She has seen it all - police brutality, harassment and clients with no knowledge of condom use. Now Kala fights for herself and for the over 5,000 women in the sex trade in Bangalore - for security and better health.
For this 28-year-old sex worker, who announced at a health conference here that she is HIV positive, the ignorance of one of her clients cost her dear.
Kala, who was here to attend a meet with journalists on the HIV/AIDS and organized jointly by UNAIDS and National Aids Control Organization (NACO), now makes sure that others like her don't get similarly affected. She tells others that demonstrating condom use to an ignorant client should get high priority.
Her worry is justified, as there are 2.5 million Indians who suffer from HIV/AIDS and, according to statistics, truck drivers, sex workers, gays and injected drug users are among the groups most vulnerable to the dreaded disease.
As she knows about discrimination against HIV/AIDS people, she has kept mum about her status, but to highlight the problem people like her face in society couldn't stop herself from speaking about it.
"No one knows my status. It is a difficult life. We live on the charity of society where we have to fight for everything. If I reveal my status, I will be shunned," Kala told IANS.
But she wonders aloud why she should suffer because of a man - who had no clue about condom use.
"There are many clients who have no knowledge about condom. It surprises me that despite so much focus on HIV/AIDS and its prevention many don't know about it. But I have decided not to take a chance and do my bit so that others don't get affected," she said.
Kala also works as a field supervisor in Bangalore-based NGO Swathi Mahila Sabha (SMS), run by sex workers. It works for over 5,000 of them to empower the community and to provide them with a life of dignity. She said her main job now was to identify others in need of services and building rapport with them.
"I visit hot spots where I am able to meet some members of the community. After identifying them, I find out their problems and how we could help them. We organize community meetings and counsel them," said the former cabaret dancer, who was lured to Bangalore by a man who abandoned her when she was in her 20s.
She said they refer those who are HIV positive members to Sadhane, a group working for sex workers living with the virus.
"I also teach them about sexually transmitted diseases and what precautions to take. I tell them about other health issues. There are many who have no knowledge and because of that many get afflicted with HIV/AIDS," said Kala, who is also a member of Pragati, another NGO that works for the health of sex workers.
According to NACO, 87.4 percent of Indians who have HIV/AIDS were infected through the sexual route.
Kala said she has been actively involved in condom distribution and has helped open more than 10 outlets in her area. "I have taken many to the ART (Anti Retroviral Therapy) centers and also do house visiting if I find someone is ill," she added.
Committed to the cause, she also was instrumental in getting election identity cards for about 250 women and ration cards for 40 families.
She said that apart from health and social welfare programmes for the sex workers, they also battle with policemen, who misbehave, harass and on occasions torture them.
"Our organization has hired lawyers too. Recently three women were picked up without any reason and detained. Our lawyers were able to free them and ensured that the erring policemen were rapped for their act," she said.
"We have a right to lead a better life with dignity. And as no one is bothered, we fight our own battles. This is the only way we can fight injustice, which we face everyday," Kala said.
(Kavita Bajeli-Datt can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)