Tag Archive for 'Prostitution'

The short life and painful death of Baby Falak

This is all six chapters of a story that ran in a serialized form on India Real Time. Through dozens of interviews, court documents, police records, medical records and counseling reports, the Wall Street Journal’s Paul Beckett and Krishna Pokharel reconstruct the sad life and death of Baby Falak

NEW DELHI–The story of Baby Falak is a close-up look at the underbelly of Indian society: prostitution, human trafficking, bride selling, and domestic violence.

It also is the story of a small group of ordinary people – a young mother, a rebellious teenager, a taxi driver, a tire repairman, a lonely graduate — trying to escape the tribulations of their daily lives, and of the people who exploited them, the institutions that failed them, and the people who helped them. 

The events that transpired over 10 months, from mid-2011 to early 2012, moved millions, at least briefly, to unprecedented outrage and introspection, as if India were asking itself: “Are we like this only?”

CHAPTER ONE: Escape from Bihar

There is nothing special about Muzaffarpur. The city’s roads have been pummeled then buried under the weight and dust of pedestrians, bicycles, rickshaws, motorbikes, and SUVs. Its low, brick-and-concrete stores are piled high with the brightly-colored flotsam of modern Indian life — flipflops, candy, tobacco packets, plastic water jugs, tarps. In the center of town, the railway station appears as a bastion of permanence: It has a tower, perhaps 50 feet tall, that is painted light pink. more

Supply and demand

In Caravan, Mehboob Jeelani on Delhi’s expanding market for high-end sexual commerce

On the evening of 26 December, Polina, a young woman from Ukraine with a round face and large green eyes, was celebrating with six of her girlfriends — expats all, mostly models and hairdressers. A Christmas tree glittered in the corner of her apartment, and a Ukranian spread of potato pancakes, beetroot soup and chicken sausage was laid out on the table, next to a few bottles of red wine.

The apartment, on the first floor of a new building in a South Delhi colony, had the feel of a posh college hostel, with white marble floors and two large bedrooms, each of which had two bunk beds. When I arrived, two of Polina’s roommates were padding about in their nightgowns; one was drying her hair. A widescreen LCD television was mounted on one of the white walls, and a few of the women were watching the movie Outsourced, a romantic comedy about an American call-centre manager who moves to Mumbai; they laughed through a scene that featured the protagonist’s uncomfortable first encounter with an Indian public toilet. more

Ukraine women go topless in anti-India visa protest

From The Telegraph:

Four young Ukrainian women braved sub-zero temperatures today to go topless and climb the balcony of the Indian envoy’s residence in Kiev with placards pronouncing “Ukraine is not a bordello” and “We are not prostitutes”.

The quartet from Femen, a group famous for topless protests against everything from sex tourism to Silvio Berlusconi’s peccadilloes, were protesting the alleged tightening of visa rules by the Indian mission in Kiev for Ukrainian women in the 15-40 age group.

The women cited an Indian newspaper report published last week as proof that the mission had branded all Ukrainian women in the 15-40 age group as prostitutes. More:

The tragedy of Nepal’s Badi women: prostitution is all they know

Nima Kafle at the Asia Sentinel:

Four years ago, Taruna Badi, 38, a member of the Badi community, one of the most marginalized groups in Nepal, thought her days of prostitution were over.

In 2007, she and dozens of other Badi women travelled from Kailali, a district in the far west of Nepal, to the capital Kathmandu, located across the country, to join in protests by Badi activists seeking government help to lower longstanding economic and social barriers. For many women, this meant coming up with alternatives to prostitution.

The government agreed to study the Badis’ situation and to provide aid in the form of land grants, employment training, free education for Badi children, health services, citizenship with the caste of their choice, and a declaration of the end of prostitution within the community.

That was then. Today, many of the Badi women say they’ve barely received any support and have gone back to the only work available to them.

“What else to do?” Taruna asked in desperation. “Prostitution is the only means of earning so far for us.” Badi women say they earn between 70 cents and $2.75 for a sexual encounter. More:


Beauty and Mumbai’s beastly trade

From The Independent:

Sonia Faleiro was simply in search of a story she could sink her teeth into. A campaigning reporter on a number of Indian newspapers, the 33-year-old from Goa adhered to one overriding credo: “To convey information about people we know nothing of.” And so, when she came across a small news item about dance bars in Mumbai, dens of iniquity in which disadvantaged young women were used and abused by the city’s elite, she knew that here was something worth delving into.

