While researching the football scene in Kolkata, photographer Balarka Brahma came across a residential home set up by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) for children of sex workers from various brothels at Baruipur, a small town near Kolkata. Slowly gathering information and details from its location to the mode of functioning, Brahma finally got a chance to meet Mr. Smarajit Jana, the head of the academy, and embarked on a visual documentation of the children’s lives at the residential home.
A unique cooperative of close to 65,000 sex workers--male, female and transgender--DMSC was established in 1992 in Sonagachi, the region’s largest red-light district. Rallying for the rights of brothel workers, the team felt the need to do more for their children who often get trapped in the trade of their mothers, or when they are denied education they’re driven into the nefarious trade of sex work and drugs. DMSC’s innovative approach to providing new opportunities to these children involve separating them from their mothers, a necessary evil for many, and providing them with a safe home, schooling and an in into mainstream society through football. “Sports have helped in great extent to integrate them in societies. As everyone knows that Bengal is the land of football; it was the obvious choice to them to select football for this purpose,” Brahma told us. “Running a home only for residential and educational purposes do not help much in long run, and they realized it. At least they needed something which can attract and motivate the kids to stay away from their mothers. The football team is a mixture of both kids from the brothel areas and beyond.”
“Their main purpose is not to produce some great footballers, but to empower the kids and their mothers. In this process, if some good footballers are produced, that is considered as a bonus. But they do not hesitate to invest in the infrastructure of football academy. Because they know that if they do not concentrate on this academy, their main purpose will be broken. Sports are the prime tool for that.”
As observed by the photographer, DMSC has provided a positive, conducive environment for the kids where they get timely food, recreational activities as well as allocated study time with assigned private tutors in the morning and evenings, even having tied up with a local board school to admit the residents so as to appear for their board examinations. “Above all they get professional quality football coaching.” Their experiment is proving to be increasingly fruitful, and their training is definitely paying off. Brahma pointed out that their team is among the best in West Bengal at the junior and sub-junior level. Sajjad Ali, child of a sex worker, plays for the West Bengal State level under-fourteen football team and has been since 2009. “The team has become champion of the Indian Football Association’s nursery league and will field a team in the senior division...Last year two boys from the academy were selected by the U.K.’s Manchester United to practice with its junior team in Manchester,” writes Brahma.
DMSC is an incredibly influential group for a section of sex workers in the city, but they have faced a number of obstacles on their journey to bring the children under their protective wing. Brahma explained it to us stating two main reasons why they were unable to take them all into the program; “one is completely financial and another is the pressure from some of the influential agents of the sex trade in Kolkata. They fear that if Durbar (DMSC) creates influence, they may incur loss. It’s very necessary for the agents to keep this structure as it is. Still they are doing their best to bring the kids from that environment.”
Spending time with the children and photographing them, Brahma heard stories from many about their own personal trials and tribulations, but one that really stuck with him is that of a twelve year old boy Raza Rahman. Early in his life he came under a number of bad influences, drugs and anti-social goons, and his mother finally threw him out of the house, declaring him “as an abandoned son.” He earned a living working at several street vendors and food stalls, but he slowly began missing everything he had come to lose since his departure from home. “He tried to return back home, but his mother refused to accept him again,” Brahma old us. “Finally he went on to meet Ms.Bharati Dey, the secretary of Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee and expressed his wish to join the academy again. He eventually got the chance to join here [the academy] after the intervention of Ms.Dey. But he could not repair the relationship with his mother till date. He says in his own words, ‘I do not want to go back to my mother again. I have a very strong doubt whether she is my real mother or not. Once in a month she calls me up, but I never call her. It’s good that we have parted away. I am enjoying my life here. I can’t pardon her even she accepts her mistake.’ It’s really incredible that a twelve years old boy is talking in such a mature and bold manner.”
Raza is one of many children who have been given a new life of sorts by the work done by DMSC. Providing positive role models and the right kind of motivation and support, DMSC has given opportunities to children of sex workers, and other marginalised communites, to showcase their talents in the limelight, breaking away from the trade of the parents to which they would otherwise have been unwillingly tied to, to become football champions; they have managed to do more for the upliftment of a much-neglected and marginalised community than perhaps the local government and that itself is an incredibly commendable feat.
We’ve posted below images from Balarka Brahma’s series Forward Pass in which he captures personal and intimate moments of the young residents at DMSC’s home.
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