Women, young and old, in garish makeup wait on the edge of narrow alleys for clients. A few yards away lies Nirmal Hriday (“sacred heart”) Home for the Dying, the first institution set up by Blessed Mother Teresa. Adjacent to that is the temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali, and a stone’s throw away is the residence of Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of West Bengal state.
Facing these lanes are three rooms, about 10 feet by 12 feet each, where 30 women learn tailoring and handbag making. They have taken a break from their usual business to learn an alternative job that can bring them dignity and social recognition. In the bargain they also pick up moral values and lessons on health and hygiene, besides a chance to share problems with people who are willing to listen.
Welcome to the Kalighat, one of the oldest red-light areas of Kolkata, capital of West Bengal state. According to some sources, Kolkata has about 80 brothels with some 30,000 sex workers.
But what makes Kalighat special is the presence of the Sisters Adorers, Handmaids of the Blessed Sacrament and of Charity, popularly known as Sisters Adorers. They manage a center, Nava Jyoti Dan (“gift of new light”) on that red-light street to educate women shunned by society, giving them love and respect.