Tag Archives: Ruchira Gupta

Apne Aap and Ruchira Gupta Give Girls a New Life

28 Jun


67 self-help groups of women survivors of trafficking in India (Bihar, Delhi, Maharashtra, Bengal)

854 Children in Red Light Districts getting access to academic and artistic education in community classrooms, high schools, hostels, (mime, art, martial arts etc)

1909 police officers trained to help investigate buyers and traffickers and protect India’s victims.

These are the statistics on the the small NGO Apne Aap in India’s website. And it is all the work of Ruchira Gupta and her volunteers and helpers. 

Ruchira Gupta is a bona fide multitasking, empowered woman. She is a journalist, activist, and policymaker. She has worked for 25 years to lessen and hopefully one day end, human trafficking in India and has helped marginilised women become empowered once again. She works with prostitutes in India – both women and young girls, to advocate their own change and get out of the cycle they are in. And she does it through Apne Aap – a community-based initiative, she set up.

Ruchira Gupta wins the Clinton Global Citizen's Award 2009


How it all began

When Ruchira was on assignment as a journalist, she found that many of the villages in the hills of Nepal had no women between the ages of 15 and 45. When she started asking questions, she found out that they had all gone to “work in Mumbai.” As she investigated further, she discovered a well-oiled system in place, that procured girls from a young age and then carried them – first in trucks to the Indo-Nepal borer, and then by train to the famous red-light district of Kamatipura in Mumbai. This was not business being conducted on small dirt roads or quietly in the backyards of homes, but out in the open. Procurers were always on the prowl and poverty stricken parents, thinking they were selling their daughters to a big city life, parted with their daughters, for cash on delivery.

Like many such issues in India, when Ruchira got deeper, people clammed up, mafia threatened and she realised certain politicians were even involved in the whole scheme.

Ruchira persevered, she hung around the brothels, getting to know the women, building trust and gaining access to what information she could. She reached out to them, one woman to another and shared as much about her life, as they did theirs.

She was honest that she was doing this story and it needed to be told. Some women helped because of this, for others it became a game of how to film their life and liaisons, without a client knowing.

But she knew even after the story was shot, she couldn’t just walk away. She had bought a girl in Kathmandu, as part of her research and she put her in a school. Then she took her film to forums where it would make a difference: The Stockholm World Congress on Sexual Exploitation of Children, UNICEF regional workshops, UNAIDS conference, and the UN in New York. It was dubbed into 6 languages and shown in South and South-East Asian villages to educate people at the beginning of the chain, on what they were truly selling their girls into.

The Selling of Innocents won an Emmy for Outstanding Investigative Journalism.

As Ruchira kept in touch with the women in the red-light districts of India, they asked her to please help them change their situation and save their daughters from falling into prostitution, because they would have few other options and be forced into it by those around.

But Ruchira, felt saving was not the way here. She would how to teach these women how to help themselves. And she formed “Apne Aap” which means ‘self-help’ in Hindi.

It began as small, informal group discussions. She gave them what advice she could on a personal level, and on a political level i.e. what they should demand from the government and from Indian society as a whole. These women gave one another and Ruchira, emotional, physical and emotional support. The group also met in more positive and environments like beaches and parks, away from the chaos and roving eyes. And as they met, they realised that there is strength in numbers. When they worked together, they were treated with more respect and listened to. They had a voice that would not be ignored. 

The group was finally registered as an NGO in August 2002. But it still needed a lot more. A place for their work (which was eventually an abandoned school in the heart of the red-light area – Falkland street), medicines, food and legal support. They also needed sponsors for their daughters, so they could get an education and get out of prostitution.

This school became a safe haven, a place where women could meet, bathe, sew, chat, get mail, hold meetings and classes, sleep and more. As Apne Aap grew and its women gained their sense of self and strength back, they decided to replicate other such programmes that already existed in Bihar and Delhi. They would lobby in Parliament for a change in India’s anti-trafficking law, to punish buyers more severely, so it became more of a risk to buy girls and more costly if caught.

Today Apne Aap is a place that mobilises these women and mentors them. They can get legal help here, education and livelihood training, fun activities, as well as develop skills and abilities to resist traffickers. Women have rescued one another from prostitution and ill-treatment and demanded safe-housing for one another and a right to an education. Mothers have rescued their daughters from their same fate and learnt to put them in schools and give them a fighting chance to get a better life for themselves.

The women-led self-help groups , residential and non-residential classrooms and legal support cells have reached out to well over 10,072 women and girls to date. And Apne Aap has a publication as well- the ‘Red Light Despatch,’ which is written by women and girls in prostitution, survivors and victims.

Dance workshop in Topisia Centre


Ruchira shows us that even in our work we can make a difference. She went beyond her role of journalism to actually help those in her story. And she didn’t just save them, she taught them how to help themselves, so they could pass on that strength and message of empowerment to their children and others around them. So they could find a voice and express it, in a place, where no one wanted to hear their voice, but just use them as bodies and objects.

There is truly beauty and good in the world, even in what may seem like the darkest and most poverty-stricken places.