Flesh trade in Chandigarh: The heartbreaking, untold stories of sex workers
“For others, he was a ‘saint’ but only I knew about his reality. He would make me dress up like a bride and force himself on me.”punjab Updated: Aug 05, 2017 18:29 IST
The number of registered commercial sex workers (CSWs) with the State AIDS Control Society in Chandigarh is 3100. Officials say the number of unregistered sex workers could be much higher, and chances of their indulging in “unsafe” sex work is also very high.
Dr Vanita Gupta, director, State AIDS Control Society (SACS), says at over 3,000 the number of female sex workers might seem enormous for a city like Chandigarh, but these women are not into brothel-based sex work. “Most of them are housewives who undertake sex work, whenever they need money.”
This correspondent spoke to a handful of sex workers to find out what drove them to this trade and found a common thread of abandonment, need, and despair.
Geeta Kumari (name changed), 42
Childhood spells innocence and happiness. But for Geeta, it was a living hell. She was raped, abused, and tortured at the age of ten, by none other than her father, a head constable with the Punjab police. He continued to violate her until she fled the house.
Lying in a dingy room of Bapu Dham colony in her ragged clothes, Geeta, now 42, recalls the day her ordeal began. “I was in Class V, barely 10 years of age,” she sighs. “For others, he was a ‘saint’ but only I knew about his reality. He would make me dress up like a bride and force himself on me. When I would try to raise an alarm, he would stuff a dirty rag in my mouth,” she bursts into tears.
Finally, when Geeta mustered the courage to share her trauma with her mother, she took her father’s side. “I told her for the sake of my younger sister, but to my shock she took my father’s side. I can never forgive her for that,” says Geeta. At 15, Geeta got married to a 40-year-old man from Haryana. She was happy, as she thought she was getting out of her ‘hell’, but little did she know that she was entering another. The marriage ended in divorce Then she married a deaf and dumb boy but that marriage was also cut short.
By the time she was 18, she had a baby boy and had been divorced twice. Geeta claims her father eventually pushed her into prostitution. “I still remember my mother took me to a dirty room in Naya Gaon on her bicycle and handed me to a man in his late 50s.”
Now married to one of her customers, Geeta says life as a CSW is hell. “We are abused, tortured just for a paltry sum of 200-300; at times we do not even get that amount.”
Geeta says she has tried her hand at some other odd jobs, but her past always returns to haunt her. “Now I am working for my three children, and their education.”
Begum (name changed), 65, a pimp
When she left her home in Murshidabad, Calcutta, after a quarrel with her mother, Begum did not know that she was committing the worst mistake of her life. Today, at 65, she still curses the day she stepped out of her house.
Her father died when she was four. At 9, she was married and at 13, she was disowned by her husband. Her family refused to accept her and she was left with no option but to leave the village. “I had heard about Delhi, so I decided to go there,” recalls Begum who landed up in Chandigarh instead of Delhi.
“A madrasi helped me and brought me to this colony (madrasi colony). He introduced me to the sarpanch, who took care of me like his own daughter,” says Begum. Soon, she married a labourer and life was taking its own course until her husband learnt of her religion. “He would torture me every day,” she recalls. “I tolerated the torture for years until he molested my younger sister. That was when I fled from home with my two children.”
Initially, she tried selling lemons in the grain market but it wasn’t enough to fend for a family. “It was then that a friend introduced me to this work,” Begum recounts. Four decades on, Begum is a well-known pimp with a sizeable number of clients. She operates from her two-room apartment and charges at least 500- 600 per client.
“I am happy that my children are well settled now,” says Begum, whose daughter is also into sex trade. She chose this profession, because she finds it an easy way of making money. Begum often visits her elderly mother back home in Calcutta. “Every time I board a train, my stomach churns and I wish I could erase that moment when I left my home,” she says.