“I met with one of the girls, Leela,” she says, “a 19-year-old who had no doubt suffered [as a child, her father sent her out to be gang-raped by the police] but who, since arriving [in Mumbai], was so alive, and so optimistic.”

Faleiro spent several months shadowing this engagingly self-dramatising heroine, convinced that she was worthy of far more than a mere article. The result, six years after they first met, is Beautiful Thing, a book that throws the doors open on Mumbai’s sex trade. More:

Previously in AW: Dreams of Mumbai

Sex and the Games

Come October, Delhi will host the Commonwealth Games. There is an entire sex industry readying itself for business. Akshay Sawai and Pallavi Polanki in Open:

The man who answers the phone at the escort services office calls himself ‘Sam’. He wants a face-to-face meeting at Mahipalpur, a suburb close to the airport, before he can seal the deal. Hopefully, he is not holding his breath.

In contrast, the lady at Delhi 69 Escorts, which describes itself as an ‘Exclusive Delhi Escorts Agency’, seems a lot more at ease with phone conversations. Perhaps because this time it is a man with a European accent calling. In a recorded conversation available with Open, this is what the lady on the other side of the line has to say: “For Commonwealth Games, you will have to make advance bookings. We already have so many bookings for Commonwealth, so many bookings. We definitely recommend prior bookings, we cannot guarantee the availability of girls for Commonwealth. Rates will depend on the profile [of the girl], we don’t have fixed rates, the charges may vary according to profile… We have Russian girls, but I would suggest you go for Indian girls. They are more high profile, they speak well, they are educated, and they are fluent in English.” Currently, Delhi 69’s minimum charge is Rs 20,000. She claims it could even go up to Rs 50,000 during the Games.

All this, you’d think, is hush hush. Evidently not. Senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, in whom the CWG has found its sharpest critic yet, wondered aloud about the sexual aspect of the Games on a televised debate recently. “The media have reported that there are going to be 150 condom vending machines installed in the Games Village alone,” Aiyar said. “The report says that 3,000 to 3,300 packets of condoms will be sold every day from these machines, and that each packet contains two condoms, which means over a 15-day period, there will be one lakh condoms sold. What is the game that is going to be played at the Commonwealth Games? Is this sex tourism or sports tourism?” More:

My candle burns at both ends

Rekha in Muzaffar Ali’s ‘Umrao Jaan’ (1981)

Southasian fiction has provided many insights into the persona and conflicts of the exploited-empowered dancing girl. Raza Rumi in Himal Southasian:

It is not a coincidence that the earliest novels of the Subcontinent dealt with the intense and memorable characters of ‘nautch girls’. Essentially a colonial construct, a nautch girl referred to the popular entertainer, a belle beau who would sing, dance and, when required, also provide the services of a sex worker. The accounts on the marginalised women from the ‘dishonourable’ profession are nuanced, concurrently representing the duality of exploitation and empowerment.

Long before feminist discourse explored and located the intricacies of sex workers’ lives and work, male novelists during the 18th and 19th centuries were portraying the strong characters of women in the oldest profession. Stereotypes of the hapless and suffering prostitute rarely find mention in texts from that time, but one early novel, written in Urdu, is Mirza Muhammad Hadi Ruswa’s Umrao Jan Ada. While the Lucknow-based poet Ruswa is said to have persuaded Umrao to reveal her life history, many critics have surmised that the narrative was authored by Umrao herself. The tone and candour of the story suggests that Umrao played a significant role in drafting this semi-documentary piece.

Umrao’s woes originated in a typical patriarchal mould. As a young girl, she was kidnapped by a hooligan and sold to a Lucknow kotha (a high-culture space also operating as a brothel) managed by Khanum Jan. This act was the hooligan’s way of seeking revenge against Umrao’s father, who had testified against him. At the kotha, an erudite, elderly maulvi transformed Umrao into a civilised poet-cum-entertainer, educating her in the arts and culture. Her seeking knowledge and acquiring confidence to handle a predominantly male world takes place within this space. Thus, the tale of exploitation turns into a narrative of self-discovery.

