PIC: Avinash; Text: Gayatri Pradhan & Avinash
I wanted to post this for almost 3 months now but I was reluctant to do, after consulting the team members I decided to go in front with this post (even though all were not in errand of it). I anticipate I am not offending any one by writing about prostitute in Delhi and their life. The sole motive is to reflect their life and misery, as they are also part of the social order. They subsist because of the ‘civilized society’. Feel free to articulate your judgment even if it’s critical. AIDS awareness campaign organised by sex workers at GB Road, Delhi
It was Sunday morning, some 4 months back and I met one of old school friends- Gayatri Pradhan, who is with times group functioning as a journalist, she was about to wrap a report on GB road, so I on her request decided to join. This is what was made out of that visit to the red light area of Delhi.
Long History: There were five red-light areas in Delhi during the Mughal era. But the British closed all except the one at GB Road, named after a British collector. In 1965, the name was officially changed to Swami Shradhanand Marg. But people prefer to call this area as GB Road. This place has 20 buildings. Besides prostitution, this area is famous for renowned hardware materials. It is a place where prostitutes are available for all classes of customers. . Surprisingly, people from all strata of society come to this place for their carnal pleasures.
How they got into this work? All have different story to tell.
“I left home and came to Delhi, one man told me that he will give me some work and I was sold at Rs8000/-“says Moly
“I left home and wanted to do something for my ailing father and poor family but landed here, not forcefully, but I had no choice” says Rupali
“I was born here to a prostitute as my mother was doing same work for years, I tried to get into civilized society but discovered that I wasn’t accepted any where, I had to get into flesh trade” says Pushpa.
RABEYA, MOLY, Pushpa, Sabina and many more like them cannot memorize when they last lived a normal life. Generally, their day’s routine begins little later than that of others. Unlike other professionals, they don’t have to get up early in the morning and prepare for office. They are not concerned about the traffic jam that keeps almost every Delhitie tense during peak hours of the day. For obvious reasons, they don’t prefer to come out in broad daylight.Only after the dusk enters in, does their day begin. Their service hours commence from the evening up to almost the wee hours of the next morning.
They work without any leave. Unlike others, holidays make their work schedule even more hectic. These people work like anyone else but they do not have any reporting boss, month and date is no criterion for their salaries, its all instant for these women . All these girls are not as high-salaried as the call centre employees, who also work throughout the night in air-conditioned office and serve for their foreign clients. But girls like Moly, Pushpa, Sabina serve for both the Indian and foreign nationals. They say that they can’t remember who initiated them into this profession.
Different work all together:
Every night, they toil hard to please their customers so that they can get good tips after the service. They have only one identity – the civilized society refers to them as ’prostitutes’. These ’kothewalis’ have no fancy designations. As the evening enters in, these ’kothewalis’ doll up in attractive saris, salwar suits or western dresses.
After being bedecked, they come out on roads or wait in the balcony to attract their clients. They prefer to wait in such places where traffic is not too thick. The clients, they say, come on their own and pick them up. After that either they are brought to a hotel, farm house or to a small ’kothas’ (rooms) in Garstin Bastion Road, commonly known as ’GB Road’, the largest red light area in Delhi.
Some of the ’kothewalis’ do not have to go outside as they have their own ’dalals’ (pimps). These pimps bring clients after proper bargaining. Even, the payments are dealt by these men.
What they have to say:
Moly, a 22-year-old girl, can’t remember from when she has been here. When asked, she said, “I was brought here by one uncle. He promised me a job. But now, I am a brand prostitute.”
How does she carry on her life now? “I generally prefer to be picked up by my clients. Actually, I share a single room with Pushpa. As she gets busy during night, I have to vacate her room,” Moly laughed with a wink.
While asked whether she enjoys every night outside, she replied, “It depends upon the client, as to where he takes me. Generally, the Paharganj hotels are available for one or two nights. There are few good and nice clients with whom I have stayed for even two consecutive nights.”
Perhaps, Moly enjoys better in air-conditioned hotels rather than staying in GB Road ’kothas’.
When asked whether she gets a client every night,
She answered, “It matters upon seasons. Generally, I get clients for 18 days at least in a month. If I do not get anyone by 9 pm, I come back to my kotha."
Where does she stay then?
“For those nights, I share rooms with my friends, who also do not get clients on that day. Sometimes, Pushpa also goes vacant. I stay with her then,” Moly giggled again.Pushpa seems to be more professional than Moly.
She has been in this business for the last 10 years. Born and brought up in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar, Pushpa chose this profession to earn her livelihood. Once she reached GB Road, she never visited her house again. Pushpa’s parents are still alive; whom she sends money every month. But, her parent neither calls her nor visit her GB Road apartment, she said with a sad glint in her eyes.Pushpa has her pimp, named Pappu. “Pappu is very believable, he never cheats me”, said Pushpa, “He gets his share regularly. But he brings good clients.”
