pornography are on the rise. But they’re doing what they can to make a dent by highlighting the situation locally, nationally and internationally; by pushing men to use condoms and to treat the women in their lives decently; and by providing the women with the resources and confidence they need to break out.
Ruchira speaks bluntly about the shocking conditions in the brothels, where women spend eight hours in small boxes plying their trade while their young children crawl around on the floor. She rattles off statistics about sex tourism in the same matter-of-fact way that she describes the toll the experience initially took on her own sex life (not a turn-on). But she brightens when she talks of the women she works with. “The warmth I get from the girls is so overwhelming,” she says, “so inspiring.”
trafficking of humans:
sale of a person by monetary transaction, coercion, seduction, deception, force, kidnapping
prostitution, domestic service, cheap labor, pornography, adoption, organ trade
four million women & children trafficked every year worldwide
sex tourism capitals:
Bangkok, Thailand; Manila, Philippines; Agra, India; Johhpur, India; Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Johannesburg, South Africa; Goa, India; Paris, France; Budapest, Hungary; Sarajevo, Bosnia-Hercegovina
From the Interview:
“What we want to do is actually eradicate sex trafficking and the exploitation inside prostitution, so you know, just buying the girls off is no solution, because that means that we still create a demand. And as long as there is a demand, there will be a supply.”
“India is full of contradictions, and yet there’s an inner peace. You’ll see a woman walking on the street, she has nothing, and yet, she’ll be walking in the most dignified way. So poverty in India is very different from poverty in the West. In the west, poverty is considered a crime; in India, it’s just a fact of life.”
“The good news is that the women are willing to fight. Six years ago, when I came into this brothel, they were so timid and they were so scared, they were not willing to even talk to each other. They did not let outsiders in, and today, six years later, you can see the laughter and the joy that they have.”
" as a journalist, you move on from one story to another, but this was one story that I could not walk away from, because I have never seen this kind of exploitation, it just outrages ”
Read our Global Gigs feature about working with Apne Aap.
The Selling of Innocents is available for non-commercial use from:
Apne Aap Women Worldwide
22 Ballgunge Park Road
For broadcast use contact:
110 Spadina Avenue
Tel: (+1 416) 480 0453
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