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2 Shocking Narratives From The Lives Of Sex Workers Highlight Their Need For Legal Recognition

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By Harish Iyer:

As the lights get dim and the night beckons, she paints her lips red with lipstick and gets ready for her night job. She stands in the balcony, the station, the streets, the by lanes, the hotels, the night clubs and every place else where she can find her customers. While she does so, there are other men and women who watch her with disgust. If the glares increase over the public meter of tolerance, the kind police man steps in. The police man, her regular customer in private, shoos her away as it is his duty to cure public morality from whore infestation.

prostitution

Yet, from the group of these morally conscious men, emerges a man with an undying itch to get hitched. His penis, once expanded, doesn’t come back to its normal size until it attains moksha inside an orifice. She is at the corner of the road, hiding behind a handsome young pimp, ensuring that the eye of the policeman doesn’t catch a glimpse of her. However, the lucky dame is unable to escape the prying eyes of the horny man. He approaches her and fixes a rate. They go to the room. She speaks about what her services are. She says that she can allow ‘him’ an entry to vagina-land provided he covers the bloody joker. He is drunk and is interested in anything but bull-crap. He has no time for this; he likes it “raw”, so he beats her face, and shoves his so called mighty pride inside her modesty, against her wish, uncovered. Her modesty is torn in two. She screams, but her sounds echo back to her in the small room. She is a woman; she is all of 25, but looks like 40. She can’t be raped. It’s her profession, she is told, if she ever and whenever complains. Who can she complain to? The police? Which police? Wouldn’t she be told off? Rehabilitation? What rehabilitation? Would you appreciate her being rehabilitated close to your house as your neighbour? Cross your heart and tell me, wouldn’t you rather want her in some no-human-land, so that she doesn’t influence your life and your husband, and your children and all the other people you know? Truth hurts, doesn’t it? Glad it does, it means we still have some conscience in us, alive.

Lately, we all went berserk over the news of another lady who emerges in the dark like an owl. She goes to bigger places, she has richer customers. She had a past we all know of. She is a well known name. A then child artist, known for her cuteness and charm; she now chooses to sell her body as a service. She is more sophisticated. She speaks in English. She demands a price that is thousand times more than what the other woman did. She also has a stylish title that she addresses herself with- Escort. She had jumped into flesh trade when poverty and desperation were at their peak. Her needs are different from that of the other woman. Poverty means different things to these two people. While for one poverty means staying hungry, for the other poverty means to not have a chauffeur driven car. She again wore red lipstick; her manager fixed her a rate with an aged businessman who had truckloads of money. The money was tempting, even if he was not. She probably wouldn’t have to work so hard if she works with a few key clients. She chose to give him a ride of a lifetime. She ran to the hotel room and became the bedspread. He entered with absolute delight as she faked a thousand orgasms in one minute. In her mind, she has images of magical notes entering her purse at every orgasm. The night was too long. He treated her well and then asked her, “Do you wish to make more money”. She was dying to hear this; she said yes and bent down to please him. She suddenly found two men emerging from the oblivion. She was caught unaware. The two men touch and feel and enter her, in and out they go, leaving her with moans of pain and not ecstasy. Soon she has cum on her face and her lips are sticky, she feels dirty as ever. This wasn’t a part of the deal; she has always planned her life. She has lived by her choices, she doesn’t like unplanned surprises. Yet she tolerated it all, without a whimper. Three men in one room were overpowering her, agreed, but can she go out and complain? What if she goes on the streets in the dead of the night and gets caught by a group of other men, who are sadomasochists, more than these three men, could ever be. The images of Nirbhaya had not died in her mind, even after the death of Nirbhaya. And the police, how could she venture out and tell the police? Wouldn’t they ask her all her marketing questions – who, what, why, when, where, how, and how much? Would they leave her without knowing her “history”; would they leave her without passing a moral judgment?

