When I read in the international section of the newspaper a couple of days after Mr. Naipaul won the Nobel Prize for literature, he had explicitly thanked the prostitutes who had kept him company during his lonely spells.
Being the judgmental Indian, I automatically classified him into a set of people who had chosen to be open without bearing a thought to his image and personal integrity taking a beating (I wonder if that happened at all with celebrities anyway). At the same time I was curious about these mysterious women who were socially unacceptable, yet evoking interest of the commoners for different reasons.
They were especially brought to the limelight after India was identified as one of the foremost countries where the incidences of AIDS were increasing in India and numerous contributions started pouring in with Bill gates contribution being the most highly publicized one.
I realized that I had subconsciously started looking for information on them. I had caught glimpses of women on T V and magazines who were dressed garishly with makeup that made them look older than their actual ages peering out from dirty corridors in buildings. I read gory articles about teenage girls abducted against their will or sold by their poverty stricken parents who felt that they would be assured of a better life by working as domestic help in the future employersï¿½ houses. However when they landed in Mumbaiï¿½s Falkland road and resisted the new profession, they were imprisoned without food and water, beaten badly, privacy invaded by inserting a stick smeared with chilli powder and then repeatedly raping her. This account was more than enough to awaken the spirit in a dead person.
This was just one instance of how they were initiated into the trade. I was curious about what next. After they had accepted the profession and were swept into days and nights of working. Did their life become the cloistered world of survival among peers? Were they happy at any point later or did each day pass with misery? What about their health aspects, how educated were they about the life threatening disease that they were exposed to by the minute and whether they took charge of their life at any time or were they dependant on social workers and others to force them to take action.
My questions were answered when I chanced on a documentary and some articles. This documentary had some protagonists each from different parts of India. For a change this documentary did not have faceless people talking shyly with their faces blurred digitally. The story covered the day to day events in their lives. Some events were amusing; heart rendering and others were downright serious.
The woman who expressed herself the best was Shabana. She had a very likeable character and hailed from a district in Maharashtra in India. She had agreed to do the documentary only if it would not be broadcast on national TV but shown to a select audience and this was announced by the narrator at the beginning of the screening. I imagined a shy, distressed and battered woman. Surprise surprise! She happened to be a very mature woman, with a great sense of humor and having a good set of values and discipline herself. She started off by saying you people dote such a lot of Bollywood film stars but in my opinion they also move around with men dance, sing, get wet in the rain and seduce them, and lead lifestyles that does not necessarily come under the socially acceptable mode how is it different in any way from what were are doing except that we charge for the services. In a way she had made her point.
Later on she explained her routine in which every day in the morning, she along with her cronies started moving towards the fields, where she kept bed sheets and condoms on trees. Surprised when the narrator asked her as to why she was doing this to which she replied that this was the place that she frequents with ï¿½customersï¿½. I realized that the word customers were used for the men who were serviced. Later in the evening, when she markets herself to the customers this was the place where she normally would bring them and as generally they were unprepared, it was wise to stock all these items on trees she explained.
Next she was also exclaiming about how some customers felt that they didnï¿½t want to wear condoms and in fact she persuaded him to do so. She won in persuading some but she did mention as how some other women donï¿½t really insist on it as they feel that they could not afford to loose out on the money (around Rs 50) in case they refused. Survival was rampant here too.
The other woman whom life was shared was elderly who was earlier in the profession. She had been abandoned by her husband, and she joined the trade to support herself and her mother-in- law. When she was being interviewed, she showed no signs of being ashamed or embarrassed. She showed her snapshot when she was in her prime and added that she was an excellent dancer and a small time actress. She had lot of people who claimed her attention but later on a particular man became more possessive of her and she stopped entertaining others. They aged together and the love and mutual respect that they have for each other was obvious. Even now the man appeared boldly in front of the camera where in the sunset of their lives too they are together; though they donï¿½t live together they have a good companionship going and a fantastic relationship through the years. Though earlier treating ignoring her, the manï¿½s family has accepted her in time. The man said ï¿½Nobody can say that she is not a normal women as she is always surrounded by children and she loves them and prepares their favorite food for them and they call her dadiï¿½.
Now Shabana and the elderly women participated in a rally along with other sex workers to bring awareness about AIDS. Shabana in a press conference told a story about how she was constantly harassed by the people of her village to leave her house/village and when she went to the police station to lodge a complaint, the men there also used abusive language.
There is now a demand being made by the Indian prostitutes to legalize the profession. They claim that some very important things will be set right. By giving a license first of all the money will be reaching the right hands. Secondly, a tab can also be kept on the health issues, like in the South East Asia where it is legalized, every two weeks the sex worker is tested for AIDS and she carried a certificate regarding her health. There can be easy and constant monitoring with respect to many issues. Unfortunately a hypocrite attitude has prevented any regulation.
The first thing that I felt was that we should start accepting people as they are. They are no different in their dreams, emotional quotient, relationships, fears etc compared to a normal woman. Also the world can be complete and total when it included people who need not have led normal experiences. Our changed attitude to this section of society can mark a beginning to realization and making important changes in the minutest way possible.