An archetypal courtesan steeped in Avadhi high culture and manners, Umrao Jan Ada comes across as a voice far ahead of her times. In her frank conversations with Ruswa, Umrao explains how a sex worker’s only friend is money. The realisation that a dancing girl would be a fool to jeopardise her livelihood by giving her love to a man was a clear expression of her empowerment. The plain rejection of wifehood in Umrao Jan’s worldview was directly rooted in the decision not to trade independence for an institutionalised relationship, despite the respectability that such an association might offer. The empowerment of Umrao is in many ways linked to her profession. More:

Also in Himal Southasian‘s August edition whose theme is “Sex and work”:

What Kamathipura means today by Svati P Shah: Do those who want to rescue sex workers from brothels ask what their targets think?

The feminist and the sex worker: Lessons from the Indian experience, by Srilatha Batliwala.

Sex and the pity: The stigmatisation of sex workers stems from misconceptions and squeamishness about sex. By Meena Saraswathi Seshu

In Dubai, sex is for sale in every bar

From The Guardian:

The bosomy blonde in a tight, low-cut evening dress slid on to a barstool next to me and began the chat: Where are you from? How long are you here? Where are you staying? I asked her what she did for a living. “You know what I do,” she replied. “I’m a whore.”

As I looked around the designer bar on the second floor of the glitzy five-star hotel, it was obvious that every woman in the place was a prostitute. And the men were all potential punters, or at least window-shoppers.

While we talked, Jenny, from Minsk in Belarus, offered me “everything, what you like, all night” for the equivalent of about £500. It was better if I was staying in the luxurious hotel where we were drinking, she said, but if not she knew another one, cheaper but “friendly”. I turned down the offer.

This was not Amsterdam’s red-light district or the Reeperbahn in Hamburg or a bar on Shanghai’s Bund. This was in the city centre of Dubai… More:

A new danger for sex workers in Bangladesh

The prostitutes in Bangladeshi brothels are often underage and unpaid – and now, many of them are hooked on steroids. Joanna Moorhead in The Guardian:

I’m walking along a brightly painted corridor when a couple of young girls catch first my eye, and then my arm. They smile at me, and giggle; they look about the same ages as my elder daughters, 17 and 15. Just like my daughters, these girls have taken a lot of time over their makeup and their clothes: and they look beautiful. In their faces I see the same fun and youthful optimism that I see every day in my own house.

But there the comparisons end. Because I am in Faridpur in central Bangladesh, on the banks of the Padma river; and these girls are sex workers.

Each day they must have intercourse with four or five different men, for the price of around 100 taka, or £1, a time. And for most of the girls here, there is no monetary gain whatsoever: because most of the inmates (and it is, in many ways, like a prison) at Faridpur brothel are chhukri, or bonded sex workers, sold by their families to a madam in return for two or three years in which she, the brothel-owner, can pocket all their earnings.

It is a terrible, filthy, overcrowded place, this Faridpur brothel. To reach it you walk through a series of dusty, narrow alleys, uneven underfoot; past endless booths selling dusty bottles of soft drinks and past-their-sell-by-date packets of crisps; past skinny goats and even skinnier, rag-clad people. There is a ripple of excitement as you pass, because westerners are unusual in Faridpur. More:

White male seeking sexy Asian women

Laura Miller reviews “The East, The West, and Sex: A History of Erotic Encounters,” by Richard Bernstein (Illustrated. 325 pages. Alfred A. Knopf). In Salon:

sex_bookIn his history of the erotic obsession Western men have felt toward “the Orient,” Richard Bernstein begins with what must have been the most inflammatory example he could find: A blog titled “Sex in Shanghai: Western Scoundrel in Shanghai Tells All,” in which an individual referring to himself only as “ChinaBounder” boastfully recounted his many sexual trysts with Chinese women. A foreign teacher of English, the blogger mostly recruited his partners from among his former students, and they included at least one married woman, a doctor. ChinaBounder’s crowing provoked what Bernstein describes as a “murderously furious response” from Chinese men, who reviled him as a “white ape.” But they reserved the brunt of their anger for his lovers, accusing their countrywomen of behavior that “humiliates the hearts of Chinese men, as well as of the Chinese people.”

