It says on the organizations website that “Snehalaya was started, by a zealous band of youth volunteers in 1989.” What isn’t clear in this sentence is who the real force amongst these volunteers is. And that is Dr. Girish Kulkarni.
It was also one particular incident that led to the formation of Snehalaya. One day, he saw a little girl, three-to-four years old, being bitterly tortured by a brothel-keeper; he was stuffing chilly powder down her genitals! This was really too much to take. Dr. Kulkarni, with the help of a few of his friends, decided to rescue the child from this inhuman atrocity and abuse. Without any help from the police or the state, they brought the child to their own home and cared for her. Little did they now then that that little girl was going to be the first of many whose lives they will change.
Today, over 30 full time workers, hundreds of volunteers, and thousands of well wishers form the Snehalaya family. Formally registered in 1992, Snehalaya works in all 14 tehsils of Ahmednagar District as well as the neighboring districts of Solapur, Nashik etc.
We were lucky to fit in a meeting with Dr. Kulkarni the weekend we visited Snehalaya. So down-to-earth and humble, you wouldn’t think he heads an organization of the size and scale that Snehalaya is. But he reeks of passion for the cause that’s he taken up. And his staff will vouch for that through innumerable anecdotes. Like how he used to shelter children at his own house in the early days, or how he has sacrificed his needs for Snehalaya.
He shared that his biggest challenge over the years has been the misconception of why women become prostitutes among the masses. People think that women willingly take up prostitution. They don’t realize that circumstances have forced them to do so. He made a reference to movies like Chandni Bar and how wrongly they portray women. He would also like people to know that prostitutes do not rake in big bucks – as the common misconception goes. Of the ~ Rs. 200 she earns per customer, ~ Rs. 100 goes to the brothel owner, ~ Rs. 50 is spent for her childrens’ needs and ~Rs. 50 for household expenses. That leaves her with no savings!
24 years have seen many a good times and bad. Lack of funds, ugly tussels with brothel owners and pimps, fighting against society’s misconceptions – the list is a long one, he says. But it takes unflagging passion and dedication as that of Dr. Kulkani’s to keep the efforts going strong for so long.