Goa, the land of beaches, the hot favorite holiday destination of the whole country, the hippies’ haven in the 1970’s, the chosen spot for foreign tourists…! Amongst the innumerable exotic locations famous among tourists…the beaches are so loved ‘coz there’s sea, there’s sand, there is drink & there is fun…!!! There was but one beach, that had an additional entertainment. Until a few months ago, Baina beach, which lies along with several little hutments where paid sex used to be available at the rate of peanuts, was a thickly populated area. 10-35… how old would you like her…? 50 INR to 1500 INR, how much would you think she deserves? The women were of all kinds. This beach belt sheltered thousands of women who were victims of family bereavement, poverty, exploitation and several others of trafficking. Dwelling and making a living along with them were thousands of small time vendors, bar men and business men. During 70’s people had witnessed Baina making money in foreign currency…hippies, sailors, tourists…domestic as well as foreign flocked in huge numbers…to freak out. Local folk term it as a “Multi million dollar industry.” The port town of Goa was famous for this infamous red light area. Now, it is history just another forgotten story and the state of Goa is witnessing re-organization of sex work which is quite inevitable in a tourist destination. Baina was the alleged carrier of the HIV virus. The sex workers were blamed as the sole cause for the increase in the spread of HIV/AIDS. It was the so-called hub of crime as well. There were several NGO’s already doing their best to educate and empower sex workers. Years of hard work and successful interventions had shown good results. As a social health care worker, when I had first stepped in this region, for a research, there was huge crisis in Baina. It was not like what the women would recollect and tell me…two long & dry years had passed since the bars had been shut down and there were cops all around to prevent men visiting this prohibited place. The issue of evicting these alien women was in the agenda of the State since 1996. I wonder what the government would have done if they were local women, because a majority of these women belonged to the neighboring south Indian states where poverty and exploitation of women were too prevalent. There was sex work going on in quite a few regions along the coastal belt all over the state which never made huge news! But Baina…sometimes for child prostitution, others, for cases of trafficking was always in the head lines. 14 June, 2004 was the day when the state took that drastic step of demolishing these hutments firstly because the constructions were illegal, and secondly because they were being used for sex work. 30 years of stay in the state had still branded them as outsiders and encroachers and the eviction order passed said that these women should be deported to their native state which sensibly is utterly unconstitutional. The same government had been happily collecting taxes on the so-called illegally constructed hutments, electricity and water bills and we all know what revenue this brings in to the state. There was hue and cry over the tailored temporary rehabilitation package of the government which was accompanied by rumors, and confusions. No body talked of employment opportunities or even self income generation programs for these women. Even after so much ado created by activists, the bull dozers razed the hutments to ground rendering thousands of people, a majority who were no way connected to the flesh trade… young & old, pregnant women & toddlers, homeless! To facilitate the process, people were abused, thrashed & beaten up. As a witness to the agony faced by these women just before & during this threat I bring to light the other side of the coin, the human side of the story! I was pained by the uncertainty and fear of these women who never knew, until they faced the imbroglio, what was in store for them.
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ITS NOT ALL ABOUT BUCKS….ITS NOT ALL FAST NOR EASY
(Names of the women are changed on request)
She was at the end of her tether. Giving a terse reply to my questions she said, “I felt the same way 8 years ago when my husband had died”. With three little daughters, she then had become the only bread winner of the family. Today a lot of things had changed. For Jothi, a school drop out, married at 13, being a single mother was not easy. She recollects how she relentlessly slogged as a house maid for fifteen bucks a day in her home town in Andhra Pradesh, a huge state in southern India. “Why don’t you take up a decent job?” people asked her during frequent interviews and surveys done by different organizations. While she worked as a maid, the land lord would misbehave with her and often force her to entertain his guests.
She still remembers the humiliation and being beaten up for rebelling against molestation. Recalling a trifle sadly, she had said “This was the so called contract in a plastic manufacturingfactory… my neighbor had promised me in Goa. When she offered me a job I was so desperate that I did not give it a second thought. She landed me up here”.
