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A Story To Be Told: Tanu Di, A Commercial Sex Worker

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By Anonna Dutt:

Being married and having a one-year-old child, it could be the happiest time in the life of a women. It was not so in Tanu Di’s (name changed) case. She was totally dependent on her husband for her and her child’s sustenance. The reason for this was that she had never been educated, either due to the lack of funds or just because her family thought it was not important for a girl to get educated. Here, this is not an issue about how there are so many people in India who do not get their right to education; it is about how a poor female, to earn daily bread for herself and her family, had to get into sex trade.

She stood alone on the street with the little child in her hands and suddenly she did not know what to do. Her husband had thrown her out of their house (i.e. a tin shed; if you can call that a house, then so be it). In desperation, she went to her parent’s place. She also had two brothers who lived with her parents–that is, two younger brothers.

After a few days of her arrival, her parents had to go to Bangladesh for some work. They were gone for two weeks when she realised that there was no money left and the shopkeeper would not lend them anymore. She had the responsibility of a one-year-old and two younger brothers and the thought about her parents was killing her. She did not know what had happened to them; they were supposed to return in a few days.

Meanwhile, she had to fill four empty stomachs and decided to work as a construction worker. She went to a construction site and started working for a meagre wage of Rs. 150/- for an entire day’s work. But this was not all, her miseries knew no end. During lunch break, the male workers wanted to have sex with her. She valued her integrity and gave a ‘No’ for an answer. After this incident, she was unable to find work at all. They would not hire her because she practised her right to say no!

This is the sorry state in which most poor women in India find themselves. But this was not the end. She had to do something for her baby and her brothers. She was denied the right to choose and in the face of poverty, she said ‘Yes’. One day, a fortnight after she was unable to find a job, she told her friend that she would do whatever it takes to earn money. Her baby was really hungry and she thought – who was she saving up herself for? A husband who had ditched her? She plunged into sex work.

In the evening her friend brought the first customer and even lent her a room. But her friend, too, had to earn a living and they decided to split the money that she gets in half. The customer had offered 500 rupees. Thinking about her little daughter, she entered the room, only to find out that she was not yet prepared for what she was doing. She began to cry as the guy came nearer. Realising that she was afraid the customer asked whether it was her first time. When she said yes, he asked why she was doing it and the answer that she gave him moved him so much that he gave her an extra thousand and did not even touch her. He asked her to come again in a week. When she did he again gave her some money. This went on for some time.

After three months her parents came back. She wanted to quit, but when she heard people talking behind her back, she could bear it no more. She just wished that her parents would have come back earlier. Since she could not turn back the time, she took her daughter and went to live permanently in a red light area in Kolkata. This time when she met her customer, she offered herself willingly. This was the beginning of her profession.

Now after 10 years, people call her names and insult her in many ways because they think it is a scandalous profession. According to her it is just another kind of work that gives her a livelihood. And the one thing that keeps her going is the fact that her first customer still returns back to her and he is her Babu (Permanent Partner) and because of his help now her daughter is studying in a good school.

The story is that of a real commercial sex worker. Tanu di (named changed) is one of those millions of sex workers who struggle to find a space for themselves in the societal norms that denounce them because of their profession. Youth Ki Awaaz has taken a stand to present voices of these unheard sex workers. Do drop in your views below.

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  1. Harsha

    Brilliant read. Sadly, the story of many many such workers goes unheard.

  2. Amrita Paul

    One hand men will never stop buying sex, on the other hand the service providers of the same never get the justice or position in society they truly deserve. Sadly, the men who indulge in such clandestine whims off and on are the ones who are left unscathed while the women in this line of work are refused a normal life because the same men think that the profession is scandalous. Its is confusing and sad. I wonder when we will stop being so hypocritical and try facing the truth in the eye , just for once.

    1. bala

      stop being hypocritical will just be dream amritha ….. i met some women who met the same above / more worser part in thier life.. shocking thing is 1.2 million child sex workers in india and some of their stories made me mad

  3. Abhijit Bhomia

    A great read but a sad one though. I dont know when will the INDEPENDENT country of India start caring/doing something for the women. When a women refuses, she gets abused and when she says a ‘yes’ then also she is abused and taunted in the worst manner that one could think of.

  4. Anika Gera

    A real sad story but the reality of many Indian women. I wanna thank you for bringing up such a story for us. It is so sad that Parents till date don’t find it necessary for their girl child to be educated and marry them to any man…and the men out there are so sex minded. What is d govt. doing ?? What are the men of India doing ?? What are we doing ??? No1 thinks why they actually gt in2 this profession..what forced them ??? no women takes this job by choice …she just has no option!! and, Sadly we are a part of such India !!! for the start respect them that they are not begging and doing something to earn their living…and lets do something for them….

  5. Deepak Joshi

    Blaming will not be enough. The public or a so called good society requires to do something towards the empowerment of those unfortunate women. Everybody can blame system , it’s so easy ! So I am. But the need of hour is to initiate such type of project by civil society (here civil society is not that famous one) in which opportunities of self employment be developed. The products made by them should be consumed with priority and many more ideas.
    Writing about the reality is a noble deed but we have to have these types of planning implemented ASAP.
    Until we don’t do so … there will be more flaming issues to blame and to write .
    A sense of acceptance (or at least no to reject) need to be developed in society.

  6. Rigya

    Sad story. I hope it reaches the people who need to read it. Girl education is important. This story raises so many questions. I respect this woman.

  7. Anonna Dutt

    @Ankita Gera – I am working for an organisation that works with the sex workers (I say ‘with’ and not ‘for’ because the community members form the power hierarchy) and meet them daily. First, in a country like India mostly all the women enter the field of sex trade due to poverty but there are quite a few college students working here who want to work here. So its not like no one wants to do it. Secondly, we cannot blame the system and just stay put, we have to do something if we want the scenario to change and forbidding customers to go to a red light area is not an option as we would be snatching away the food from the mouths of thousands of women and their families. Also, I would like to say that the children here at Sonagachi do not feel ashamed to identify themselves as sex worker’s children even in front of world audience! There has been a lot of development and there is a need for more. I would urge you all to dedicate at least one of your summer vacations working for the cause…

  8. reeti singh

    an unfortunate victim of circumstances…immense respect for her sustainabilty, her strength and more importantly, her as a woman. she might be uneducated, but she is an intelligent woman. great work, anonna!

  9. farhana banu

    feel sorry for girls who suffer this way. we should do something at least a little to help them respect them and give them a good and respectable source of earning. men, please respect women they are angels on earth for their beauty, grace, love and understanding.

  10. sonal singh

    Girl education is very important
    After reading this we knew that
    How a girl reach thi s type of work.
    I don t blame girl . But i want to say plz dont do this. Plz kamanao ko na barao ki ladki ko ladki hone pr dukh ho

  11. utkarsh

    Hy iam utkarsh i just want to say iam instrested to do for the peoples who r suffering like this so if any one from any helping organization plz contaxt me on iam ready to do work with them to give good life to those women, girls and orthr people who r stil suffering

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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