Incredible People

Apne Aap I am sure has many fine people working for it. Two such people I had the true honor and pleasure of getting to know, seemed to me to be sparks creating real change:

Aarti Bedi:

Aarti is a 25 year-old, raven-haired, pint-sized pixie who could easily power all of Delhi with her smile. She has an almost hypnotic voice soaked in calm, caring, and sincerity that matches her soft brown eyes.

I got to know Aarti during my 14 day stay at KGBV. She was kind enough to suffer through my attempts at Hindi, and her English was good enough that we were able to have discussions, albeit often punctuated by “please repeat?” and “I don’t understand.” During our conversations, I learned that Aarti is from the Bedia community near Bhopal which practices intergenerational prostitution. As such, she has braved several challenges, but with the support and encouragement of her grandmother and a teacher, she refused to be a victim, and rejected the acceptance and practice prostitution typical in her community. Instead, Aarti enrolled herself as a private student and completed her post graduation in 2007, supporting her own education through small jobs from high school onwards. She has been working with a social rehabilitation initiative of the Bedia Community for the past three years. She has a big vision for her community where girls have access to education and dignified living, boys critically look at gender relations in their community and the community itself can relate to the larger social world on equal terms.

I was so impressed by her passion, her spirit (brighter than her smile), her dedication, her commitment, and her sense of humor. She had such love in her voice as she talked about working with the girls at KGBV. Her empathy and compassion with these young trauma victims makes her a powerful beacon for positive change in their lives. I will always remember the sound of her voice tugging me awake in the mornings as she gently prodded the KGBV girls awake with a cheerful “Good morning” in English. But for those who resisted, a small bowl of cold water awaited…

Mohammed Kalam:

Kalam is absolutely committed to ending the practice of intergenerational prostitution, and he works tirelessly to do so. With a boyish face and charming grin, it is hard to imagine that he has suffered hardship by virtue of being born into the marginalized Nutt Community. The Nutt Community has been in existence for hundreds of years, subsisting on dance, song, and snake charming (yes, really) performances to earn a living. But during the time of British rule, the community was criminalized, and its people became undocumented and therefore nonexistent to the government. As such, they could not own land, hold reputable jobs, or attend school. With such restrictions, this ultimately led to prostitution as a means of family income. With the help of his sisters and father, Kalam went to law school, and now fights on behalf of his community to successfully end societal and civil injustice. His efforts focus on educating women and girls about their civil rights, on creating self-sustaining youth programs that develop leadership, on basic health and vocational issues.

Kalam’s efforts have had a substantial impact. For example, one community that Kalam starting working with seven years ago had at that time 23 families that practiced intergenerational prostitution. Today that figure has been reduced to three, and Kalam predicts that by next year the number will be zero. How cool and wonderful is that?

Kalam was particularly supportive of my karate teaching, and we even had impromptu self defense classes around the Forbesgunge offices on several occasions. I’ll never forget the look of surprise on his face when I showed him how to avoid a knife attack and turn the knife on the attacker. Priceless.

Aarti and Kalam were really inspiring to me, so knowledgeable and helpful for me to understand the predatory dynamics of the ‘at risk’ environments for girls in Bihar which led me to develop a self defense policy and a short educational piece for girls about how to keep safe. I wish them much continued success in their fascinating and life changing endeavors.


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