She had become a commodity now and she found out that the woman who brought her here had sold her for fifty thousand bucks….. “By the time I repaid my price to the brothel owner I had no other option but to continue what I was doing. It’s a house with no back door to escape”
Jothi has lived a life that destiny has chosen for her. Dirty, she admits, “But I am not anymore humiliated. I am financially self sufficient” She had got two of her daughters who were with her parents, married recently. It was not at all easy for Jothi to kill her conscience but with a hungry stomach and three little daughters who were growing up and equally vulnerable, she had no choice.
People would call her a prostitute, a dirty woman, a commodity……..but now, I could see the other half of her personality too….a vulnerable, desperate and a helpless woman, a responsible single mother, an honest person and a good human being I could not help but change my opinion about “such women”.
There was crisis in Baina, as some women kept complaining, Jothi started volunteering to cook for an old woman who was running a hotel and slowly asked her for a job. She was soon cooking for 1500 bucks a month in the hotel….she would chat with me keeping her hands going with cutting the veggies. “I am 35 now.I had to find myself an alternate, anyways!” she replied. she had adapted herself to the circumstances.
Notices had been served already and Jothi was much tensed. “If I had not to collect money to pay to my daughter’s in-laws I would happily go back. I had promised them. Within six months how am I going to collect Rs.50, 000…..forget it Am I going to have my supper tonight?” she was enduring the uncertainties and wondered what future had in store for her and her family. Now she is gone forever and I know wherever she shall go, she will stand for herself & fight against the destiny and being a sex worker has not decried her in my eyes.
DOES LIFE GIVE A SECOND CHANCE TO AN UNFORTUNATE WOMAN???
Yes, would have been my answer…but after I saw this young bubbly girl hardly into adulthood standing on the street with shattered dreams, broken heart and a broken house I would not dare to answer this question. Renuka was an 18 year old lass a motherless child whose drink sodden father would force her to work and bring home some money. Longing for a father-figure, the emotional hunger and security, she invested her emotions in Rahul.
Too young to understand the importance of a legal wed lock, she took Rahul’s word as a promise to marry her. After 6 months of a live-in relationship Rahul had suddenly absconded leaving her in surprise and pain. She found her way to Bombay. This young Uneducated girl took up the job of a bar waitress. She switched on to dancing in the beer bar and when the competition rose, a friend brought her to the red light area.
Always well-oiled whenever I saw her, she would shower loads of respect for anyone who talks to her. A bad childhood and lack of family support had rendered Renuka hay wire. Just a week before her world turned topsy turvy, she was pregnant and as happy as a child all over again. “Do you know, you should no more drink?” I had asked her. “I will no more, I don’t need to. I am not alone. Look, that’s my man”, she had told me blushing and showing me a pair of anklets he had gifted her. I wondered if she would really abstain from consuming alcohol. The profession was too humiliating for any woman to take with a conscious mind, I guess. I was surprised to see her fresh as a blossoming flower the next day having a glass full of milk. That was the kind of will power she possessed. Love had changed her life. She was no more working. She must have been celebrating her motherhood…only if things didn’t change too fast for her.
“Is it true?” she asked. I knew that things that were being told were too hard to believe. “We have no place to go”, she said. She was an ardent believer of Christ and said that He would save her. Morning sickness showed up on her face and she needed care. Before she could cope with her sickness and celebrate her motherhood like she had dreamt there she was on the footpath, all her belongings wrapped up in plastic bags. Her so-called husband, the going-to- be father of her unborn child…of her unfulfilled dreams…had asked her to go her way since he could not afford to take care of them. Renuka was scandalized! She wandered near the demolished house, took refuge in the temporary shelter arranged by some NGO’s. The bubbly young girl was transformed into an impulsive & gloomy female. Destiny had shown her the naked truth of a sex worker’s life… “I will not give up my baby and the rest I don’t know” was what she said spontaneously when she saw me for the last time.