What is the definition of good clients to them?
Those, who do not bargain too much, pay properly before and after the service, remain gentle throughout the service-hours are referred to them as ’good clients’.
Who are the worst clients?
“Army”, was the collective answer.
"Almost all of them complained that the armed forces a personnel’s come in groups, get service and leave them unpaid. “We are also workers, our brand is that of a ’sex-worker’, but they do not pay us,” complained Moly.
Even, the dalals also don’t dare to take on these people as they are ’powerful’.
"We keep these pimps to control our clients,” said Rabeya, another friend of Pushpa. She is also in the same profession. According to Rabeya, there are some clients who are very rude and ruthless.
"They take the service, but do not pay after that. Instead of getting paid, Rabeya was once beaten up brutally. She lost became unconscious after that. She did not dare to file a complaint with the police, as the client was socially powerful and threatened to kill her, all this for a paltry sum.Rabeya has a two-year-old baby, named Raju. “
"Who’ll feed him if I am not alive?” Rabeya’s voice broke as her eyes were moist with tears.
When asked about Raju’s father, Rabeya laughed innocently.
“Perhaps he is somewhere in ’Hindustan’, I don’t know the location.” The touts act as local guardians of 4500 sex-workers in the GB Road.
These dalals maintain good relations with the local political leaders, send ’hafta’ (regular bribes) to police stations and take care of their ’sisters’ when need arises.
“They are our tarzans,” said Rabeya., while expressing gratitude to her guardian.
How much do they earn?
"On an average, from their client, asked this scribe? “It varies”, replied Rabeya, “sometimes when dhanda is not well, we have to sell ourselves for as low as Rs 200. But during festivals, the ’bazaar’ (market) is good. We easily earn at least Rs 1000 per night. This is because not a single client wants to return with empty hand during the festive eves.”
Who comes here?
“Almost everyone, you’ll find here people from different strata of society From auto-rickshaw pullers to white-collared professionals - they enjoy us”, Rabeya replied without batting an eyelid
“We have some permanent clients”, said Moly.
Do the Delhities visit GB Road only?
“People from different cities come here. Even the foreign nationals visit this place,” said Sabina.
What are their plans for Diwali?
“Nothing special, obviously, there will be heavy rush of clients during Diwali. Some of us have already been booked in advance. Some others are still waiting for good offers”, said Rabeya.
Do they decorate their house with candles during Diwali? Do their children enjoy crackers? Do they wear new dresses?
“Yes, we do, we light up candles, buy crackers for our children and we also wear new garments. We also distribute sweets. But after everything, we take a strong peg of whiskey and plunge into our routine life – to please men,” said Rabeya.
Rabeya, Moly, Sabina, Pushpa and many others like them are actually trapped between a ’yesterday’ that would never come again and a ’tomorrow’ that they may never see!
Let’s face it, prostitution will never go away. It has been called the oldest profession in the world and for good reason. People will throw down money to have their desires fulfilled and you must admit that sex is a pretty potent desire. Most folks don’t become prostitutes because they see it as a good opportunity for employment. In fact most, especially concerning street level and low end prostitutes, find their path to this through nothing more than terrible desperation. Yet typically this is only the beginning.
The problems included are
• the spread of STD’s
• chemical dependency
• human trafficking,
• and a situation that is little more than blatant slavery.
Yet as I pointed out, it would be unrealistic to expect prostitution to dissapear.
How does this all effect us?
We aren’t involved in the acts themselves. In fact, I seriously doubt that too many folks who are reading this essay have engaged the services of a prostitute. Then again, current statistics state as reported by the Associated Content, that nearly 50% of men have engaged in these very same services. It seems that a great deal of INDIA may not be talking the talk but definitely walking the walk. And when it comes to violence against women, that affects all of us, whether we choose to walk in blissful apathy or are willing to take the hard look.
In examining the problems that prostitutes face, the statistical evidence speaks for itself. Let’s take a look at the spread of STD’s. Only 3-5% of STDs are prostitution-related. Initially this may seem like a very small number. Yet when you examine the number of prostitutes versus the number of ordinary folks, this statistic is alarming.
So what is the solution?
I propose legalization. Patty Kelly, an anthropology professor at George Washington University, authored an article for the LA Times entitled simply, “
One more time, no matter how much we choose to ignore it, prostitution exists. There is a reason as to why it is called the oldest profession in the world. People desire sex, it’s as simple as that. And people will pay for it. Why not make it safe for all those concerned?
In the context of countries like India where I’ve written about sex trafficking, that would be a bad mistake.
Let me explain why.
