The sex workers are no lesser citizens. It is very rare that a woman, a girl or an under aged child becomes a sex worker voluntarily. Divorce, poverty, domestic violence and torture, failure in love affairs, kidnapping are some of the causes that drive women and girls into prostitution.
The condition of sex workers in Kerala is appalling. They are caught in the chain of pimps, gundas and other antisocial elements in the society and the police on the other side. Classified under criminals, these women find it difficult to raise their voice against basic human rights violation. Moreover, the absence of brothels, which invariably provides shelter, increases the gravity of sufferings of sex workers in Kerala. Many of these sex workers and their children are on the street. Thus these children too undergo all the brutalities suffered by their mothers.
The ‘Foundation for Integrated Research in Mental Health’ (FIRM), an organization formed by a team of medical doctors, held the first state level meeting of the Sex Workers of Kerala on February 20 and 21 of 1999 at Hassan Marakkar Hall, Thiruvananthapuram. Around 350 sex workers and people from different walks of life like poets, journalists, lawyers, doctors, social activists, cultural and political activists were a part of this meeting. Issues and problems of sex workers were the focal point of this discussion. It turned out that one of the major concerns of the sex workers was regarding their children.
As a result, on March 4, 1999 a meeting of a nascent ‘support team’ was held at ‘Anasooya’, Perumthanni, Thiruvananthapuram. The objective of this meeting was to understand and tackle the problems of sex workers. Ten supporting teams were formed in the meeting. They are (1) Legal Aid (2) Media (3) Network (4) Employment (5) Child Care (6) Night Shelter (7) Housing (8) Publication (9) Souvenir (10) Drop-in-Center.
Members of this team were: Shaji Jose, Anil, Roja, Ajith Kumar, Sam L Sone, Prasad, J.Reghu, Manoj, Ravi K Arjun, Rose Mary, Shimna, Sudheer, Subhash, Sivan, Maitreya, Dr. Jayasree, Gowri G. and Koodal Sobhan.
Our aim was twofold – total rehabilitation of sex workers’ children and changing the popular perception of these children being criminals. We started with the fact that while biology inherently and essentially doesn’t determine the future of a citizen, social situations often do. Hence we wanted to provide facilities and resources which would enable sex workers’ children resist the stigma and discrimination. We helped them use this adversity as a springboard to grow into better citizens and capable human beings.
Later, this support team for child care grew into the organization called CHILLA.