SEX WORKER BUT STILL A WOMAN & A GOOD HUMAN!
“How was she? Clad in a short skirt, skimpy shirt…with red lipstick? What all does she do to entice? She would do anything for money?” She would definitely dress to entice…but would not do just anything for money. Priya was a calm and composed girl. She was compassionate towards other girls. During our sessions to educate women about the importance of diagnosing silent infections of the reproductive tract to avoid long term consequences that alter a woman’s sexual and reproductive health, she would patiently listen. Such an open minded person, she was unhesitant to talk about myths that exist among sex workers about various issues related to sexual health. She would encourage her friends who would shy away, to talk to me.
I was reminded of a friend of mine who was a post graduate yet she would call sex education “DIRTY”! I realized how much she likes these dirty talks when I accidentally found a pornographic magazine on her table.
Such a hypocrite! Priya proved to me that it is more important to be honest than to camouflage yourself for false respect.
She did it for a living. Money made many things for her. What she did was of course, for money. The other day it was a different girl I saw. Priya was shouting at Harry, who had abused her for a petty argument at the hotel. She did not take loss of self respect. Harry was a notorious man. Not worried about the repercussions, she fought up with him and fired him for misbehaving with her.
Prostitution is the oldest profession. It existed since time immemorial. It is prevalent in every sphere where the homo-sapien species is available. Every person who talks about this profession whether good or bad has to understand that these decent life talkers are those who are filled to stomach. It is this huge disparity between the rich and the poor that is the root cause of all evil. Exploitation of the poor has made the rich richer and the poor, poorer…! Can a woman have become a prostitute all herself? Is it not the lustful man who has given scope for prostitution to flourish? If sex is just a biological necessity of a human being…why do people not look into themselves and then talk of moral values. If these moral values and the elimination of dirt, that people are celebrating now are true in the light of your own self-conscience then how did Baina flourish since 1960’s or even earlier?
If people are so embarrassed with the presence of Baina in a state like Goa, how did the crowd in Baina increase four fold during festivals in Goa? Who is responsible for the birth of Baina red light area? The society or at least a part of it is! Will deporting of Baina sex workers or demolishing their cubicles(hutments) ensure the end of prostitution in Goa? Is it the effective way of preventing the spread of the deadly virus? It is not just Baina…the sexual network is a cob web spread across the whole state which is undisputedly run by the rich and the powerful. Rendering such desperate and vulnerable women who need health care, counseling and proper guidance to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS is definitely the wrong way of making the state free of disease and fear.
The governments, both at the center and the State who have ample time to make huge five year plans and projects have to take the task of eradicating the root cause of prostitution, poverty and exploitation of women under their wings and work towards sensibly rehabilitating these women considering their life style. The government needs to understand the difference between rehabilitating criminals and rehabilitating sex workers who are definitely uneducated but long for decent lives. There have been funds allocated for this by various authorities as reliable sources say but nothing has really happened on this front since the rampant corruption prevailing in the government & the vested interests have not made it possible. It is not an overnight task and will need the governments and the society and every concerned citizen to bring about this social change. And there are several examples in countries like Thailand and Senegal which have legalized prostitution and have shown excellent results in combating the main enemy- the virus.
I am a woman, a writer and a social worker. This is my voice against exploitation. I am also concerned about young girls being lured into flesh trade. Despite several successful interventions, a lot of sex workers are still being exploited. There are groups which are very much vulnerable to HIV. Programs on Awareness care and support for people living with HIV and also these high risk groups has not reached the real needy. There is need for empowering these women and to help the willing to opt out of this vicious circle with better rehabilitation plans and income generation programs with thorough training. It is extremely unfair to blame these poor & vulnerable women for this industry to climb to uncontrollable heights. After all, everyone has a right to earn their living!
By Sireesha V.Deol