“Khoobsurat”: to truly nurture beauty

“There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”
― John Holmes

Najafgarh – A red light district in Delhi into which not too many “decent” people venture. Here thrives the Premnagar Basti Community of commercial sex workers, a sizeable group of young women forced into the industry by desperate financial needs. Most of these women are single mothers to young children who they need to care for by simultaneously giving in to their only resort – Prostitution. They are shunned by society, disowned by their families and often mistreated or looked down upon by even those who employ them. These women have been subjected to severe violence and emotional turmoil and have been forced into believing that they have absolutely no self worth or skill set.

Meet Ashish Solanki, founder of Khoobsurat Foundation, a not for profit NGO commited to the rehabilitation of sex workers in Najafgarh and other districts around Delhi. The Khoobsurat Foundation has collaborated with for-profit as well as other non-profit organizations to design an innovative and self-sufficient module to realize the aspirationsof hundreds of women. Ashish and his team have successfully created a system of dignified sustainable employment by training these sex workers as beauticians and ensuring that they get jobs thereafter. Thus far, Khoobsurat Foundation has rehabilitated over 200 women, giving each a fresh chance to pursue a socially respected career.

Ashish Solanki, Founder, Khoobsurat Foundation

Ashish Solanki, Founder, Khoobsurat Foundation

Women at the Premnagar Basti

Women at the Premnagar Basti

"Khoobsurat" - the Hindi word for Beautiful

“Khoobsurat” – the Hindi word for Beautiful

However, the path Ashish tread on was not an easy one take. More often than not, the very women he sought to help turned their backs on him. “The women had trust issues with us. They were very reserved and did not like interacting with a whole new class of society. There existed a communication gap between two divorced classes of society”, he recalls. However, it was not long before these women realized what lay before them, and readily seized the opportunity. The larger problem though, was the exceeding interference by male influences in these womens’ lives. Many men within the community refused to let women take the skill-set building workshops organized for them, seeing no need for empowerment or rehabilitation. Bound by the impositions of heavily male-dominated society, these women had to put up a tough fight so that they would be allowed to actualize their ambition. On his part, Ashish incorporated the medium of movies to make the women and their husbands understand of that a world of progress and socio-economic advancement existed outside their villages.

As Ashish prepares to join Williams College in August, he has nothing to say about the lakhs of rupees (over $8000) he raised for the cause or the hours of effort that his initiative demanded. He simply derives exhiliration from the smiles of all those women and children who have received a new lease of life through his work. Ashish proves that all one has to do to feel truly, deeply content is be out there to give a helping hand to those who need ot most.

When a Damsel in Distress Dares to Dream

“The idea of perfect womanhood is perfect independence”

-Swami Vivekananda

What happens when you marry off a 16-year-old urban girl, who has never had to do so much as wash a plate, married into a rural family where she is expected to single-handedly manage the entire household? Moreover, what happens when her in-laws begin to harass her for not paying a sufficient dowry? Well, in Asha’s case, the girl emerges from the situation as a strong, independent woman who narrates her heart-wrenching story with a heart-warming smile.

Even before she had graduated from middle school, Asha was engaged to a man she had never met earlier. She was informed that she was to move into a strange village, in a strange state with a strange language, and live in the company and service of complete strangers.

“On the first night I spent in the family, they emptied my suitcase and distributed all my clothing amongst themselves. Even though my parents had paid a dowry well beyond their means, my mother in-law was not satisfied. She locked me in my room in a fit of rage and forbade anyone from talking to me. I cried all night.”

For the first two years of Asha’s married life, her husband was working in a different city. “Those were the most challenging years of my life.” She recounts spending endless days working tirelessly, without exchanging a word with another person. “Even those who offered help were sent away by my mother in law.” She recalls.

One afternoon Asha’s husband returned with devastating news – he had lost his job, the only steady source of income for the family.

The whole family was shattered. Asha realized that this was her opportunity to find a place not only in her family but her society as well.

Although it took a great deal of convincing, Asha’s husband agreed when she proposed that the couple should migrate to Delhi. Asha knew this was her only chance to alter her fate.

In Delhi, Asha found employment before her husband did.

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Asha at work

Asha at work

"There is no greater achievement for me than sending my children to school"

“There is no greater achievement for me than sending my children to school”

She was now working as a Housekeeper, using the little she earned to support her family. It was eventually Asha who found her husband a job. Together they began earning enough to afford urban living. Soon they had children, for whose education Asha saved every penny she could.

Today, Asha hopes to establish her own business in tailoring. She has a come a long way from being the outcast of the family to being its greatest source of pride. What is most remarkable is that Asha has no hard feelings. “ My ambition arose from my internal rebellion. For that, I’m only grateful to my husband’s family. “