As a couple of months went by the horror and tragedy of the impact and the consequences of sexual slavery became clearer to me. The assumptions and beliefs I previously held about the women in prostitution altered dramatically.
Lets tackle the obvious questions anyone would have who is not familiar with the issue of sex trafficking.
How many are really forced/tricked into this form of slavery?
To my best knowledge almost all of them are in some way or the other duped or coerced into prostitution. In the 2.5 years of my field work I did not come across a single woman who willingly chose this line of 'work'. If I could do justice in describing the degrading and appalling conditions they live in all doubts would be erased. Well the ones whom you can say get into prostitution willingly are usually the daughters of the women in prostitution(I will call them WIP). But they join this 'profession' not because of its prospects but because of a total lack of alternatives.
I remember an 8 yr. old girl, a daughter of a WIP, telling me that she wanted to be a Gharwali (the madam or the brothel keeper) when she grows up. This was because she knew no better. She had no role models to look up to. She knew no other life. In her eyes the most powerful person was the gharwali who had financial freedom and who had means to control the lives of women like her own mother. There are other forms of prostitution like call girl rackets and beer bar girls but that is a different category. These forms of prostitution are also extremely exploitative.
Is it really all that difficult to come out of this situation?
Well first lets examine how most of these girls ended up in the red light area.
1. N was a happy 10 yrs. old living in some remote impoverished village in Nepal.She has 5 more siblings. One probably suffering from TB. If they are lucky they eat twice a day. She used to go to a village school, but had to stop because of a paucity of funds. Days of going without food and the worsening condition of her brother who is afflicted with TB, forces her parents to sell her to a lady who promises to get her employment as a worker in a carpet factory in Kathmandu or as a domestic help in Mumbai. She travels by foot, bus and finally train to Mumbai. And is sold into a brothel for Rs 10000.
2. B is a 17 yr old from a village in Andhra Pradesh. Her father, a cotton farmer committed suicide because of increasing debt and falling revenues. There are 5 mouths to feed. So our brave young B decides to go to Mumbai to some acquaintance who could get her a job. She is illiterate and is travelling outside her village for the first time. She meets a friendly woman in the train just before arriving in Mumbai who looks at the address and tells her she lives in the same neighborhood and offers to take her there. She is brought to Kamathipura and sold.
3. D fell in love and decided to elope with her lover. The lover promises her marriage. She runs away to Mumbai with him, dreaming about marriage and domestic bliss. She is brought to Kamathipura and is sold and she never sees her lover again.
4. P gets into prostitution because her mother is a prostitute. She knows no other life. She was born in the brothels. We call this inter-generational prostitution.
5. M remembers going to the village fair somewhere in Jharkhand with her family. The next thing she knows she is drugged, thrown into a sack, and then dumped onto the back of a truck. She is brought to Mumbai. She is sold and since she is only 8 yrs old, she fetches a really good price.
6.There was a particular peculiar arrangement that I saw in Grant Road. That of Bangladeshi WIP. They were living in the brothels with their families , husbands included. I found out that these women would service clients in the night, while their husband played cards in one of the many eating places nearby. During the daytime the women would sleep and the husbands would cook and look after the children. The would stay in Mumbai for 6 to 8 months, make enough money to go back to their villages. They would be back in Mumbai with their wives, and sisters,once they ran out of all their savings. Well I know the woman had no say in this arrangement and this was not a result of mutual consent.
7.L was a devdasi in a village in Karnataka. When the priests of the temple tire of her, she is sold to a Mumbai brothel. This consort of the Gods is no luckier than the others.
Could they not run away from the brothels?
When she arrives at the brothel she refuses to obey the gharwali. She is locked up in a small room.Starved, beaten, tortured. This continues for days. If she refuses to give in, she is finally drugged and repeatedly raped. She is raped by more than 5 men in one night. Virginity is much in demand. After months of this torture she gives in and is moved to a room in the brothel. She cannot read or write.She does not understand the language. She is not allowed to leave the brothel. Gharwali has goons to watch over her. Crushed chillies being rubbed onto her private parts is one of the many threats she hears day and night.As a girl told me she spent her first year begging every man she was forced to sleep with to help her escape. One of her regular customers was a policeman.
By the second year the girl is battered, and diseased. Her spirit is irreversibly crushed and she is ashamed and afraid to go back to her village for now she is 'dirty'. Some part of her still hopes to go back one day and resolves to do whatever it will take. Which is paying back the money the gharwali paid to buy her. This is not easy to do. She gets only Rs. 50 per customer. She also has to pay for her lodging, food, clothes and medicines. Add to this the interest on the principal amount, freedom is one distant dream. I never heard of any happy endings.
Some brave and lucky ones did manage to escape thanks to the occasional police raids. But the happiness is short lived. Once her family back in the village realizes where she has been she is beaten, disowned and thrown out. She returns to the only thing she knows.
Her destiny was never hers to make.