WHAT DO COMMERCIAL SEX WORKERS WANT?

On World Day Against Trafficking in Persons: The ARZ team launched a national campaign seeking to change society’s perception of commercial sex workers in the country with a four-set series of video clips.
Picture shows (l to r) Dr Mariette, Dr Shaila, Dr Vijay, Arun, Dr Sharon, Mithilesh and Manisha

By Pankajbala R Patel

July 30 was ‘World Day Against Trafficking in Persons’ including women who are arguably the largest group being trafficked, sexually used and abused in India, along with children

SAY it is the oldest profession in the world when it comes to the exploitation of women. In other more enlightened countries the laws to do with commercial sex have come a long way, but not in India where laws may only too easily be sidelined and rarely implemented in the letter and spirit of the law (Immoral Trafficking & Prevention Act of 1986, Domestic Violence Act of 2005). According to the Ministry of Women & Child Welfare there are an estimated three million female sex workers in India (2007 survey).
The general public perception is that if a woman sells her body for money she is engaged in “ganda kaam” or comes from a lower class and she has nothing better to do! If she is a beautiful educated call girl operating solo on her own she probably enjoys her job and makes money while the going is good. She is even envied for her lifestyle even if she is dubbed pretty woman and someone to look down on and sneer at.
These are common perceptions but the ground realities are different. It was `World Day Against Trafficking in Persons” on July 30, 2018 and the Vasco-based NGO, Arz (Anyay Rahit Zindagi) launched a national campaign called — Me Too Victim of Sex Trafficking — by introducing a WhatsApp link of documentary series called Mandi to depict the truth about a commercial sex worker (CSW).
The Mandi series comprise of four documentaries sectioned as Helpless, Commodity, Opportunities and Misunderstood, testify to the kind of conditions and situations in which sex workers work, most appeal for basic human rights while recounting their stories. The short, eloquent documentaries filmed in a stream of consciousness mode, confirm that the commercial sex scenario in a by and large patriarchal India, continues to victimize young women who are exploited at various stages of life in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Goa.
According to ARZ director Arun Pandey amongst the girls rescued from trafficking by them as much as 15% were Goan girls. The main traffickers operate from outside Goa but run their businesses with the help of local playrs in Goa. The ARZ documentaries recount how most commercial sex workers come from impoverished rural backgrounds and how they fell prey to offers of lucrative jobs in a big city. What followed was rape, sale to brothel owners and blackmail into trading their bodies for a living. Sex trafficking continues to be the bane of commercial sex in India despite the law against trafficking of women.
Speaking at the meet-cum-seminar to discuss the issue Prof Vijay Raghavan of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences said that while brothel-based prostitution is easing out in the country, “the flesh trade continues via social media.” Here it is more difficult to catch the traffickers. In the old red-light areas NGOs could conduct raids if cases of new victims were reported and the girls rescued and helped to return to their homes. Where again whether they may be accepted back or not is another sad story!
The ARZ documentaries seek to help change society’s negative perceptions about commercial sex workers. Most of them come into the trade involuntarily and suffer the consequences of being teenage mothers or catch HIV. They are vulnerable to various cruelties by clients who do not use protection during sex and want indulgence in violent, deviant sexual acts.
The four documentaries bring out the pain and poignancy of women trapped in a livelihood they wouldn’t choose voluntarily if given better choices. Impoverishment and lack of education work against them and perhaps many had romantic illusions initially that that some kind hearted client would marry them if they are good (and look at how Hindi cinema has glorified the image of the “tawaif” or prostitute in films like Devdaas, Pakeeza, Umrao Jaan)!
Once in the trade most sex workers accept their “pesha” but they still want to spare their children and seek education and a better future for them. Not to mention health care, legal advice and the right to veto a customer if they don’t like him. Unfortunately, there are few happy stories. The grim reality is that after being used and abused for years they are left to fend for themselves in stressful situations. Commercial sex exists the world over but in more enlightened countries like the Netherlands and other European countries, they have excess to health services and government-funded programs to bring up their children, and even look for other options if they want to stop trading their bodies for a living. Men patronizing sex workers use condoms compulsorily.
In many countries there are very sophisticated sex parlours where men (and women!) may hire a host of services to indulge their sexual fantasies with the use of useful sex toys and games. In India commercial sex continues to be one of the largest businesses in the unorganised sectors, but is still prey to the evils which destroy the lives of women engaged in trading their bodies for money. They get trapped in tragedies of emotional, social and financial nature and trafficking cartels abandon once their earning potential has run out. Commercial sex workers are exploited till their lives are beyond retrieving.
NGOs like Arz in Goa do their best to run interference by rescuing young women trapped in prostitution, providing them legal advice and counselling and even jobs (in Vasco there is a laundry which employs rehabilitated sex workers). But as program officer of GSACS Asha Vernekar observed, most of these used and abused women suffer from low self-esteem because the perception is that once their virtue has been “spoiled” society looks down on them like they are criminals and not human beings!
Most sex workers would happily quit trading their bodies for money if there were more rehabilitation programs in society which would ensure them decently paid jobs and most of all they seek a decent home of their own to live in peace and bring up their children. The meet-cum-seminar was organized by the Arz team comprising of Monika S Kshatriya, co-ordinator Juliana Lohar and other volunteers and media people from Centre for Criminology & Justice, TISS, Goa University, Carmel and Don Bosco institutions.
(Note: The ARZ documentaries may be viewed on the ARZ YouTube channel at goo.gl/dVuonv)

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