Girish Kulkarni, who hails from Maharashtra was born into a middle-class family. His family members were active participants in the freedom struggle of India and since the very beginning, he was introduced to Gandhian principles.
Both of Girish’s parents were teachers in Ahmednagar and for them, education was on a high priority list. His parents sent him to maths tuition wherein the shortest route to class was via a red light area, Chitra Gali. One such day while he was going to class, he found a girl of a similar age being hit by men only because she couldn’t be forced into sex work due to her contracting an STD.
He was so shocked and disturbed at the sight that it is at that very age wherein Girish decided to do something for sex workers. During college, one of his friends lived in the red light area. Ongoing to his house, he realized that right from his friend’s grandmother to his sister, all of them into sex work. While he wanted to help them, there wasn’t anything he could do.
Furthermore, inspired by Gandhian principles, Girish started to do social work for several causes. However, he still felt that women living in the red light area needed to be helped.
In the year 1989, he finally took the plunge and found Snehalaya, an NGO which catered to education, rehabilitation, healthcare, campaigns, and awareness.
Sex workers are usually seen in a bad light but the Girish went into the depths of it and saw how poorly were these women treated. They were paid in peanuts, treated badly, raped quite often. Most of their money was kept by brokers and was never enough to educate or feed the children. He was asked for help by one of the workers.
This is what gave birth to Snehalaya. Girish started providing basic education to these children. What started with teaching two children, soon turned into 80 children across India’s various red-light areas, and that too at just the age of 19.
He officially registered his company in 1991. There were a few friends of his who joined hands with him but soon left. This was when Girish decided to work with the sex workers themselves.
He took children in, provided them with education, food, and shelter, hired a few sex workers above the age of 60 to tend for the children.
Soon Girish got a piece of land where he constructed a home for beneficiaries coming from red-light regions across India. This includes women, members of the LGBTQA community who get dragged into this sex industry, and children.
Snehalaya not only does all of the above but also serves the poor and provides healthcare facilities. The NGO has also raised awareness amongst women regarding menstrual hygiene, STDs related to unprotected sex, and even distributed condoms.
Most of the projects currently in Snehalaya are run by kids from the red light areas. Its partnerships include Bajaj Finserv, Toybank, Arpan Foundation, and Wishing Well. The donations mostly are from individuals which amount to 65 percent while others are from CSR initiatives and corporate funds.
Girish is also a professor in a college in Maharashtra, along with being a PhD scholar. In his journey of helping sex workers, he has faced a lot of social stigmas and mocked for finding entertainment in such a sector. However, for him, he’s just helping out an underserved community which is often overlooked.