There may be a sound argument for legalization and sex worker unions in Brazil and South Africa, perhaps even China. My sense is that in those countries many women genuinely choose to be prostitutes because of economic pressures or opportunities. But in
It’s Different in India:
India, I have yet to find a single woman who made that choice – every single one of them first entered after being forced by a trafficker, her parents, or her husband. Later, after they had been prostituted, some continued to sell their bodies voluntarily. But the initial entry into prostitution was invariably coercive.
That means that if you validate the red light districts, then the new entrants will continue to be trafficked into it. And in India we have had something of an experiment, in which the legalization model has failed.
In the effort to combat AIDS, a union was established of prostitutes in Shonagachi, a red light district in Calcutta . The union, DMSC, purports to represent prostitutes and to dignify sex work, and it argues that it’s important to empower the women by offering them respect and acknowledging their choice of occupations.
A DMSC brochure, for example, states: “Like other entertainment workers of the
world we use our brain, ideas, emotion and sex organs, in short, our entire body and our mind to make people happy. As entertainment workers, we seek governmental recognition and fulfillment of our just professional demands.”
Among liberals in the U.S. and India alike, that model has been treated respectfully. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and CARE have both shown support for that approach as a way to fight AIDS. I have lots of respect for both the Gates Foundation and for Care, and they do fantastic work around the globe – but in this case I think they’ve made a mistake.
The argument in favor is “harm reduction” – a sex worker union makes it easier to hand out condoms and educate women about AIDS. That’s true to some extent, but the latest data we have actually show a rising degree of HIV among young prostitutes in Shonagachi. The data aren’t good, but they don’t demonstrate to me that the model works.
In contrast, there is a health outreach model in Cambodia that really does reduce HIV and STD, through regular check-ups, without legitimizing the brothels and protecting them from raids.
That’s the direction to go in.
More broadly, many of the prostitutes from Shonagachi have told me that DMSC is just a front for the brothel-owners, a way of protecting them from raids and harassment. Likewise, the trafficking of young girls and forced prostitution seems as flagrant as ever in Shonagachi. That’s also the judgment of two people whose anti-trafficking work I admire: Ruchira Gupta and Urmi Basu. Both live in Calcutta and see Shonagachi up close, and both oppose the legalization model. So even if DMSC achieved a mild reduction in HIV infection levels – which it apparently hasn’t – it comes at the expense of legitimating trafficking and modern slavery.
I’m particularly swayed by an argument of Ruchira’s, based on the contrast with Bombay. Traditionally, the red light districts of Bombay and Calcutta have both been enormous, and Calcutta has DMSC while Bombay has in recent years seen more raids and harassment of brothels. The upshot is that Shonagachi is as big as ever and seems to have as much trafficking and more HIV than ever, while Bombay’s red light district has shrunk dramatically. There still are some brothels in Bombay’s red light district, but only a fraction of the number there used to be.
Some skeptics say that the raids have only pushed prostitution out of Bombay’s red light district and hidden it among neighborhoods throughout the city, making it more difficult to control trafficking and AIDS. There may be some of that. But if NGO’s have trouble finding the brothels than customers do as well. And most estimates are that total prostitution in Bombay has come down a great deal because of the harassment.
In contrast, DMSC seems to legitimate a red-light district that is completely enmeshed with criminal gangs, trafficking and forced prostitution. The validation from DMSC probably makes it easier for police to take bribes from brothels to look the other way, and harder to order up raids and aggressive police coverage. So, quite apart from morality, it seems to me that Bombay’s record comes out better than Calcutta’s. Maybe legalization and sex worker unions can reduce HIV in Africa and Brazil where forced prostitution is less of a problem, but it doesn’t work in India.
The model in the West that seems to have worked best is Sweden’s, which involves decriminalization for prostitutes themselves, but seeks to crack down on pimping and on the demand side. By arresting customers, the Swedish model undermines the economics of prostitution, and it seems to have reduced the trafficking that one sees in the Netherlands and Germany.
Fundamentally, I think these kinds of disputes about legalization are a distraction in countries like India. Both left and right in the States do good work on trafficking, but the two sides can’t even agree on what to call the issue. The left tends to refer to sex work and sex workers, to avoid stigmatizing people they want to work with. The right tends to use terms like prostitution and prostitutes, to avoid euphemisms that validate such work.
One reason more hasn’t been accomplished in the campaign against human trafficking is that the issue has become so polarized in the U.S. There’s immense distrust and much less cooperation than one might expect. But the one thing everybody should be able to agree on is that whether or not prostitution should be legal for 18-year-olds who are on their own, it is appalling for 13-year-olds to be imprisoned in brothels and forced to sleep with customers. And that is what is going on in countries like India.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
PIC: Avinash; Text: Gayatri Pradhan & Avinash