India and Prostitution – My Experiences and Thoughts
I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved. – Dr B R Ambedkar
“Sahib ladki chahiye kya? Saste mein dila dunga”(Sir, do you want a girl? I’ll get you one for cheap.) came a voice from the behind when first time I had visited Dalhousie – hill station in HP – back in the summer of year 2004. It was my first ever encounter to such a situation, I ignored the person and kept on moving but I couldn’t ignore the words that person had said. Since then, I’ve sometimes tried to imagine a life of prostitute. Have you ever wondered about a prostitute’s life? Did you know that at present there are more slaves than any-time in the world history? Saddening but truth is that we are living in a “Slave World”. No matter the slaves are from bonded labor, farms or flesh trade, all these forms of slavery put big question marks on our nation integrity.
Story of Metropolitan Cities: New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai and Mumbai
Did you know that sex industry is one of the biggest ($100billions per year) and fastest growing (criminal) industries? It has grown 17 times in last 15 years.
My second encounter with sex workers was in year 2008, the time when I was in Mumbai. One evening, I was with one of my friend and we were walking down the street. My friends knew the girls standing along the side of road are sex workers and we stopped just few meters away from those girls. We wanted to see the way system works; few men in the car came and stopped in-front of the sex workers and both parties started talking, after few seconds girl jumped into the car and car flew away to the undisclosed located or to the renowned hotel! This incident made me more curious about the lives of sex workers. I wanted to know the conditions in which these girls work – nobody wants to be a victim of violence – what made these girls sex workers and what Indian Governments are doing to prevent this dreadful trade.
So, to fulfill my quest I decided to visit, read and talk to my friends about the places where flesh trade goes on. I knew a decent person will never company me and righteous person will look at me with the eyes of suspicion (no-matter how many times they might have dipped their beaks and satisfied their balls), so very few friends worked with me.
Prostitution is a reality and if you get a chance, try to visit the GB road – red light areas in Delhi – the capital of India, it’s just across the railway station but is the mysterious world, or give a visit to Sonagachi - red light area of Kolkata – another business hub of India or the story of notorious Flakland road of Mumbai or Kamthipura is not so unknown to all. Sonagachi is named after in-famous Sufi saint Sona Ghazi – he wouldn’t have ever imagined in his wildest dreams that he will become (in)famous for such things one day!
People from all strata of society – leaders of society, students, blue, white collar professionals, rickshaw pullers, almost people from every profession – visit these red light areas to satisfy the uneasiness of their balls and do hanky-panky!
Evening/Night is a perfect time to visit the red light areas. You will see the kothewalis (sex workers), many of them teenagers, waiting for clients, beckoning passersby from the windows of their rooms – what they officially call kothas, dull faces of kothewalis, sadness prevailing all over the area despite nominal lighting arrangement, and much noise. I couldn’t find out music playing in the background as shown in Hindi movies, all I could figure out was sadness and helplessness. Kothewalis are working for pennies, ask any of these kothewalis why they are working here and you will receive quite interesting replies, such as to feed their families, to send their kids to good school (many have such dreams but who cares?), renting their body for their own food, not only filmy replies but you will also find replies such as forced to this profession by husband, came to this profession to earn extra money and many more reasons. What I see, the main reasons are poverty, sex-trafficking, extra martial ties and domestic violence.
The number of sex workers working on their own will be lesser than the forced into this profession. Every year millions of young girls go missing, poor helpless fathers sell their young girls, husbands sell their wives, traffickers inject steroids to young girls to make them look alike adult, but in reality they are below teenagers, and after that these young teenager girls are dumped in to one of the thousands brothels all over the world – no doubt God’s own country- India- is the topper here also. Most of these Kothewalis come from the poorest states and from lower castes of India. A survey by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) showed that of the total women who are into sex-work in the country (India), 60% are from the lower and backward class, which indicates the pathetic living condition of the communities. In Madhya Pradesh, a political bastion of Hindus right wing party, 96.7% of the women sex workers is from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribe. The survey also found that domestic violence, illiteracy, unemployment, poverty; unsafe migration and child marriage are the major reasons for the increasing rate of illegal human trafficking.
Sex and the Cities: Cities not so Beautiful
Did you know that there are 20 million prostitutes, 35% of these are under 18 (according to Human Rights Watch) and 1 million child prostitutes in India?
It’s everywhere. No part of the country is spared from this crime. Either you visit remotest of the remote area (where you will brothels running in mud huts) or you visit big cities (where you will find brothels running in slum areas or big renowned hotels) the condition is same but I’ll present you the picture of few cities, I’ve lived or visited.
Chandigarh – city, which has always attracted me, has been named as one of the best places to live for many times is also in the grip of prostitution. No matter a few years ago, there was no such specified area as Red Light Area in the city so beautiful but in recent years Mani Majra (place just about 5km from Chandigarh) is gradually becoming the G.B. road of Chandigarh. A survey conducted by State AIDS Control Society reported there is 3200 sex workers in the Chandigarh and believed that numbers could be 3 times the reported ones.
Varanasi, city considered one of the holiest cities of the world and Mecca of Hindus, is not spared from the flesh trade. Hindus come here for salvation and take a dip at (un)holiest river – Ganga. Exploitation of sex-workers do happen the most on the tourist or religious cities/places and apparently these cities are turning to sexual-tourism-cities. On the name of God or enjoyment people do exploit the women. Women even at old age when come to Varanasi for mukti or women, who are left by their children at Varanasi for getting the ultimate truth of life, end up as a beggar or are forced into sex-trade. Maduahdiah is a famous place in Varanasi for hotbed activities and where life comes to alive after daylight.
