On the day of our birth we a given a name. It is our “good name”, as our friends in India call it. The name is given by our parents who probably spent 9 months thoughtfully considering what name would be ours for the duration our lifetime. Our names have weight and meaning in defining us, our spoken and written identity to friends, family and even our governments.
We live in a world that loves to name and not all those names are good. Working with women in the sex trade I see the burden and weight of many who bear false names given to them by culture and society. They are whores, hookers, prostitutes, and husband stealers. Many, when you meet them, will not give you their “good name” but instead give another name that they have chosen to hide their true identity and protect them from the false names chosen for them by society. When they leave the red light area to visit family, they leave their false name behind and again take on their “good name”, leaving behind the other names that plague them and dehumanize them.
Naming has profound importance at Sari Bari. Each woman chooses her name and that name is the name that you will find marking each blanket. When the time comes to choose their name, they will most often choose their “good name”, the name given by their parents to identify them. They want to be identified with their good name, as good women, leaving the false names, the red light name behind.
There is a re-naming that happens at Sari Bari as the women take steps down the road of Exodus into freedom. The renaming happens as the women begin to understand that the false names and the awful names that society has given them do not need to hold power in their lives or in their identity as human beings. We process with them the false names and give them new names. We use names that bring dignity. Instead of prostitute, they are Sari Bari business women, seamstress’, and artists. Instead of a prostitute, they are friends. Instead of hooker, they are sisters. Their new names come in relationship, in a safe place of welcome and respite from society, and in the warm cleansing embrace of friendship. The re-naming is a process. First comes the giving a new names and them comes the part where each woman must choose to live into her new names. Living into the new names is the hardest part. Living into being one who is now called accepted, loved, cherished, daughter, friend, sister, mother, beloved, cleansed, healed and beautiful is no easy path. Especially when the burden of false names like rejected, despised, dirty, worthless and powerless has been ascribed and those are the names that you have been living into for more years that you can count.
The “good names” must be embraced. We embrace the women, each one, and call them by name. We are compelled by our friends and their lives to continue the pursuit of women who do not yet know their names. It is the names that move us, compel us toward reconciliation, restoration and healing for the red light areas where these beautiful women live. Bringing freedom to the red light areas is not about a cause. It is about a human being with a name. Ending human trafficking, sexual slavery and the exploitation of persons are truly noble and important causes. But it is the one woman living into her “good name”, into the new names given, which compels our action, our advocacy, and our hearts. The causes must have the names of persons and be framed by the human persons who compel the causes. I do not know any prostitutes or hookers. I only know women, friends, sisters and daughters. And they have beautiful names: Minu, Shopna, Putul, Shakina, Arotun, Josna, Bharoti, Chaya, Rohima and Champa.
Let their names speak to your heart. Speak the name out loud making it real. Come and meet them in Kolkata and you too may find a new name.