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Plight of prostitutes in Kolkata
Prostitution is growing rapidly in India. West Bengal alone accounts for 26 per cent of the total number of prostitutes in the country. Most of the girls are forced into the profession. The society should be aware of their story.

PROSTITUTION, AS a profession, is growing rapidly in India. According to the Human Rights Watch, there are approximately 15 million prostitutes in India. West Bengal alone accounts for 26 per cent of the total number of prostitutes in the whole country. Girls from villages are lured with jobs and tricked into the profession. Through the ages prostitutes have been shunned and reviled by society in general, and their punishments included stoning, whipping, branding, imprisonment, and death. Their clients, on the other hand, are rarely touched by the law.

Sonagachi, situated in north Kolkata, is Asia’s largest red-light area. In a recent internship with a non- governmental organisation (NGO), I was fortunate enough to visit the place and interact with the commercial sex workers (CSWs). The population of CSWs in Sonagachi constitutes of Nepalese, Indians and Bangladeshis. Most of them in the age group of 16 – 25 are trafficked into prostitution by their family, relatives or boyfriends.

Depending on their looks, these girls have different levels of income. The dark skinned and the not so good looking ones earn as low as Rs 20 to Rs 30 per customer. While their fair skinned, young, good looking counterparts earn as high as Rs 2000 per client. But they need to pay a portion of their income to their malkins, or the brothel owners. The list doesn’t end here. Their husbands and the police both demand parts of their income.

I asked Dolly (name changed), barely in her 20s, why she joined the profession and if she was forced to join it. She narrated that she had got married according to her parents wish, but within a month, her husband left her at Sonagachi so that she can earn money and he comes back every week to collect money from her and in case if she doesn’t wish to give him the money she has to undergo immense physical torture.

Pari (name changed) had another sad story. After her husband, a daily wage labour, eloped with another woman, she joined a construction site as a labour with a pay of Rs 100 a day. But her job turned into pleasing the men working in the site, every day, starting from the lowest rung workers to the highest rung promoters. "It’s better to come here and earn the same amount from each customer than earning it from a group of men," laments Pari.

Khushboo, a 23-year-old Nepali girl said, "My father sold me when I was 15 and since then I am working here." Many young girls from Nepal are sold in these places by their own parents. And the sole reason is poverty. Their families are unable to repay loans borrowed from moneylenders. As a result, they sell their daughters so that they can help the family financially.

Most of them are in this profession for food. A CSW, who is a mother of two doesn’t know where to feed her children from. Her husband doesn’t want to work so she had to sell her body to feed her children. Many of the girls, who come from areas near the Bangladesh border said that their husbands and in-laws knew what they did but didn’t have any objection since they are the only earning members of the family. Their husbands are mostly too lazy to work. So they send their wives forcefully. Moreover, they are tortured if they show unwillingness to give money for their alcohol.

Along with these women, their children also suffer as they grow in the same environment. Many sex workers have brought in their daughters along with them in the profession. But Nandini, a 25- year-old prostitute has sent her two children in a posh boarding school. Her children know that their mother works in the city but are unaware of her profession.

At a time when West Bengal is opening its door to new economies and the IT sector is booming, why is the society so cruel to this unfortunate lot? People from all ranks of the society visit them. Starting from police, to politicians, businessmen to college students all take pleasure from them but still no one cares for them.

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