Everyone called her Amma, and I was too young to discern what a ‘pimp’ was at the time. I was 14 years old, recently orphaned after my single mother passed away from dengue hemorrhagic fever, and I had absolutely nowhere else to go. Amma took me into her brothel, provided me with a room, some clothes & two meals a day. In the beginning, I just saw all the other women in there taking random men into their respective rooms after Amma had a chat with them & a few obscure cash transactions. One fine day, she said to me – “Kal se tere shift bhi start, chokri.” I couldn’t fathom sleeping with any of those men – I had seen the kind. Drunkards, drug-addicts, impudent college students, frustrated husbands & those insolent police constables from across the street. And maybe I was not ready to lose my virginity just yet, especially not in this way.
So that night, as soon as an opportunity presented itself, I escaped and ran. It was midnight, and thankfully I spotted a decent middle-aged man entering his house. As soon as he saw me, he asked “Beta, yeh kya hua aapko? Should I call the police for you?” – I didn’t have a very high opinion of the policemen I had seen at the time, so I insisted on not going to the Police station. He said that his wife is at home upstairs, and that she’ll take care of me till morning if I’d like. And so, I followed him into his house upstairs.
“Aunty andar bedroom mein so rahi hai. Paani piyogi, beta?” – I should have caught a hint there – there was no “aunty” inside, but I had to pay a very big price for being so naïve. Within the next twenty minutes, he stuffed a handkerchief into my mouth, forcefully tied my hands to the sofa arm-rest & raped me. Twice. I remember how much I wanted to scream, but just couldn’t. I can still hear his voice, clear as it was, just as the clock struck 4:25 am.
“Chal nikal yahan se.”
I was defeated. I had nowhere to go in that state of mind, except back to Amma. I expected her to beat me up with that stick of hers the moment she saw me return back after the escape. Instead, she saw me in my torn clothes, handed me a glass of water, then gave me a faint sarcastic smile.
“Kapde hi farwaane the, toh yahin farwaane the na? Kamse kam kuch paise toh mil jaate. Ab toh ban gayi na tu aurat?” Apparently, that’s what was passed off as being an “aurat” – losing your virginity.
And so, I was one of Amma’s ‘star girls’. A fixed rate of 600 Rupees an hour, she handed me just 150 out of the total share – “Jaa Fatima, ek laal lipstick khareed le baaju waali cosmetic aaii se. Chehra tip-taap chahiye hamesha.” As the years went by, I got accustomed to this lifestyle. I had repeat customers, some who switched to younger girls as the ‘fresh ones’ came in. And they always came in.
Whenever the cash registers seemed to be deprived of ink, she sent us out to parade the streets. “Tujhse zyada jawaan chokriyaan hain ab mere paas. Mehnat karna shuru karle, nahi to sadak ko ghar banaane ke din aajayenge tere.”
I once remember some woman in her twenties who came to speak to Amma from some NGO about conducting a session in here regarding HIV information for sex workers such as ourselves, and about the use of protection & understanding our rights. “Ye sab idhar nahi chahiye, madam. Dhandhaa band mat karwao mera. Chalo niklo.” Amma literally pushed her out of the premises, and that lady was never seen around here ever after.
Amma never listens. An extra 200 Rs, and she lets them have their way with us with absolutely no protection. Most of the men I’ve been with never bothered with condoms, and I was not allowed to protest. “Do whatever you can to show them a good time. Wapas aate rehne chahiye, bas.”
I must have slept with over seventy men by now, and have just accepted myself for who I am. Had a rather interesting young man come in last week – said he was an aspiring reporter, and just wanted to merely talk about some things rather than jumping into bed with me. He seemed more interested in talking about Sulekha, another one of Amma’s ‘star girls’, who had just about had enough and committed suicide last week two rooms beside mine. The incident had created quite a stir in the local newspapers the next day, but was hushed up rather quickly after that.
“Kya jaanna chahte ho uske baare mein? Sulekha saw no end to this life, so she hung herself. She was just weak. Amma paise de rahi thi, dhandhaa chal raha tha – lekin nahi. Usko toh pankhe se lattakna hi sahi laga.” I blurted out.
“How can you be so insensitive? She was your friend & she killed herself!” He exclaimed, looking rather perplexed.
“Yeh dhandaa aisa hi hai, saheb. I learnt early on that it wasn’t for the faint-hearted. Humlog ko saari duniya ek hi nazariye se dekhti hai. Ab chaahe ‘prostitute’ bolo, ya ‘r**di’ – it’s just a label. Yahan se nikal ke mehelon ke sapne dekhne ki aukaat nahi hai humari. Usko lagta tha ki koi shehzaada aake usko yahan se leke jayega, aur uski zindagi badal jayegi. Bhool gayi thi woh, ki hum to apne sapno ko bhi apne jism ke saath bech aaye hain.”
I smoked the beedi which is always kept on the side-table, as a kind gesture for our ‘guests’ incase they ever feel the need to smoke one. He expressed disbelief at my words, and I honestly couldn’t care less. At this point, this life has consumed me completely. Perceptions won’t change, the world won’t change – I have just learnt to suffocate my dreams.
“Ab kuch karna bhi hai tumko, ya main jaaon?”
Written by Prakhar Prabhakar
Note: The stigma associated with sex workers often restricts their access to basic healthcare & other facilities. Through the above fictional paragraphs, I wanted to showcase the mindset of a sex-worker from an early age and how it changes over the various course of events in her life. Some of the instances stated above have been inspired by stories of real people who have undergone similar occurrences, although a majority of it can be termed as fiction. A very important reason for explaining a sex worker’s mindset in a country such as ours is to understand that we reside in a society which does not even remotely bother with HIV and STD camps for such people – most of which entered these lives due to sheer helplessness at an early age, and simply know no way out of it. They are looked down upon, but that hardly means they don’t have the right to understand the magnitude of the horror that these sexually transmitted diseases bring along with them. Some NGOs work towards explaining how important it is to insist for protection & understanding your rights even where you stand, but until these movements gain enough momentum to reach these people & the government looks beyond the stigma and takes some steps along these lines, I’m afraid most of these people would have lost out on the fighting chance that they rightfully deserve as human beings.