Questions That The Girl In Pink Is Not Bothered About

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A 25-minute bike ride on the Guna-Bhopal road in Madhya Pradesh leads to Bediapura village in Bhopal district, the home of Bedia community. Far away from civilisation, the village faces constant ignorance from the government and administration. Much of it is because of a socially unaccepted cultural practice observed here.

The women here lure in the sources for its primary form of livelihood. Yes, you read it right! Bediapura is notoriously famous for its culturally accepted sex work, where the male counterpart of the family act as pimps for the women and girls who are devoured by the man from the vicinity of the village as well as nearby blocks. This statement in itself is enough to make someone feel flabbergasted.

As one enters the community, two jovial girls jog past giggling. One can see a distinctively thick layer of make-up with a prominently bright red lipstick and lustrous hair flowing behind them. They hopped at the threshold of the village and glared at me as we entered the village.

The girl in the pink

Walking past the narrow serpentine lanes I felt the gaze capturing each and every movement of mine. Through that boulevard, I reached a courtyard of a house where a couple of old ladies welcomed us and offered us seats, the credit of which goes to our guide at the community who helped us navigate through a community for which we had created apprehensions from what we had heard from different sources. A wrinkled, aged hand had extended towards me with a glass of cold water. The old lady was once a sex worker who has gone past her heydays. The mark of an era gone by was distinctively visible on her forehead with contrition sprinkled over it.

As I rinsed my mouth and spit the water out of my mouth and washed my face, I was drenched with guilt. The old lady informed, “Beta! We walk 2 km to fetch water, please do not throw it.” The commonality with which I grew up is a luxury for many. The guilt of doing that choked my voice for a couple of seconds. 

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As I revived from the casualty, I noticed a girl in her teenage, maybe 16, dressed in pink, with a dark liner around her eyes and a pink shade swept past her fuller lips. That girl was in her prime as per the norms of the community and was one of the highest-earning sex workers from the community. Her clientele includes some influential people from the nearby blocks and students from educational institutions. She interacted like any other normal girl in her teens would do. As I was interacting with her, I wasn’t able to digest reality and wanted to ask her if she liked what she was doing. But I couldn’t, because the girl seemed happy and without any remorse, or at least it seemed so in that short span of interaction. Most of the girls here aspire to be high-end escorts and travel to Dubai. 

The women present in the community are earning a lot in comparison to other girls from other communities in their vicinity. They seem to have no reason to stop what they are doing. The old lady, who offered me water, on the other hand, had many reasons to change things from the past. Long lost and forlorn she has no companionship for the rest of her life. The girl in pink attracts many and is in no dirt of companionship. 

The villagers are living their lives as per the culture imbibed by their forefathers, far away from the societal judgement which has pushed them into the realm of rejection long ago.

Every day the girl in pink lives according to the culture which is considered as a taboo in Indian society. We often talk about preserving indigenous cultures and identities of the country. But should we preserve a culture that promotes sex-work? If not, then what alternatives are we providing to them for their livelihood? What is the alternative that would pay them as much if not more than what they are already earning? Shouldn’t people get the right to make the choices? Shouldn’t the choices be informed choices supported by conscious understandings? Should there be dignity in whatever we do? Or should dignity be distributed subjectively and selectively?   

These were some of the questions that deranged me as I made my way out of the village. Questions that I am eagerly waiting to indulge. Questions that the girl in pink is in no rush to rush. Questions that the girl in pink is not aware of or thought. Questions that the girl in pink is not bothered about.

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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