Vrindavan, no doubt the place associated with the mischievous Hindu god Krishna, who used to play with goppies (young girls), is considered sacred by Hindus but condition as pathetic as it is elsewhere in India. Ashrams in the Raman Reti area of Vrindavan are used by sex-workers to rent the room via bribing the managers of Ashrams and get their work done under the shadow of beloved God! Many of the sex-workers believe Ashrams are the safest place to work out with clients. Young girls coming to Vrindavan after being abandoned by their husbands form a large source of prostitution in the city. Many foreigners from America and Russia can also been seen in the Mathura and Vrindavan areas, working as prostitutes. Many other women who come here at Ashrams for the last days of life also end up as beggars and remain vulnerable to always unsatisfied balls.
Karnataka, state famous for its Hindu temples and infamous for the “devdasis” practice (temple prostitutes?) is also indulged in the flesh trade to large extent. Districts bordering Maharashtra and Karnataka are known as “devdasis belt”. Yes, devdasis practice is in effect since the hundreds years and few years back anti-slavery campaigners showed that still there are about 25,000 devdasis’ in the state Karnataka only. Another survey revealed that about one-third of devdasis are under the age of 14 and many of them ends up in brothels. One must also not forget that most of the devdasis’ were/are degraded lower caste women since ancient times. On 13th June, 1936 at Mumbai, Dr B R Ambedkar had asked to stop devdasis practice in the conference of devdasis but it’s still alive in 21st century! Devdasis practice is simply unethical, horrible practice and exploitation of women on the name of god and I believe such exploitation must stop as soon as possible.
Other major cities such as Agra, Nagpur (Ganga Jamuna area), Pune (Budhwar Peth area), Allahabad (Meerganj area), Meerut (Kabadi Bazaar area) Hyderabad, Bangalore etc are also in the grip of sex slavery. No doubt that sex-trade and sex slavery is a biggest criminal industry in India and sex-trafficking happens the most in India. According to India Today’s report there are about 3000 foreigner prostitutes in Delhi – capital of India. One might also not forget that at the time of Commonwealth Games the demand of white skinned prostitutes in Delhi was on peak!
My Final Thoughts:
During my stay in Budapest (Hungary) in year 2009, I had talked about living standards and quality of lives of sex workers with one of my friend from Budapest. She replied, almost every sex worker undergo HIV/AIDS tests and they get good money. But in India, I doubt if anyone undergoes the HIV/AIDS test and then people here in India demand sex without condoms – as if they have to use and throw their penises – putting themselves and millions other in danger. In India, major chuck of kothewalis earning is taken away by pimps (dalals) who bring costumers! But, what other options do these dalals have when they have to send hafta (bribe) to the police to run their businesses?
It’s natural the questions such as why don’t governments do something to stop prostitution come to every mind but the answer is simple as I said above – poor lives costs less than pennies! Or if they stopped all this how governments will make Bill Gates and Melinda Gates to lose their pocket? Another dark aspect of sex-trade industry is pornography. According to the Information Technology Act, Government of India considers pornography as punishable offence but then one can easily find thousands such websites running without reins. Pimps are working more and more online these days and social networking websites such as Facebook and Craigslist are turning into virtual brothels. Are governments really serious about such crimes? Pornography is a drug to be avoided. All such websites must be removed or reined carefully because pornography fuels the demand of sex-trade, leading to increase in trafficking of women and children.
Some people argue that legalizing prostitution will solve the problems of prostitutes such as exploitation of sex-workers in the hands of police and pimps and also will keep other things under control such as AIDS but I don’t agree with those people to keep the sex slavery alive in any form. No-one can imagine the trauma and exploitation of prostitutes in the hands of their bosses and legalizing it will lead to increase in trafficking of young girls into sex-trade and will work as a open market for sex trafficking.
In many movies, it’s shown that prostitution nothing wrong and prostitutes are shown as sympathy-seekers and sometimes it’s shown as noble profession as other professions are. People say prostitution is the oldest profession in the world. Is it a profession? I will be say it’s the oldest crime committed against humanity and needs to be stopped. I want these young girls be relocated and be given some decent work. I want governments work hard on the integration of sex-workers with rest of the society and bring them out of this heinous trade. I believe everyone deserves life with dignity and bright future without selling flesh as promised in the Article 21 of Indian Constitution. On Aug. 3rd 2011 Supreme Court of India has also directed all the states to come out with schemes of rehabilitation of the sex workers who are willing to quit flesh trade but time will only tell.
P.S.: Supreme Court wants to involve young people in the process of rehabilitation of sex-workers and has created an email id firstname.lastname@example.org. You can email and give yours suggestions to improve the condition of sex workers.
P.P.S.: Some people use word sex-worker to denote prostitutes and I disagree with the use of this word because I don’t consider sex-trade a ‘work’ or to be notified as ‘work’! So, not to disappoint anyone, I’ve mixed the usage of both the words in the article and my usage of word prostitute instead of sex-worker has nothing to do with the degradation the sex-slaves.
In case you liked the above piece please click on Like button and share it with your friends!