Lakmé Fashion Week: Celebrating Women from Mumbai’s Red-Light Areas

The Shades of India and Kranti show wasn’t just about fashion

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The Lakmé Fashion Week is an event that every fashionista in this country looks forward to. While this event has always redefined the future of fashion in the country, this year’s edition of the fashion week is dedicated to conversations and experiences about sustainable fashion in India.

Among all the prestigious events at the Spring/Summer Collection ’17 was one which had a strong and powerful message – the collaboration by Mandeep Nagi, the design director of Shades of India, with Kranti, an NGO which empowers girls from Mumbai’s red-light areas, to be agents of social change.

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Mandeep showcased her collection, the Bagh collection, through the performance of the brave Kranti girls, who narrated their difficult life stories with pride and confidence. They danced, enacted scenes from their own lives, and asked audience members to open up about the painful experiences they have undergone, too.

These little girls are survivors of trafficking, daughters of sex workers, and born and raised in Kamathipura, Asia’s second largest red-light district. They have now become the first girls from there to study abroad, receive UN awards for their social justice work, and also give speeches on platforms such as TEDx.

The therapy they received at this NGO has helped these little girls to embrace their difficult pasts and fight for survival. What was truly amazing is that they were so at ease when they told their stories, which they believe will help to spread awareness, de-stigmatise the ideas of prostitution and sexual health, and change the world.

The refrain “Laal batti, laal batti”, which literally translates to ‘red light’, was sung every time the plot of the performance progressed from childhood to school to teenage. The performance threw light on the lesser-known issues faced by the children of sex workers, such as being denied admission into schools and a limited growth potential by being forced to only develop skills such as papad making and sewing.

It also touched upon the fact that police officers, as well as other men who belong to professions of ‘repute’, force sex workers to not use condoms. “Policemen don’t want to use condoms! How are they the ones who must protect us?” was one of the most memorable lines from the performance.

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One of the girls who was part of the performance was Mahek, the 13-year-old daughter of a sex worker who is unaware about the identity and whereabouts of her father.  She spoke about what her life was like when she was 10-years-old and was sexual assaulted. She will soon be travelling abroad to attend courses with the help of Kranti.

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Another brave heart from the NGO was Danish, who stayed at another NGO before she was put into  Kranti. She spoke about how she was always reminded about her aukat at the previous NGO when she told them she wanted to be an actor. After staying at Kranti, her life has changed considerably. She has already travelled to 14 countries all by herself for courses.

Speaking to Robin Chaurasiya, the founder of Kranti, gave us a deeper insight into the lives of the girls. Robin says the troupe practised the entire act for only 10 days. “We were so unprepared until yesterday! But these girls usually give it their best shot on the day of the performance,” she explains.

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We salute Mandeep for draping her designs on women who have been discriminated against for a majority of their lives but really just want to live normal lives and enjoy the same rights and privileges as others. The performance, which was also attended by Bollywood actress and activist Shabana Azmi, gave everybody goose bumps and offered up some food for thought, too.

Additional reporting by Neerja Deodhar.