After a few disclaimers about the imperfect truthfulness of anonymous confessional blogs and offering his opinion that ChinaBounder’s successes would not be “easy to duplicate,” Bernstein observes that nevertheless, “there is something to what he said, something about an advantage that Western men have in the competition for the favors of young women there.” “The East, the West and Sex” is Bernstein’s history of how that advantage has played out since the days of Marco Polo. As a result of this edge, “the East” (which he defines broadly, ranging from North Africa, to India and the Middle East, to Southeast and East Asia) has for centuries represented “a domain of special erotic fascination and fulfillment for Western men.”

The subject is squirm-inducing, whether you are a Chinese man with a humiliated heart or a Western woman feeling obscurely spurned or, for that matter, even if you’re a Western man enthralled, as Bernstein himself seems to be, by the image of the quintessential Asian nymph, with her “long silky hair, smooth nut-brown skin, and a perfume of orange and spice on her breath” — and feeling kinda defensive about it. To write about the penchant of certain Western men for Asian women is to invite prurient speculation (Bernstein has a Chinese wife, in case you’re wondering — and you know you were) as well as incendiary condemnations from several fronts and on several grounds. The topic is mined with tripwires attached to a host of uncomfortable thoughts about race, power, sexuality, gender and history. More:

[Image: Salon/Mignon Khargie]

Previously in AW: Simon Winchester’s review of the book: Lands of erotic fantasy

‘I’m a sex worker in India’

From the Financial Times:

I think I am 23 years old. My father died when I was young. In the village in India where I grew up, my father was considered well-off, with land and gold, but after his death there was no one to look after us. There was the house, and that was all. We worked hard to eat.

My elder sister was married off to my uncle; I was married at the age of 14. My uncles, mother and older brother made the alliance for me. I was married to someone with polio because we were unable to give a dowry. I didn’t know. I had never seen the boy before. They were rich, with five acres of agricultural land. Many people asked my father-in-law where he found me. I was so beautiful at that time.


India’s sex trade exposed

To mark World Aids Day, the portrait photographer Kalpesh Lathigra meets the prostitutes and their clients who are at the heart of the subcontinent’s HIV explosion. Words by Andrew Buncombe, the Independent:

Kalpesh Lathigra

Anu, a 30-year-old 'hijra' (eunuch) who works as a prostitute in Kamathipura, Mumbai's oldest red-light district. Photo: Kalpesh Lathigra

On the streets of Kamathipura young women stand ready and available, looking to lure their next customer. They pose, they smile, some wave. They look terribly young, their faces heavy with make-up. Many are dressed in Western clothes, others in traditional saris. In this red light district of Mumbai, they stand on the kerbside in front of grimy shacks containing the beds on which they do their work. There is the hustle and chaos of the traffic, the clogged roads, the constant noise. And there is terrible sadness too.

“I was tricked here. I was in love with a man and I came here with him. But when I got here, he sold me,” says Simla, a 42-year-old prostitute, originally from Nepal. She has two children and she saves what little she earns to send them to school, desperate that they do not follow her into the sex industry. “I was fooled into this. I will not allow my children to do it.”


Inside the slave trade

They are promised a better life. But every year, countless boys and girls in Bangladesh are spirited away to brothels where they have to prostitute themselves with no hope of freedom. Special investigation by Johann Hari in The Independent, UK:


This is the story of the 21st century’s trade in slave-children. My journey into their underworld took place where its alleys and brothels are most dense – Asia, where the United Nations calculates 1 million children are being traded every day. It took me to places I did not think existed, today, now. To a dungeon in the lawless Bangladeshi borderlands where children are padlocked and prison-barred in transit to Indian brothels; to an iron whore-house where grown women have spent their entire lives being raped; to a clinic that treat syphilitic 11-year-olds…

…Sufia grew up in a village near Khulna in the south-west of Bangladesh. Her parents were farmers; she was one of eight children. “My parents couldn’t afford to look after me,” she says. “We didn’t have enough money for food.”And so came the lie. When Sufia was 14, a female neighbour came to her parents and said she could find her a good job in Calcutta as a housemaid. She would live well; she would learn English; she would have a well-fed future. “I was so excited,” Sufia says.

“But as soon as we arrived in Calcutta I knew something was wrong,” she says. “I didn’t know what a brothel was, but I could see the house she took me to was a bad house, where the women wore small clothes and lots of bad men were coming in and out.” The neighbour was handed 50,000 takka – around £500 – for Sufia, and then she told her to do what she was told and disappeared.