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Beauty and the Beast: Trafficking's Friendly Face
|by Linda Chhakchhuak|
Just 17 years old and raring to go, M was offered a chance to work in a beauty parlor in the big metropolis of Mumbai. For a girl from Mizoram, a remote corner in India's north-eastern region, it was a dream come true.
It was during a "live training session" when she was giving a client a head massage that the client asked her to massage his lower back and stomach. "He told me that he would pay me extra," she said. "We were made to sit in a row in the front room of the parlor where clients would pick a girl of their choice to do their massage," she explained.
Already uneasy with the kind of 'beauty job' she was being dragged into, the client's demand frightened M, who ran out of the room and hid upstairs. The servants were sent to bring her down. "I was then scolded by the owners and ordered to massage the client." But she refused. "I screamed and called out for my friend A, (an 18-year-old recruit from a remote village in Mizoram with whom she had travelled to Mumbai) who was working in another room. She came running. I told her that I could not do this job. She was also scared, but massaged the client on my behalf."
Unable to come to terms with their new job, the two young women decided to leave. But how? Coming from less than well-off homes, they had spent a lot of their family's hard-earned money on the travel to Mumbai and the employers refused to pay them their salary and fare. Luckily for M, a distant relative was studying medicine in the city and sponsored their trip back home.
Dozens of young women from the northeast are similarly lured to Mumbai and other big cities such as Bangalore and Delhi. Those with strong family support - like M and A - are able to return home. Yet, there are others who continue to work in dehumanizing conditions. Says M of two of her friends, who stayed on at the 'spa', "The job was not what they expected but they decided to adapt to the situation."
According to the police, many may not have much of a home to return to. After that, it's a small step from the body massaging business to the body-selling trade. "Working in that kind of an environment, it is just a matter of a split-second decision to cross the line. But once it's decided, it's a quick move into the world of full-scale commercial sex," said a police official.
Some might return home in a body bag, as did an unfortunate 21-year-old recently. The deceased was said to have been undergoing 'training' at a beauty parlor in another of India's rapidly Westernizing cities, Kolkata. But an investigation is unlikely - the family would rather bury dirty linen than raise the red flag to caution other young women.
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03/20/2012 14:00 PM