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The Indian Sex Industry: Perturbed, Pressured and Poignant
The multimillion dollar sex industry in India is a boon for the masterminds running it. In the bargain for minting money what’s sidelined is the health and human rights of the workers who end up in the wallows of extreme poverty and social stigma.

A DARK GLOOM hovers over the red light area of New Delhi. Hundreds of women stare out of dingy pigeonholes with preening eyes. Who will be their next client, what will they experience and if here is a hope for them when they cross the age of 35 and experience the hatred and stigma pushed on them by society?


Most sex workers in the country are victims of poverty, guilt, sexually transmitted diseases and live a life that is worse than death. They succumb to dire circumstances and have no platform to voice their concerns. They are constantly subjugated to violence and abuse and their plight is never-ending. 


Welcome to Kamathipura, a flourishing red light district in Mumbai. This is the hub of the AIDS epidemic in India which affects more than four and a half million people. Over 60,000 sex workers live in Kamathipura and more than 50 per cent of them are HIV positive.


The sex workers in these areas have been sold by their family members or have been tricked in the trade. Their lives lay barren and ragged. They are victims of the society as well as of those who use them for a few minutes of physical saturation. What goes unnoticed is the quandary and challenges faced by these women. 


Chanda, a sex worker from Delhi says, “There are good times as well as bad ones. It entirely depends upon the kind of customer one is to get for the night. Sometimes we get Rs 100 for a night while on other occasions it may vary from Rs 75 to 250.”


The rates are higher if sex is offered to the client without a condom which often results in transmitting of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD). The rates are higher for younger girls who are the worst victims. Many of them have been trafficked from other countries while others have been sold by their own fathers and uncles.


Sitara tried to escape a number of times but gave up thinking about where she would go and what she would do. The families of these girls would not accept them as they are considered to be a stigma on society and they are left with barely any means to start living an earnest life.


Several workers become hostages when they are kidnapped unaware of the threats imposed on them. They are forced into the flesh trade and then brainwashed by the local pimps and Madams running the brothels. They have nowhere to go except for the sex industry, the only community that is ready to accept them.


Ram Prakash Rai, an activist with Savera foundation says, “After the sex workers have no means to generate revenue and are no longer in demand they have absolutely no means to earn a livelihood. Taking this into account we provide them with vocational trainings and help them stand on their feet. We motivate them to start their own businesses and encourage them to become activists.”


“The Police are the biggest gundas”, Says Manju. “They catch us and then demand we have sex with them in order to pay them off for our release.”


Several debated and moralistic arguments have been given to favour and oppose legitimizing sex work in India. According to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), sex work is not illegal. It is the trafficking of women and children for the purpose of making them sex workers, violence and abuse that are illegal. The law does not prohibit anyone from having sex for money, what is prohibited is living off the income of a sex worker and pleading in public for sex work.


It is not the red light districts that carry an aura of lamentation, but it is about the increase in AIDS victims that has caused a ripple in the already troubled waters of sex trade in India. It has become necessary for introducing sex workers with their rights and values. One cannot condemn or look down upon them simply because they are part of the flesh trade. After all, who victimizes them? Clients visiting these red light areas are often businessmen, fathers, husbands and lovers. They need to see a bigger picture which exposes them to the realities of life.


In the Kamasutra, as explained by Vatsayana, prostitution was not considered disgraceful. Every prostitute was prized by her lover and had a code of conduct she needed to adhere too. She enjoyed a position of power and could refuse her lover at her will.


In the days of the Nawabs, Lucknow’s prostitutes were regarded as those possessing high intellect and manners. They were especially appointed to impart etiquette training to the sons and daughters of the rich Nawabs. 


Today, the industry’s commercialization and ruthlessness has degenerated its social appearance. It is covered with the grime of lust, ravage and has become a crude form of soul trade. It is important for us to address the myths and whims associated with sex workers and we need to wake up as a nation to fend ourselves from the clutches of ignorance.


The red light district of Kolkata has the lowest AIDS rate in the country. This is the outcome of various organizations that have come to the rescue of the sex workers there. The use of the condom needs to be made essential for the sex workers. They have the power to refuse their client if he insists on unprotected sex. But the biggest plight faced by the workers is lack of awareness and no means to access their rights.


The India sex industry needs a revolution. It needs to be re created by introducing rights for the welfare of sex workers and their families. Their interests need to be safeguarded and the implementation of rights needs to be looked into.


There are thousands of stories that need to be heard. The heart wrenching difficulties and humiliation suffered by the sex workers needs attention. What we mustn’t forget is that even they are human beings and have the right to a dignified life. If someone falls prey to unfortunate circumstances, is it correct on our part to make them criminals.




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