The following post is an excerpt from my internship report while doing my masters. This story has been published in Merinews – Citizen Journalism portal and my earlier blog. This is a modified version of it. I also write under the name Sarani Basu, so if you find this content with the same name don’t think it is copied, it is written from a personal experience. I am completely against plagiarism.
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It is sad to say the oldest profession on earth is prostitution. Today as a profession it is growing rapidly in India more than ever. According to The Human Rights Watch, there are approximately 15 million prostitutes in India [it doesn’t include the sophisticated escorts industry]. Alone West Bengal accounts for 26% of the total number of prostitutes in the whole country. Through the ages prostitutes have been shunned and reviled by society in general, and their punishments included stoning, whipping, branding, imprisonment, and death. Their clients, on the other hand, are rarely touched by the law. Many innocent girls are lured into this and many willingly run into it for the easy cash.
We look down upon them and stay as far as possible from them, (I am not talking about the people who enjoy them), but have hardly ever tried to understand them or observe them closely .
Sonagachi, situated in north Kolkata is Asia’s largest red-light area. During an internship with a NGO, I was fortunate enough to visit the place where I interacted with the commercial sex workers for over a month. It takes a lot of time for them to trust you and open up to you with their horrifying stories. This is the place where I came across the disturbing truth of the society which brings a lot of questions in my mind. I have narrated few true stories taken from their lives which speak about their plight. [All names mentioned here are changed as they didn’t wish reveal their actual names].
The population of CSWs in Sonagachi constitutes of Nepalese, Indians and Bangladeshis. Most of them in the age group of 16 – 25 are trafficked into prostitution by their family, relatives or boyfriends. Depending on their looks these girls have different levels of income. The dark skinned, not so good looking ones earn as low as Rs 20 to Rs 30 per customer! While their fair skinned, young, good looking competitors earn in the range of Rs 2000 – Rs 8,000 per client. But they need to pay a portion of their income to their ‘malkins’, or the brothel owners. The list doesn’t end here. Their husbands and the police both demand parts of their income.

I asked Dolly, barely in her 20s, why she joined the profession. She narrated that she had an arranged marriage, but within a month her husband left her at a brothel in Sonagachi so that she can earn money! Her family disowned her and the husband comes every week to collect money from her. In case she hesitates to give him the money she has to undergo immense physical torture.
Pari had another sad story. After her husband, a daily wage labour ran off with another woman, she joined a construction site as a daily labour with a pay of Rs.100 a day. But her job turned into pleasing the men working in the site, every day, starting from the lowest rung workers to the highest rung promoters. “It’s better to come here and earn the same amount from each customer than earning it from a group of men”, laments Pari.
Khushboo, a 23 year old from Nepal said, “My father sold me when I was 15 and since then I am working here.” Many young girls from Nepal are sold in these places by their own parents. And the sole reason is poverty. Their families unable to repay loans from moneylenders sell their daughters so that they can help the family financially.
Most of them are in this profession for food. A CSW who is a mother of two doesn’t know where to feed her children from. Her husband doesn’t want to work so she had to sell her body to feed her children. There are quite a number of girls who are tricked by their lovers with promises of marriages and finally they end up here. Women who came from areas near Bangladesh border said, their husbands and in-laws knew what they did but didn’t have any objection since they are the only earning members of the family. Their husbands on the other hand are lazy to work so they send their wives forcefully. On top of that they are tortured if they show unwillingness to give money for their alcohol.
Along with these women their children also suffer as they grow in the same environment. Many sex workers have brought in their daughters along with them in the profession. But Nandini, a 25 year old has sent her two children in a posh boarding school, her children know that their mother works in the city but are unaware of her profession. For me that is a brave move that she has taken. At least she is saving her children from this dirty trade by providing them good education and keeping them far away from the dirt.
All of these women are victims of hunger, poverty and illiteracy. They are poorly fed, overworked and suffering from various diseases with absolutely no knowledge of hygiene. Thankfully, there are some non-profit organizations who try to educate them on health and hygiene and keep doing health check-ups from time to time. When West Bengal is opening its door to new economies, when the IT sector is booming why is the society so cruel to this unfortunate lot? People from all ranks of the society visit them. Starting from police, to politicians, businessmen to college students all take pleasure from them but still no one cares for them.
I Cry but can you hear me?
Image Source: Flicker [http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2587/4101206359_aafe7ce624.jpg]

Tina Basu

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