The Red Light Districts of India
Every time their mother brings a customer home, the children of the prostitutes leave the house in order to escape, for a moment, the murky cycle of the notorious Red Light District of India. The escape means little, as they only go into the streets of the same area, where men walk around looking for sex workers, disrespecting anything and everything that comes in their way. It is an age old and sordid culture that thrives on poverty and is fed by the constant and insatiable demand for sex.
The famous documentary Born Into Brothels won an Oscar for its painful display of the lives of children in one red light district in India. But the Oscar meant little for the estimated 12,000 children in Songachi, who often remained unschooled and find employment in small factories, shops, and cheap eateries. Exposed to drunken men, street brawls and heroin-shooting pimps in one of Asia’s biggest red light districts with 6,000 prostitutes, these employments last only until the kids reach a sufficient age for prostitution, if they are female, or to take on the role of a pimp for boys. In Bombay, children as young as 9 are bought for up to 60,000 rupees, or $2,000, at auctions where Arabs bid against Indian men who believe sleeping with a virgin cures gonorrhea and syphilis.
The virus spreads from the customer to the sex worker, and then to another customer, who will more than likely give the virus to his wife.
Despite India’s outward image of sexual modesty, the scope of prostitution in India’s cities suggests a more complex picture and a troubling one for those attempting to break the cycle of poverty. And like everything else in India, the inexpensive nature and high demand of the business creates a larger market. For customers, typically migrant laborers, cab and rickshaw drivers, and students, a visit to a Falkland Road brothel in Mumbai costs from $2 to $4, or perhaps $10 for a longer meeting. Women working the streets without the brothel structure will turn tricks for $1 or less. The red light district in Mumbai generates at least $400 million a year in revenue, with more than 100,000 prostitutes servicing men 365 days a year, averaging 6 customers a day, at an average of $2 each.
This continuous need for sexual fulfillment in a male dominated culture has also led to the disastrous spread of AIDS in India. In 1997, tests found only 1 percent of Mumbai prostitutes were infected with HIV. Just five years later, 54 percent of the sample tested positive. The virus spreads from the customer to the sex worker, and then to another customer, who will more than likely give the virus to his wife. In places like India, there is no government mandate that your spouse must be informed about any sexually transmitted diseases carried by their mate, therefore, the disease continues to spread like a silent and deadly representation of infidelity.
In places like India, there is no government mandate that your spouse must be informed about any sexually transmitted diseases carried by their mate, therefore, the disease continues to spread like a silent and deadly representation of infidelity.
Sex is a 24/7 industry in these districts, where public and private disease-prevention and social programs are making an effort to control the spread of AIDS, and to help the women unknowingly affected by the HIV virus. Condom distribution, treatment for STDs, and care for the children of infected/deceased prostitutes’ children are provided. Many programs feed and educate these children and provide them a home when their mothers sicken and die. Often these children themselves are HIV positive.
|In the bleak world of commercial sex in India, it is difficult to understand the pressures facing prostitutes, who work there not out of choice but for survival in a country of extreme poverty…|
In the bleak world of commercial sex in India, it is difficult to understand the pressures facing prostitutes, who work there not out of choice but for survival in a country of extreme poverty, which houses overt stigmas against prostitutes that prevents them from breaking the cycle of prostitution in their children. AIDS is a modern disease that has intruded on an ancient culture of commercial sex, where eroticism is enshrined in some of India’s myriad religious traditions.
Without societal support for their rights, many sex workers have begun to create organizations to protect their rights. In 2006, Pakistani sex workers visited India’s Songachi’s Red Light District to meet with Calcutta’s Sex Workers’ Association, to understand how to battle HIV and other STDs. It was unbelievable to the delegation [from Pakistan] that Sonagachi’s sex workers refuse sex without a condom even in the face of physical torture, Majid Rani, who led the Pakistani team.
One of the most recent and most respectable outcomes of these associations is a conference in which they created a network to prevent women being targeted by human trafficking gangs. The network would be run through a special website, and would focus on women at risk in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
What Can We Do?
Of course, with each problem we here at SAPNA try to help our readers look towards solutions. One of the key ways to help alleviate the cycle of prostitution in India is simply to understand that these women are not the lowly castes that want to participate in sex with strangers. It is natural for most South Asians to react negatively if ever faced with a sex-worker, but it is important to understand their circumstances in order to help solve the problem. â€” Benish Shah
There are numerous organizations in India and Pakistan working to educate the children of these prostitutes in order to give them the freedom and dreams that they displayed in Born into Brothels. Here are some organizations:
Planned Parenthood in India
Association for India’s Development
Asha for Education
South Asian Women’s Network
1. Robert I. Freidman, “India’s Shame: Sexual Slavery and Political Corruption Are Leading to An AIDS Catastrophe,” The Nation, 8 April 1996
3. Robert I. Freidman, “India’s Shame: Sexual Slavery and Political Corruption Are Leading to An AIDS Catastrophe,” The Nation, 8 April 1996