Rajiya's Story: "I am fallen, but learned to rise"

Rajiya's Story: "I am fallen, but learned to rise"

Publication info

D. Shanta, CARE India

My name is Rajiya and I am one among the millions of woman who are deprived of basic human rights and still struggling to find a space for ourselves in society. 

I am the only daughter of a poor hotel server, and hail from Murtukooru village, Nellore district in India’s Andhra Pradesh state. We are an orthodox Muslim family. 

Because my father’s income was not sufficient to support two wives and run two families, my mother worked as agricultural laborer. Like many other girls, I had an ambition to become a teacher. But when I was studying in the eighth grade, my life took an adverse turn. Due to financial crisis and fighting among my parents, they decided to arrange my marriage and get rid of the burden of a girl child. They continued sending my brothers to school. I felt very bad, but had no choice. I became bride at the age of 13 years. My husband was a middle aged alcoholic.. He was already divorced with two children.

Soon after the marriage began, he started torturing me sexually, physically and mentally. At the age of 16, I became the mother of two children. He used to spend his earnings on alcohol and other women. When I argued, he started forcing me to earn money to support the family. I was astonished when I heard my husband say, “You are so beautiful! Why don’t you sleep with somebody to get money?” 

He used to abuse me almost every day and finally tried to kill me. When I approached my parents, they told me it was common behavior and sent me back. I was helpless and hopeless. One day he forced me to sleep with one of his friends to get money; when I refused he beat me brutally and made me to do it anyway. He repeated this every day, making my life miserable. 

One day, he left the five of us. I suddenly had to become the sole wage earner, as well as taking care of the children and household. He used to come home once in a while to abuse me and demand money. Then the burden on me increased when my parents fell sick. 

One day, I came across a neighbor who was a sex worker in secret. She used to go out for short periods of times to Nellore for sex work. She told me the earnings were good. I thought that, since my husband forced me to do it anyway, what would be wrong if I started making more money that way? So I began to accompany her because I had to raise my children. These were my first tentative steps into the profession. 

At the age of 19, I started facing all kinds of struggles in life. Because I was young, I had a large number of clients, but they were often violent. The police were violent toward me as well. I absolutely had no idea about condoms or safe sex practices. I did not know how to use a condom, I thought it was only to avoid pregnancy, but that could be done in other ways as well so I always left it up to the client to decide. 

I was scared to imagine what any of my relatives would do if they knew. I was doing sex work to survive. Sometimes I tried to die but then I thought about my children and decided I had to do everything possible for them.

One day, CARE conducted a meeting in our community. The discussions about health and other important issues interested me, so I became involved. It was because of this interest that CARE identified and prepared me as a community trainer. Initially I was scared and literally shivering to stand up and speak. But, with constant nurturing and encouragement from CARE staff and fellow women, I have trained many women’s groups on gender and sexuality, sexually-transmitted illnesses, HIV/AIDS, the importance of community participation and how to create social change through sharing our real-life experiences. The inputs and information given by CARE team boosted my enthusiasm and knowledge. I have realized my  strengths  and my self esteem increased. Today my knowledge was half baked, but now it is sharpened and shaped.

I started playing a key role in advocacy with police against gender-based violence and discrimination of female sex workers.  I started devoting more time to ensure community mobilization for secret sex workers and initiated different activities to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, health and human rights.  I know there are too many women who are deprived of these basic rights. 

My aspiration of becoming a teacher was fulfilled when I become community trainer. And I am more satisfied when I train and mentor my fellow community members to achieve their rights. I feel like information is the most important thing; I have courage to stand and raise my voice against any violation of rights or violence.

Thanks to CARE for all the positive changes  in my life. CARE has brought the smile back on my face.