Sometimes, being from two different communities can feel more like belonging to two different countries sharing a border.” claimed Ritumoni who heads on-ground operations for Kat Kathaa. Indeed. Especially when one of the two communities happens to be the ‘infamous’ and highly misunderstood red light area of Delhi. Swami Shraddhanand Marg often referred to by its earlier name G.B. Road is the second largest red light area of Delhi, consisting of 70 active brothels that are home to 4000 women and 1500 children. It is not unknown that each individual residing on the road lives with innumerable taboos and stereotypes imputed to them. Nobody from the outside ‘moral’ community wants anything to do with those on the ‘other’ side of the invisible border. It is then, definitely a colossal task to make the border porous if not disappear and ‘Samjho Toh Express’ has been a significant initiative that not only aspires to but has succeeded in doing so. A collaboration between Commutiny- the Youth Collective (CYC) and Kat-Kathaa (on-ground partner), this journey has offered huge promises of bringing in a change in the way people especially the youth look at differences, meanwhile facilitating them to focus on the similarities.
Kat-Kathaa has been working on ground with the sex workers and their children of G.B. Road on a social development model based on Integration as a central value. Samjho Toh Express proved to be a highly unique journey to explore the same between the women of G.B. Road and Young people from various universities of Delhi and National Capital Region (NCR). It is essential to note here that a divide has repercussions on both the sides. Not only does the community outside have apprehensions about the women residing on the road but the women too have huge fears surrounding people from outside. In such a situation the crevice only deepens in the absence of dialogue. Kat Kathaa through Samjho Toh Express, created many such opportunities for the women and children to interact with each and become friends. A few big milestones are worth capturing to track the journey they made. The Samjho Toh journey is so designed that it starts off at a ‘Junction’ event which requires an equal number of university students and community people to come and interact with each other, and forming friendship pairs. Each pair consisting of an individual from the community and one from the university who then set off on voyage to understand each other through regular phone calls, meetings and co creating ‘5th spaces’ as they progress. A space which is non judgemental, believes in trust and helps nurture a psycho social worldview in youth so that they go on to become responsible and socially sensitive citizens.
Kat Kathaa helped creating such spaces by formally providing spaces for the friendship pairs to come and experience the joy of loving and sharing. The Junction event consisted of a cleanliness drive of G.B. Road, which otherwise faces discrimination from public conveniences the rest of us enjoy on a daily basis. Young people came together with their friends from the community to not only help clean the place but to also clean any stereotypes associated with it. This was followed by a candle march in solidarity with love, friendship and rights which are values shared universally. Once the pairs were formed, an extensive painting drive was carried out where all the voyagers helped paint the walls of a brothel turning it into a vibrant room of echoing laughters and beauty. As Ritumoni puts it, “ Ayesha, the room looks stunning. It lifts anybody’s mood who enters the space. It is no longer sad.”
The same joy could also be heard in the voice of a didi from the community who broke down into tears of joy claiming that she had never before imagined that a person from outside would become her friend and that they would share their emotions and stories. The whole group sat down in a circle and prayed for her inside the brothel where she lives. Never before had a prayer circle been hosted inside a brothel and it was an enriching experience for all the souls present in the room.This has been perhaps only one of the many heartwarming impacts of the journey that Samjho Toh is.
Another event towards the later part of the journey saw all the friends coming with beautiful handmade cards, gifts, and poems as dedications for each other. This was an overwhelmingly encouraging experience for the women especially who made friends for the first time. The finale Manzil event held in Delhi had hundreds of people from all over the city come and catch a glimpse of the spectacular journey that had been. Parth (name changed) who has grown up in G.B. Road and emerged as a brilliant photographer, made a small movie tracking the emotions of Samjho Toh Express. The outsiders became insiders and the borders disappeared. The women and children of Swami Shradhanand Marg felt as included as anybody from the neighbouring streets of Chawri Bazar and Chandni Chowk. The taboo of G.B. Road was gone. It is important to understand that through occupation or birth, nobody is born different. Their lives are similar to the lives of the rest of us, their hopes and dreams are like the rest of us and they are a part of us. Through such an experience the participants and Kat Kathaa realised that as soon as restrictions and labels are removed from people, they can really come together and bond to form strong relationships across boundaries. They can be themselves. And that is the most wonderful gift a friend can give to another and the society they live in.