We are greeted by a buzz of energy Tarika Centre, Pratigya’s vocational training centre in Bangalore. As well as providing a safe haven for women who have been trafficked, well over a hundred women attend the centre daily to take courses in a range of vocational skills. 

Often the women live in the local slums, and many have not completed an academic education, so the skills they learn at the Tarika Centre provides them with the opportunity to earn an income. For those who have formerly been trafficked, or forced into sex work, it also presents a way out and an alternative means to support themselves and their children.

One of the popular courses is in beauty therapy, a significant growth industry in India (estimates by PriceWaterhouseCoopers suggest a massive 20% increase in revenues annually). It’s a good option for many of the women because, once trained, they can launch their own small beauty businesses from their homes, with a low initial outlay. And today, the trainees are getting the chance for some real-world practice as we become their guinea-pigs for the day! It is hard to know who is more excited: the beauticians-in-the-making, or us, as we receive some amazing beauty treatments, from head massages, to facials to traditional henna skin designs.

Both staff and learners at the Tarika Centre exude warmth and confidence, engaging in their lessons with passion. It is a reminder that the benefits of gaining a skill, and the independence that can bring, is not just economic but also psychological. Women from the lowest castes in India are taught to expect little from life, so whilst these ladies might have been learning to make people look pretty on the outside, another, much more beautiful transformation is happening inside.