During Women’s History Month, we celebrate women who paved the way in a range of fields—from politics and the law to aviation and technology. In this episode, host Suzanne McCabe talks with Ruchira Gupta, a journalist, author, and activist who is ensuring a future for girls who otherwise might not have one. Ruchira has worked tirelessly to help girls in India, Nepal, and elsewhere escape the brutal world of child sex trafficking. She is the co-founder of Apne Aap, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that empowers women and girls to escape the vicious cycle of prostitution.
Ruchira’s work with vulnerable women and girls inspired her new novel for young adults. It’s called I Kick and I Fly. The story introduces readers to 14-year-old Heera, who is growing up on the outskirts of a red-light district in India. Heera escapes being sold into the sex trade when a local activist teaches her kung fu and helps her understand the value of her body. As Gloria Steinem says, I Kick and I Fly is a book “that could save lives.”
Ruchira is also a visiting professor at New York University. Her documentary about sex trafficking in India and Nepal, The Selling of Innocents, won an Emmy Award in 1996 for outstanding investigative journalism. She holds a Doctor of Humane Letters from Smith College.
Meet Ruchira Gupta: Learn more about the author, artist, and activist, who divides her time between New York and Forbesganj, her childhood home in the foothills of the Himalayas.
Apne Aap: The NGO that Ruchira co-founded works to end sex trafficking by preventing intergenerational prostitution.
I Kick and I Fly: Order the new YA novel by Ruchira Gupta.
Celebrating Courageous Women: Check out these biographies for young people from Scholastic.
Ruchira Gupta, author, I Kick and I Fly
“I Kick and I Fly is about a young girl who's only 14 years old. She’s born in a nomadic tribe in India and about to be sold into prostitution, until a woman’s right advocate enrolls her in a kung fu program. Through the practice of kung fu, Heera discovers the power of her body, and fights for it.”
“I've been running an NGO called Apne Aap, which means self-action in Hindi. The NGO works amongst nomadic tribes which are marginalized, so marginalized that prostitution is passed on from mother to daughter, and pimping from father to son.”
“I was a journalist, and I was walking through the hills of Nepal, when I came across rows of villages with missing girls. I decided that I wanted to find out more, so I began to ask the men drinking tea and playing cards where the girls were. And the answer changed my life. They told me that they were in Bombay. Now, Bombay was nearly 1,400 kilometers away, and these villages were in remote Himalayan hamlets…. I followed the story and ended up in the brothels of Bombay. I saw little girls as young as 13 and 14 locked up in tiny rooms for years.”
“I went on to win an Emmy Award for outstanding investigative journalism. And when I was on stage at the Broadway Marquis Hotel, and everyone was clapping, and there were the bright lights, all I could see were the eyes of the women in the brothels of Bombay who had spoken out in my documentary, because they said they wanted to save their daughters.”
“Behind the story of me being a journalist was that I used to love reading books as a child. And librarians were some of the most important people in my life. My mother enrolled me as a 10-year-old in a library. These librarians would tell me, ‘Take this book, take that book,’ so I lived in the world of stories. I became a free thinker because of the stories I read and because of the family I grew up in, which encouraged ideas, but also because of the books I read.”
“I wanted to be a writer, because I used to think the world is unfair, and I'd write about it. But I became a journalist instead. From journalism, I ended up making a documentary. The documentary took me to the NGO, and now this NGO has brought me to my first dream, to write a book.”
“I saw the mothers who were scared to come to our meetings slowly challenge the men who would say, ‘We’ll bury you alive,’ ‘We'll cut your head off,’ et cetera. And they would still walk from that mud hut to our mud hut, which is just 500 feet away, but it was really an emotional journey. They would come in spite of the heckling, the shouting. I could go back home to the safety of my garden and my walls, but the women could not. And yet they took this on.”
“The three top organized crimes in the world are drug smuggling, arms smuggling, and human trafficking. A girl can be traded, or a boy can be traded again and again, whereas drugs can be consumed only once.”
“Most of the kids trafficked in the U.S. are from inside the country. They are normally poor, they are normally female, and they are normally from a marginalized race, Black, or from Native American communities, and they’re teenagers.”
“How do we say there’s bodily autonomy compared to bodily shaming? How do we say, instead of bullying, there’s friendship and equality? How do we say that, instead of alienation, there’s community? All of these things are in my book.”
→ Special Thanks
Producer: Constance Gibbs
Sound engineer: Daniel Jordan
Music composer: Lucas Elliot Eberl
→ Coming Soon
THE TITANIC—Jennifer A. Nielsen: Iceberg
EARTH DAY—Brian Selznick: Big Tree