By Pooja Kochar:
I bring you this story from the 14 lanes of Kamathipura, divided according to regional and linguistic backgrounds of the sex workers. You will be welcomed by curious eyes peering from the balconies, they are inquisitive. The lanes seem like a regular, crowded area in Mumbai but as it gets dark, reality unfolds. Loud Bollywood music from the 80’s, cabs parked with prospective clients, negotiating pimps, women waiting to be picked, there is so much going on that you will be lost.
It’s different when you hear stories about child trafficking and ‘mean brothel madams’ but the reality of these lanes will make you question every privilege you take for granted.
Virginity is their curse, girls are beaten and locked in dark boxes for days to break their will to fight. Sonu (name changed) entertains 8 to 10 clients on a good night and is beaten every time she mentions home. Eldest of 5 siblings, Sonu was sent away from her village in Karnataka as the ‘child of god’ at the age of 12. We have been exposed to various shades of prostitution, thanks to our films but how many of us have tried talking to one of them?’
Sonu’s naive vulnerability was in stark contrast to the image I had of the contemporary sex worker.
Human trafficking is the third largest organized crime after drugs and the arms trade across the globe. According to the definition of the United Nations – “trafficking is any activity leading to recruitment, transportation, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or a position of vulnerability.”
“This tablet makes me look sexy.” She is referring to the cow steroids, she vaguely mentioned a name, which I figured out after my research are in all probability cow steroids. The girls are usually very malnourished so to make them more desirable the brothel madams insist on these pills, which are very harmful in the long run.
“I wish someone would marry me and I have a family of my own. These men just use me for fun…no one really loves me.”
Under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act (ITPA) trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation is penalized. The punishment ranges from seven years’ to life imprisonment.
Most of these girls are victims of the Devadasi culture, extreme poverty leads to the family selling off their young virgin daughters to brothel owners. This tradition simply uses ‘religion’ to funnel girls from impoverished, lower caste families into the lucrative sex trade industry. Because of the brutal gang rape of December 2012, the government passed a bill in which laws related to sexual violence and trafficking have been amended. But still there is a huge gap between enactment and enforcement of these laws.
Harassed, trafficked, tricked or sold into prostitution, they are stuck in this vicious circle of sex. They are socially ostracised and vulnerable, Kamathipura is the only home these women will ever know. We look down at them, but the fact is that we are failing as humans. Sonu asked me what I did for a living, I mentioned blogger. Her puzzled look made me feel silly, so to simplify I said I write stories on the internet, like a newspaper.
“Can you inform my village that I want to return home?” she asked me, which broke my heart.