This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Pooja Kochar. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Beaten, Locked In A Box, Fed Steroids: The Shocking Lives Of Mumbai’s Young Sex Workers

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By Pooja Kochar:

Virginity is their curseI 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.

You must be to comment.
  1. Sankara Menon

    Very nice article but for the poison pill is hidden well which probably points to the agenda of the website. “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.” To bring in devadasi system is natural for something like avaaz.org has as its agenda, after all they have, i believe, evangelical support and could actually be an arm of the infamous “Joshua Project”. Proof is hard to come by but conclusions can be drawn on the basis of the trends.. Thats what i am doing. If I am shown to be in the wrong I will apologise.

    in case you do not know who or what avaaz.org is, please understand it was the initiator and stage manager of the Failed “Arab Spring” that left the Arab world in Chaos from which it has not yet fully recovered. Also understand they were involved in the now failed IAC in India with the intention of introducing a fifth columnist. They failed. I am not sure but I believe them to be one of the principal backers of AAP. Do check their website. I believe “youth ki avaaz” maybe the same organisation – old wine in new bottle after they were exposed. I am still looking at evidence gathered.

  2. Shalet Jimmy

    Hi Pooja…It was a good article. But felt like came to a sudden halt….

  3. NEELAM

    Commenting on someone’s post is easy but it is the brave woman journalist who shed light on the plight of these young sex workers despite the threats and intimidation. Her courage should be applauded.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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