Touch­ing lives Urmi Basu, 52, Founder Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor, New Light

India Today - - COVER STORY -

At least 300 young­sters from the red light ar­eas of Ka­lighat and Son­a­gachi have some­thing to thank Urmi Basu for. An alumni of the Tata In­sti­tute of So­cial Sci­ences, Basu was ac­tively in­volved with TISS’s depart­ment of crim­i­nol­ogy and cor­rec­tional ad­min­is­tra­tion, the spe­cial cell for women in dis­tress un­der the com­mis­sioner of po­lice. She made a few field vis­its to Ka­math­ipura and Shuk­laji street, where she saw young girls be­tween the age of 13 and 15 trapped be­hind barred win­dows. “It was al­most ex­actly like what was shown in Salaam

Bom­bay,” she says. That im­age never left her mind, and even­tu­ally in 2000, Basu be­gan her own ven­ture called New Light. With just Rs 10,000 in hand, Basu started an evening crèche for the chil­dren of sex work­ers in Ka­lighat. “There were oth­ers who were do­ing sim­i­lar work but our con­cept of an evening crèche was unique as the work­ers didn’t have a place to leave their chil­dren at while they were at work,” she says. “Ini­tially it was dif­fi­cult to con­vince the moth­ers that the chil­dren needed ed­u­ca­tion, and they were so hope­less that they didn’t be­lieve their was a life out­side this trade,” adds Basu. To­day, they teach over 300 chil­dren at the five cen­tres spread across the city. “It was im­por­tant to re­move girls from those area be­fore ado­les­cence so that they don’t get stuck in the same trade. Now, we are fo­cus­ing on a boys home as they too get sucked into crime and al­co­holism,” says Basu.

Pho­to­graph by SUBIR HALDER

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