Thursday, 17 September 2009

Sex Slaves: Literacy in a Bleak Place (BWF Day 2)

James A. Levine was struck by the discovery of literacy in a seemingly hopeless place: Mumbai's street of cages.
(Chair: Marie-Louise Thiele)

Dr James Levine is a scientist turned writer. He told the story of how he was kidnapped by ‘kids’ at Delhi airport and held captive for three days. Thankfully, he was rescued by the police and made it to Mumbai, where he was meeting the rest of his team. Dr Levine mentioned that the streets in Mumbai are set up around a single commercial focus. For example, there is an entire street dedicated to rows upon rows of wedding invitation sellers.

He tells of how he was walking down the infamous street of cages, which is the ‘red light’ district, but far more sinister than the shop fronts in Amsterdam. Standing outside of the cages are young girl prostitutes on display to prospective buyers. Passing a cage he saw a girl who was writing in a blue notebook. He stopped and asked his escort to ask the girl if he could ‘please’ look at her book.

The escort barked a command and basically demanded she hand over her book. To understand the significance of this, you need to picture yourself in the shoe’s of the young girl. You have no family, no future, and you live from one moment to the next, with no hope for a better life. The book then symbolises everything you have in the world; it’s basically your soul.

The girl ‘dutifully’ handed the book over and Dr Levine, whilst he couldn’t read the script, said that it was 2-3 word sentences, written in tiny handwriting – no doubt to conserve space in her precious notebook. He returns the book and thanks the girl, whose name is Batuk.
Sometime after this experience he became constantly haunted by her beautiful brown eyes, and was compelled to write his book The Blue Book.

It’s hard for these simple words to represent the incredible passion and feeling with which Dr Levine tells his story and truth be told I get upset writing this; it was a deeply affective talk. I’ll leave it to Dr Levine and the article he wrote for The Times to finish his story. And yes, there is a happy ending of sorts. Click on the link to read the article, "The Street of Cages".

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