Teen who grew up in Mumbai's red-light area awaits passage of hope to US

Shweta KattiBorn and raised in one of Mumbai's biggest red-light areas, Shweta Shweta Katti has admission offers from three American universities. (IE photo)

Shweta Katti grew up in an environment where abuse and confinement of women was common. Now 19, what kept her going was her intense desire to study. Born and raised in one of Mumbai's biggest red-light areas, Grant Road, Shweta today has admission offers from three American universities where she wants to study for a bachelor's degree in psychology.

Shweta's career goals initially changed from lawyer to doctor to teacher, until the NGO Kranti helped her make up her mind to be a counsellor who would set up a clinic in the same red-light area that she grew up in. Impressed by her dream, American University, New York University and Bard College agreed to give her full tuition scholarships. Shweta now awaits an individual or organization who would fund her living expenses in the US.

For the first 17 years of her life, Shweta lived above a brothel, and suffered an alcoholic and abusive stepfather. "My mother was my only hope," she said. Poverty had forced her mother to move from her small village in Belgaum in Karnataka to Mumbai.

Shweta had to deal with deep emotional troughs, the biggest blow coming when her mother revealed that her father was actually her stepfather, and that her neighbour and best friend Kavita was really her half-sister from her biological father.

Despite being intelligent and securing 71 per cent in her class 10 exams, the frail teenager was very low on self-esteem. "People, including my father, kept telling me how dark, ugly and dirty I looked. It was solely because of the confidence that my mother gave me that I enrolled myself in class 11 at SNDT Women's College."

Things looked up once Kranti, an NGO that works with children in red-light areas, came into her life. Kranti was collaborating with local NGO called Apne Aap when Robin Chaurasiya, one of Kranti's founder members, met Shweta.

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