A report on the operations of Apne Aap, an anti-trafficking NGO, in Forbesganj and Kolkata

Apne Aap works in Delhi, Kolkata and Forbesganj, Bihar. There are often gaps between the NGO’s claims and the accounts of the people it says it has benefited. SAJJAD HUSSAIN / AFP / GETTY IMAGES
31 May, 2020

THE RICKSHAW PULLED UP a short distance away from our destination—the driver was reluctant to go any closer. I had arrived at Rampur, an area of Forbesganj, a city near the Nepal border in Bihar. With me was Sanju Jha, an employee of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an NGO with the stated goal of ending sex trafficking. Apne Aap operates a centre in Rampur’s red-light area, where it claims to have made great strides towards its mission. “We have not been able to stop it completely but we have saved the next generation from this work,” Jha told me on our rickshaw ride. “Now, women venture out into public spaces. They go to see a doctor. They even go to the bank.”

At the centre, Jha told me that sex work was long an inter-generational occupation in the area, but “it has stopped with their fourth generation, which is under our guidance, because we have completely connected them with education.” Children were now imploring their mothers to quit sex work, she added, and the presence of Apne Aap’s workers also deterred soliciting. “We are on duty for eight hours here,” she said, and “the work done by existing sex workers in those eight hours is next to nothing.”

I was invited to attend a class for children the next morning, led by Jha and with her colleagues Meena Khatun and Fatima Khatun helping out. There were 23 children at the centre that day, all seated in a circle, aged roughly between eight and twelve. They were from disadvantaged backgrounds, but, by Jha’s admission, most did not come from the red-light area, and were from other neighbourhoods nearby. Jha followed a uniform method, asking the children to recite numbers and the alphabet, and also some simple poems. She pointed out my presence, and encouraged the reluctant children to sing and dance for “didi.” 

Afterwards, the Apne Aap staff took me to two houses in the red-light area—a single street with roughly ten single-storey houses on either side—where they were on friendly terms with the women. I had no chance on this small tour to interact independently with the area’s residents.