Tag Archive for 'sex workers'

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:


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

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:

Sex and the sari

Prize-winning author Kiran Desai journeys to Andhra where generations of Indian families have been involved in the sex industry and from which few girls escape. In The Times, an extract from “Aids Sutra: Untold Stories from India” (published by Vintage Books):

In March I travelled to coastal Andhra Pradesh, to the delta region of the Godavari river. On the streets of a village we drove through, I noticed an overabundance of beds. Beds being delivered, new old beds, makeshift stage set beds, cheap beds being varnished in the sun, mattresses in the dust. Around this strangeness of beds proliferating, village life seemed as benign as Narayan’s Malgudi stories that had created my idea of what it meant to be Indian in this world, in the sweetest incarnation possible. Little shops for cigarettes and sweets; cows wandering; men riding cycles on their way to the banana market by the river’s edge, bananas tied to the handlebars, their colour macaw shocking-green and yellow, green and yellow, the greenest green and the yellowiest yellow. Sound of water pouring into pails, out of pails. A jeep going by with some policemen poking their heads out. This world was normal.

Except it was really entirely something else.


Indian sex workers get life insurance

Sex workers in India move one step closer towards legalisation, reports AFP in The Smart Set

Sex workers in India now have the option of taking out life insurance cover — a move they hope will speed up their bid to legalize the profession, a charity said Monday.

“Sex workers approached Life Insurance Corporation of India, which agreed to provide insurance coverage,” said Smarajit Jana, chief adviser to Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (Committee for Indomitable Women), a group representing 65,000 sex workers.

“We have started by signing up 199 sex workers in Sonagachi, one of Asia’s largest red light districts, housing over 10,000 women involved in the business,” he told AFP.


[Pic: Sex workers in Sonagachi/AFP Deshakalyan Chowdhury]