Uma fought back, is now a dance teacher.
New Delhi: Born in a red-light area in abject poverty, she was married to an abusive man when she was 16 and fought a four-year battle to get custody of her son. The odds were stacked impossibly high, but Uma Das fought back and is today a much sought after dance teacher.
Just 25, she also manages a unit to make sanitary napkins in Munshiganj, the red-light area in West Bengal’s capital Kolkata.
Walking firmly on the path towards independence and empowerment, Uma Didi, as she is known, is a beacon of hope for other young women in Munshiganj who, like, her, refuse to be sucked into the vortex of flesh trade.
“My mother was sold to a brothel. I was born in a red-light area. All my life, I have seen fear in the eyes of young girls. My mother fought tooth and nail to protect me from the flesh trade,” Uma told PTI in a telephonic interview from Kolkata.
When she was 19, Uma witnessed a sex worker being burnt alive by a customer over a paltry sum of money and decided she would not allow young lives go up in flames.
The activist saw hope in dance and used it as a potent tool to hit back at patriarchy and poverty.
She joined Apne Aap Women Worldwide, a charitable trust. Apne Aap was founded by 22 women from Mumbai’s red light district, with a vision of a world where no woman could be bought or sold.
Undeterred by threats from pimps, brothel owners and others, Uma uses “dance therapy” to help girls of the red-light area choose a life of dignity.
She teaches Rabindra Sangeet Nritya, a classical based dance form invented and devised by Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, to girls in the area.
Uma learnt the dance form at Kolkata Sanved, an NGO which uses Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) as an alternative approach to counselling, psycho social rehabilitation, self-expression and empowerment. The unique therapy model is designed to heal and empower individuals from marginalised communities, including survivors of gender-based violence and at-risk children and youth.
“I always wanted to dance. It is my salvation. Today, as a part of Apne Aap, I teach dance to girls of my area. We also run a sanitary pad making unit. Girls are also taught to make jute bags. These girls are often scoffed at for the work they do, but what they need is an avenue to earn their livelihood with dignity,” she said.