Both these narratives are inspired from true stories. Well, this is the state of affairs behind many closed doors in India, and in various parts of the world. We shut our moral windows when we see a commercial sex worker and open our big mouths of judgment. We don’t really shut them out of our lives; we close ourselves inside our own cheap thoughts that belittle the cause of humanity. There is a prostitute in each one of us. All of us have faced a moment in our lives when we have been forced to do something as it was according to the demand of circumstances; each one of us have also had a moment in our life when we willingly made a choice which went against the norms. It is time that we celebrate the prostitute within us. It is weird to think that everyone in the world is brittle and so easily influenced by a certain set of people. We are quick to presume that a society tolerant to commercial sex workers and their right to live a life of dignity sans prejudice, will influence other people to turn into hustlers. If I was straight, I would have loved to spend my life as man and wife with a woman whose profession is commercial sex work if I really loved her. If it was my daughter and son who made unconventional career choices, I would have stood by them, unless of course they chose to join the Al Qaida. Even as a gay man, I would marry a prostitute without batting an eyelid. Not that I am any sort of a hero, but I dare to make a choice. A choice of loving a person, and when that choice is made, everything else seems immaterial. I have no right to judge a person; I have not had “intimacy” with just one anyways.

His /her profession would have been no criteria for me to judge. Its not that I see sex workers as victims, or a cause or want make a political statement about prostitution, but simply because it just doesn’t matter. They are neither to be seen as victims, nor a cause. They are common people with an uncommon profession.

It is time that we legalize prostitution and work at sensitizing the police about the rights of commercial sex workers. It is time to ensure that we don’t isolate and push them into some rehab in no-man’s land, but give them an equal status in our society. A legal status will give them access to a ration card and a license to work. They will not have to go underground and thus they will be able to keep their work-places open to regular verification checks. This means that one could check for any cases of child trafficking and HIV, regularly and on a mandatory basis. Their daughters would not have to live that life until they are forced into the profession, their sons would not have to become pimps. They can dare to dream beyond the confines of what their parent’s business demands. They can walk shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the world.

It is high time that we understand that some professions are different and uncommon; they are not unethical if the participants are adults with a free will. It is important that we understand that commercial sex workers — men women or transpersons are a part of the same society that we live in; they deserve a share of an equal sun.
Do you agree that we should work towards the beginning of the end of prejudice against commercial sex workers and commercial sex work in India?

You must be to comment.
  1. Anshul Jain

    Really happy to see someone bring up these issues in light today. Our society has termed prostitution as illegal but I (at the age of 18) can’t understand what is so wrong with the profession. When you pay a masseuse for relieveing you of muscle stress, a therapist for making you calmer, then what is so wrong in paying for sex when it has been a basic human need just like any other? I believe no matter what your sexual orientation, no matter what your profession, everyone deserves respect and love. Everyone deserves the sunshine and acceptance from the society, so what if their profession is uncommon, our kindness and open mindness shouldn’t become rare as well.

  2. themaverickwoman

    Harish Iyer…… hats off to u ….. u brot everything so nicely … i love yu for this- There is a prostitute in each one of us!!!!

  3. Chandeep

    Hey Harish, nice write up. And i agree with your opinion of making prostituion legal. But, do you think it will be easy? I mean, the kind of society we live in, the veil of modesty that we wear, even if its legalized will they be treated equally ? People will still shoo off them and consider them to be poisionous! We haven’t still done anything for the enuchs, prostitues have a long way to go. I am not being negative, just facts. 🙂

  4. Mini

    Making it legalized will help in another way also and i.e Human Trafficking.

  5. Gulshan Kumar

    I do completely agree with the above statement. I was a part of an NGO in Bangalore and thought to do some similar work for Sex Workers in Kolkata now as I moved to Kolkata for my Job, the only concern is sometimes there are some big names behind all these so called businesses, but if I get a right platform I will certainly would like to contribute to their lives and try to provide her the justice and equality in the society.

  6. gone girl

    Would opening a school for their children a good idea. I know even when I am writing this questions are popping in my head who will the teachers be ? but still it might stop their kids from joining in the situation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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