From Mumbai brothel to NY college

TOUGH GIRL: Miss Shweta Katti and her mother, Vandana, in Mumbai last week. The 18-year-old, who grew up in a red-light district, has won a scholarship to study in New York.


    Aug 05, 2013

    From Mumbai brothel to NY college

    A YOUNG Indian woman who grew up in Mumbai's red-light district, facing poverty and sexual abuse, has overcome the odds to win a scholarship to study in New York.

    Miss Shweta Katti, 18, left for the United States last Thursday to study at the liberal arts Bard College, where she hopes to read psychology. Afterwards, she wants to return to India and help other young women in her community.

    "It's my childhood dream. I didn't think it would finally happen," she said before leaving Mumbai, where she grew up in a brothel.

    Miss Katti's determination won her a place this year in Newsweek's list of 25 "Young Women To Watch", aged under 25, alongside Pakistani schoolgirl and activist Malala Yousufzai, who was shot in the head by the Taliban.

    Miss Katti has come a long way since her early-childhood experiences of abuse and harassment in Mumbai's notorious Kamathipura neighbourhood.

    "You would see someone beating up a woman every day, the police coming unexpectedly, at any time, and women selling their bodies - they were not happy," she said.

    "Men would ask to sleep with me, it was so embarrassing, but I had to face it. My father abused me, many people abused me, but my mum was always with me, saying, 'You are the best, you can do anything'."

    The teenager, who described herself as "a tough-skinned girl", said she faced discrimination "from all sides" at school because of her poor background and low caste status.

    She credited her mother, a factory worker, as her inspiration and said the local charity Kranti - meaning revolution in Hindi - also played a vital role in helping her achieve her dreams.

    The group's aim is to empower girls from Mumbai's red-light areas "to become agents of social change", and a small group of girls live in Kranti's northern Mumbai apartment, where Miss Katti moved two years ago.

    There, she was able to work on her English-language skills and undergo therapy, which sparked her interest in psychology.

    "I really think it can change somebody. I started thinking openly and respecting my background and myself," she said.