As part of a social work course in college, I was acquainted with a very new way of looking at sex workers. These are not necessarily foreign emotions, but I thought it’s still very refreshing.
The instructor was taking us for a field trip to a facility imparting education to children of sex workers. Once every week, the parents were asked to gather for an hour-long session at the NGO. Through this session, the NGO intended to impart some intrinsic values of parenting and other life skills. And though this was a voluntary practice, they saw parents coming in great numbers. We were going to meet them here while also conducting some activities of interest.
Before our instructor took us on this field trip, she wanted to ensure that we do not look upon them with our stereotypical notions and gave us a brief idea of what their journey looked like.
Here’s the drill. The women are usually bought, trafficked, or kidnapped from underprivileged families. They are then put under the guidance of a landlady, also the pimp and sometimes referred to as the guru. The initial three months are worse than an imaginable hell.
The new sex workers are usually bought for a large sum by the landlady, and they are told that they cannot keep any money for themselves till they make up for it. So, they work overtime, and as this lifestyle is new for them, they are reluctant and are often manhandled by the clients and the landlady. They are also sometimes starved, so they do not feel sleepy at night, which is their peak working hours.
After these three months, they are told that they are free and can keep clients’ money after paying a basic sum for their lodging and other everyday needs if they were to continue staying on. This is a time when a lot of us may imagine that they would be running back home. And though many of them want to, this is often far from the truth.
The sex workers, after the initial three months, form a camaraderie with the others. They share money, look after each other, take care of each other and even entertain clients as per each other’s capacities. And while they emerge as family, their real families castigate them, and they are shunned from living their lives in the larger society. Even if some of them were to return home, they would be met with sexual advances, having previously worked at a brothel.
Government mechanisms to uplift them often come as meagre opportunities like candle/agarbati making, where they earn almost nothing. And in turn, their futures – separate from their brothel, becomes very bleak.
From our privileged pedestals, we may often feel that if life were to turn out another way, we would do anything else but sex work. But that is a myth. Because in three months, these women get habituated to a different way of life, and the phenomenon is not very different from our convenient desk jobs. Many of us loathe our jobs, but we still do it for the money, for the sustenance and as a way of life.
They, too, keep it different from their personal lives. They see it as their work and nothing else; there are no emotions attached. And on a personal level, they may still reminisce about their lovers back at home or would want to be cajoled in their mother’s arms, again – not very different from all of us.
And here’s food for thought, sex work is the oldest organized profession in the world; doesn’t that speak volumes of what we call “civilized and organized jobs” today?