Sharmeen, the oldest of five siblings, grew up in a household that never saw too much money. Her father owned a small business in Kolar and when it suffered terrible losses, the family moved to Bangalore to start afresh.
But, luck did not favour them in Bangalore either and the family was on the path of destitution. This is when Sharmeen’s mother took charge and started making sandalwood sticks at home. Sharmeen, too, would lend a hand whenever she could, and at age 14, she finally quit school and took up a job making sandalwood sticks at a manufacturing unit.
When she was 16, Sharmeen fell in love with a boy working in the same establishment. Her parents were against the relationship and even forbade her from going to work but the boy would travel to her house to meet her. Her parents eventually allowed her to go back to work but during this time, an unfortunate event changed the very course of Sharmeen’s life – her boyfriend took her out when she was at work and didn’t let her go back home for three days.
She had spent three days away from home with a man not married to her, so Sharmeen wasn’t accepted back into her house. She was forced to marry him and move into his house. Here, she lived with her husband and his family. Her husband grew lazy and would neither go out to work nor would he help around the house; all her in-laws would do was blame her for their son’s laziness. She endured all of this for around four years and once her child was born, she decided to move to her mother’s house.
One of her younger sisters, too, had left her husband’s house and now the responsibility of the entire household had fallen on Sharmeen’s shoulders. Around this time, her mother came down with Tuberculosis and Sharmeen ended up taking a huge loan to manage all the medical expenses. Sharmeen recalled that her mother had taught her to live a dignified life, even when living in dire poverty. “That is why I had grown up to be a devout daughter.”
When Sharmeen’s mother passed away, she lost all sense of purpose and felt like she was leading a futile life. Fortunately for her, a friend of her father’s recommended that she start working at Swathi Mane, an NGO that works with individuals who are HIV-1 positive. Sharmeen started as a field worker at the NGO and took to sex work to make ends meet and pay off her loans.
As fate would have it, Sharmeen’s husband came back to her right when she had fallen in love with a neighbour. Mother to a child and with another on the way, she suddenly found herself torn between the two men in her life. However, it was the man who came into her life the second time around who had helped her regain her emotional stability. To this day, she is grateful to her boyfriend for keeping her head above the water.
Sharmeen’s story is a life lesson. We all must realise that even if life does not pan out the way want it to, we can make a difference through self-aware decisions.
Written by Anagha Bharadwaj.