Dancing in Mumbai’s red-light district

Through my lens: the story behind a photo taken in Mumbai’s red-light district

For six weeks, I had been travelling across south-east Asia. When I arrived in Mumbai, India, I sat down with staff at the Kamathipura Centre, run by an organisation called Prerana. The first thing they said to me was “no photography allowed”.

I’d travelled a long way, but they explained that the children who attended the centre were the sons and daughters of sex workers in the district and they had strict child protection policies. They welcome about 100 children every day from the surrounding red-light district, as Prerana seeks to break the vicious cycle of sex trafficking and the sex trade.

These girls were so happy to see each other that they danced around the room

Before the organisation’s intervention, these children would have spent the nights on the streets while their mothers were selling their bodies. I was told that babies were even drugged to make them sleep under the very beds in which their mothers worked. I loved the organisation more for knowing this. After some negotiating we agreed I could take pictures as long as I didn’t identify any of the children or parents.

As the sun began to set, children started to arrive. These girls were so happy and excited to see each other that they danced around the room. They were looking forward to playing, learning, eating and sleeping safely. I don’t think the situation was sad for them: it was the way it had always been. But now they had a safe space to go.

It feels to me like a little bit of light in an often dark world

I love the positivity of this photo, despite knowing that these girls are growing up surrounded by Mumbai’s vast sex industry. It feels to me like a little bit of light in an often dark world.

Andrew Aitchison is a UK-based documentary photographer and campaigner focusing on social, justice and environmental issues around the world.

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