Krishna with Urmi Basu
Krishna’s father was killed by robbers and her mother, seven months pregnant, had to travel from the Sunderbans to Calcutta with her four-year-old brother in search of livelihood and a shelter. She landed in the dark lanes of Kalighat and was sucked into flesh trade. And now, Krishna is fighting to save many such mothers and daughters.
“My mother was helpless. I saw her suffer... strange men in the house and I didn’t want the same for myself. I couldn’t study beyond Class VIII because my mother couldn’t afford it. Yet, I got the opportunity to do good work after I met Didi (Urmi Basu, the founder-trustee of New Light),” said Krishna, now also a founder-trustee of New Light, a Kalighat-based NGO that works to protect women and children of sex workers.
The 31-year-old’s story has inspired Half the Sky’s collaborative initiative for the first Students Rebuild Awards to grant her $10,000.
When Half the Sky, a four-hour TV series inspired by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book and endorsed by the likes of Meg Ryan, Diane Lane and Eva Mendes turned into a worldwide movement for raising awareness about women’s issues, a hunt began for community leaders. Entries poured in from Sierra Leone, Cambodia, India, Kenya and Somalia — the countries featured in the book.
Urmi sent in Krishna’s story and she won with the highest number of votes.
“Krishna was among the first few I met when starting New Light. She was 17. Her mother was a prostitute and she was under great pressure to join... but she resisted and I saw in her a readiness to make a leap out of this space, bonding and compulsions,” Urmi said.
Krishna was among five women “recognised and celebrated” for showing “uncommon grit, persistence and commitment to improving conditions for themselves and others”. The judges included actresses Olivia Wilde and America Ferrera, fashion designer Eileen Fisher, UN adviser and noted economics professor Jeffrey D. Sachs.
Krishna has already received 60 per cent of the grant. “Before the award... she was asked how she would use the funds and Krishna decided to create a replica of the New Light model of creche and night shelter in another location,” said Urmi, who helped find four lanes in Sonagachhi where the project is set to take off with Krishna in charge.
The new project will be called Operation Starfish, in a throwback to a Hawaiian folktale in the first chapter of Half the Sky, where a man walking on the beach picks up one starfish at a time and throws it back into the ocean because “it would matter to that one starfish which is going to survive”.
“I’m so glad we can now help save many more mothers and their children,” smiled Krishna as she gave out instructions to workers at New Light.