|Shweta Katti, who grew up in the notorious red light district of Kamathipura |
in Mumbai has won the 2014 UN Youth Courage Award.
Selected by the United Nations Special Envoy for Education, this year’s awards will honour six young people who have, though their personal actions, demonstrated courage, leadership and emerged as agents of change in the cause of girls’ education and the dignity of women.
On hearing the news, Katti, who is the first girl from Kamathipura to study in an American college wrote on her Facebook page: “Guess whaaaaaat??? It’s official — I won the UN Youth Courage Award!! Thank you to everyone who has ever supported me, believed in me and helped me in the past few years and generally in my life. And more than anyone, my mummy of course.”
Katti, who is studying psychology at Bard College in New York, was among other awardees, aged between 14-29, whose names were announced at a special Youth General Assembly that was hosted alongside the UN General Assembly on September 22 in New York. The inaugural Youth Courage Awards were announced at the United Nations on Malala Day in 2013.
It was through an NGO called Kranti (revolution), which empowers girls from Mumbai’s red-light districts to become agents of social change, that Katti got into a programme that changed her life.
“Children of sex workers in this locality go to BMC (municipal) schools or don’t attend any school at all,” says Robin Chaurasiya, founder of Kranti. The NGO runs various educational programmes and offers therapy to help young girls overcome their circumstances and those of their mothers and their community as almost all of them have faced sexual abuse, rape and other types of violence, apart from the emotional burden they carry.
Chaurasiya says Katti joined Kranti when she was 16 but the plucky, bright and intelligent girl was able to adjust to the world outside her own marginalised background and make a change for herself and those around her. Katti plans to finish her studies in psychology by 2017 and set up a mental health centre in Kamathipura.
“We have a home in Marol where more than 10 girls, between the ages of 13-19 stay, learn through therapy, music, drama, sports and travel to break free of discrimination and share their stories with the world,” says Chaurasiya. They are India’s youngest voices giving speeches at workshops on issues such as child sexual abuse and sex workers’ rights.
Kranti’s aim is to show that these youngsters are as good as any other if given the opportunity to get educated. Standing as an example of courage and determination, another girl, Sheetal Jain, 19, who wants to be an ace drummer, has secured admission for a one-year diploma course at a music school in the US.