“Why are you teaching girls computer scanning? They will move away soon once they are married. So what is the point of training or educating them?” said a visitor to Apne Aap Women Worldwide organisation at Forbesganj in Bihar while I was working on an archival work. The visitor was an educated man who was educating his own daughter in a technical institute in South India. Young girls are groomed to be married very early whether as a tradition or as a prestigious trend. So, the community at large perceives young girls as temporary citizens whose life revolves around gathering those skills which supplements their reproductive roles. The girls wanted to learn as much as they can while they are relatively free from their household chores and family restrictions. But the society watchdogs find them a waste of resources to be invested upon. Even when the country is moving towards skilling, digitising and educating the girl child to save her, there is a very regressive gravity which pulls the girls behind under the veils of protection, patriarchy and caste and class differentiation.
Apne Aap Women Worldwide has been resisting against the forces of inter-generational prostitution, structural caste based patriarchy and multiple vulnerabilities of the ‘last girls’ who does not count in the so called mainstream society. The adolescent girls does not count because their goal in life is marriage for every form of social, cultural, economic and political security while the boys are trained with all possible productive skills to counter every challenge in life. Such discrimination cripples young girls at an early age and from diverse fronts limiting their choices and enslaving them to the vagaries of life. Girls at any age, count only when they are contributing to their household chores.
One of my colleagues who came as a part-time data entry associate was disabled but she had to complete all her household chores before coming to work. Cooking was her primary responsibility at home every day. She had to go attend to guests and all others at home as her mother had a poor health condition. She was a graduate with first division in home science, yet her life was filled with challenges. She wanted to go for higher studies or pursue a career in banking services but her father did not want to send her outside the hometown. She called her father to speak to me for her professional training for higher studies. Her father shared his fears, inhibitions and incapacities with me as adequate reasons for stopping her from going outside. He shared that he is the only breadwinner who cannot leave the house for a day also to explore the educational possibilities for his disabled daughter. Later in whispers he told me, “What to do Didi? After all she is aurat zaat, (she is a woman by caste no so…), that is why cannot send her outside the town.” I stood there suddenly with a shrill of discrimination for being a woman. Gender and disability has such discriminatory realities, I had only read about it but this time gathered some empirical evidence from the field to testify the assumptions. Here also girls don’t count even when they are educated, willing to study and build their own dreams and careers irrespective of their economic status, disability and gender based alienation in the name of protection and tradition. But in reality, the father was more concerned about the loss of the free household labour that sufficed the family needs in spite of her disability. That is when I tried to convince the father that the girl will be an asset and support his economic needs as much as she can when she gets her desired education, training and skills for the work of her choice. He finally said may be within Bihar he can still consider but outside Bihar, it would be impossible for him to send his daughter.
Girls count a lot in the context of intergenerational prostitution within some of the traditional communities which is a harsh reality. They are not counted for education, recreation or reflection but more so for cheap reproductive labour which in inhuman, indecent and intolerant. Such girls are rescued from the stronghold of prostitution by Apne Aap Women Worldwide and they are given a dignified threshold to make new beginnings. Such work does come with inherent threats, intolerance and constant challenges to re-position the last girl outside the legitimacy of all forms of social protection, civic amenities and social security from the authorities of power. The battle within the community is equally grave when some of the women survivors of prostitution and men from the community stood up against their own traditions apart from the agency which was constantly critiqued for being abolitionists. It becomes a matter of choice when one endorses a particular profession. But when a 9-year-old or 12-year-old girl is sold for flesh trade by her own family members, then such practices cannot provide girls with choices over their bodies, sexuality and livelihoods. It is a situation of women’s excessive human rights violation with social, cultural, familial sanctions and inadequate legal, legislative and policy specific remedies to curb such practices.
Apne Aap Women Worldwide is forging this battle since 2002 when Ruchira Gupta, a daring journalist from Mumbai made a film titled, ‘The Selling of Innocents’ and wrote extensively about this practice. Her resistance started as an individual story which collected common stories from across the world and created the collective identity of Apne Aap Women Worldwide and their constant struggle for survival, resistance and rescue of women in prostitution continues till date. The context of last girl emerged from the Gandhian talisman of the last person who is most marginalised. Apne Aap Women Worldwide works with the vision of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King II to connect the world’s two largest democracies for ensuring dignity, support and survival of every woman and girl whose birth defines her doom and positions her last in the ladder of life. Such work enabled me to reflect upon my own doubts and realise the intersections of race, gender, class, caste, religion and territory. I stand in solidarity with the efforts which ensures that every last girl counts. For further information on Apne Aap Women Worldwide please visit their website, www.apneaap.org.