Sex workers cook their way out of Delhi's dark underbelly

Sex workers cook their way out of Delhi
Highlights

Sitting next to a gas stove, five women divide work as they settle down to make vada pavs.

Sitting next to a gas stove, five women divide work as they settle down to make vada pavs. It's not merely a dish for them, but a dream... and a ray of hope for better days.

Three of these five women come from the dingy brothels of Delhi's notorious red-light district, GB Road (Swami Shraddhanand Marg, officially).

"Our vada pav is very good, everyone appreciates our cooking," said one of the women in the group offering me a pav and then waiting for my response.

She is the project manager of Maitri Kitchen, a year-old initiative of NGO Kat Katha that aims to provide a respectable alternative occupation to sex workers and others. Last year, Kat Katha convinced one of the women from the brothels to start the kitchen.

It was a tough venture. There were no takers initially. Women too were reluctant to join as they were not sure whether people would buy food prepared by them.

After much effort, more women came forward and the NGO helped them rent a flat in East Delhi, from where they started the kitchen for home delivery of food. The idea of having a kitchen away from the brothels was well received by the women.

The team leader said the women are desperate to come out of the Delhi's dark underbelly and earn a dignified existence. "They work very hard as the kitchen provides them an opportunity and an escape route," she added.

"I work hard not only for myself but also for my sisters in brothels," said one of the women who requested not to be named. The effort got a major boost when a prominent theatre chain roped them for its social welfare project to provide mid-day meals to children in the slums of Lajpat Nagar, Saket, Vikaspuri and Vasant Vihar.

"It was a moment of pride for me when I was told that our kitchen will be away from GB Road and food cooked by us would be delivered to poor children for free," one of the women told this reporter.

"Now we are taking orders from everywhere, but a fixed assignment would be a good option," said the woman, adding that their contract for mid-day meal will end by August end.

What started with one woman, expanded as more hands came together. Now the team is mulling over some innovative ideas, including setting up a food cart and joining an online food delivery giant for expansion.

"My aim is to have my own restaurant where my friends from the brothels will work and have a livelihood full of freedom, and more importantly of respect," said a co-worker from Maitri Kitchen.

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