Wednesday, 9 December 1998

Financier is king in coastal Andhra's sex industry


The Indian Express, December 9, 1998
By Syed Akbar
PEDDAPURAM, DEC 8: The "financier" enters Lakshmi's life when she is fined by the court. He is there, outside the court, waiting with the money. She doesn't need to give any guarantee, it just work on ``mutual trust,'' Lakshmi should repay in daily installments with 40 per cent interest. The problem is he never leaves her life.
Nor that of the owner of brothel who bought her on a contract. It was the financier who bankrolled the deal. ``We have to bear the rest of our expenditure like purchase of cosmetics, clothes and medicines and obtaining bail whenever remanded to judicial custody. At times we run short of money. That is when the financiers come to our rescue,'' says Lakshmi (not her real name), a sex worker.
The financiers fund the `companies' and rule the `trade' in the coastal belt of Andhra Pradesh, where sex is an industry and where they use euphemisms from the business lexicon to describe prostitution and related thing. Everyone plays the game according to the financier's rules.
As many as 200 financiers get the sex industry going in the infamous red light areas of East and West Godavari districts. They collect exorbitant interests -- up to 40 per cent -- on the money they lend to ``company owners'', read brothel-owners, and sex workers.
According to insiders, the money involved in the `finance business' here runs into at least Rs 50 crore. The daily turnover is a little over Rs 10 lakh. Such financiers are mainly concentrated in towns such as Peddapuram,Duvva, Tadepalligudem, Tanuku, Velpuru, Rajahmundry and Eluru.
Here's how it works: First, a broker brings the news to a `company' owner about a `new arrival' from a certain place or about the availability of a `fresh face'. The company owner then approaches the financier, who in turn ``personally assesses the quality of the product''.
Only if he is satisfied that the `product' is `saleable' in the market and reimburses the investment along with high profits, the financier hands over the money to the company owner who takes the woman oncontract. The money is repaid in daily installments.
While a middle-aged sex-worker fetches Rs 5,000 on a three-month contract period, those in the teens command as much as Rs 25,000 a month. This investment is borne by the financiers, who recover the money before the contract expires.
The financiers of the sex industry operate from both sides. They finance the company owners as well as sex-workers for their daily needs. While the sum involved is large in the case of company owners, who maintain as many as 25 to 40 sex workers, it is just a few thousand rupees in the case of individual sex-workers.
Whenever the police raid brothels and produce sex-workers before court, the financiers rush there with money. They pay the fine imposed on individual sex-workers and bear the expenditure involved in obtaining bail. Once the sex-workers are free and resume work, the money invested is collected.
In some cases money is advanced towards renovation of brothels with latest luxuries like revolving beds and lovelyrooms with mirrors all around. Some brothels here, a policeman says, beat star hotels in terms of facilities.
G Venkateswara Rao, a financier, proudly says that his area of operation extends to places like Mumbai, where a large number of sex-workers from Andhra Pradesh are holed up. He finances the expenditure incurred by individuals who seek a ``lucrative career'' in Mumbai or northern cities on `contract' for a specified period.
``There is no need for a surety or guarantor. Everything functions smoothly on mutual trust,'' he says.
According to a senior police officer, each financier makes not less than Rs 50,000. Asked why the police did not crack down on the financiers, he expresses helplessness in the absence of complaints. ``Moreover, financing is not a crime,'' he adds.

Monday, 7 December 1998

"We don't want to do it, but who will help us?"


Published in The Indian Express, December 7, 1998
By Syed Akbar
BHIMAVARAM, AP, DEC 6: Such cases do not frequent police records anywhere
else. The cases of missing people, all of them women, all young. In police
stations across East and West Godavari, Krishna, Guntur, Prakasam and
Vishakhapatanam districts of Andhra Pradesh, there are several such cases.
And a thread that runs through them, which ends in the far-away city of
Mumbai.
The police say the cases come when the women sent from local brothels to
big city fail to come back after the end of the contract. And that, for
every reported case, there must be scores of women held hostages in Mumbai
brothels.
According to an unofficial estimate, about 1,000 sex workers from these
parts have either taken shelter or been kept hostage in brothels in Mumbai
and other big cities. There are a few gangs which operate in the coastal
belt of Andhra Pradesh that `export' the women to the cities.
The racket run by organised gangs in the coastal belt came to light last
month when a sex worker, kept hostage in Mumbai after theexpiry of the
contract, managed to pass on the information to the police through a
`customer'. The raids that followed on various brothels in Mumbai freed
four Eluru girls, all kept hostage after the expiry of the one-month
contract.
The Bhimavaram police recently arrested a broker who sold a local sex
worker to a rich man in Mumbai and the crackdown revealed the existence of
at least half a dozen gangs in the town and surrounding areas.
The brothel-owners say that the ``gangs thrive on the desire of
prostitutes to earn more in a short period''. The gangs hire sex workers
on contracts. The contracts range from one month to one year and cost
anything from Rs 1,000 to Rs 10,000.
The gangs approach brothels, select girls, pay money towards the
`contract', take them to far off places and hand them over to the brothel
operators there. After the end of the contract, the sex workers are
brought back and handed over to their relatives. But, as everything goes
according to the ``wish and will'' of the womeninvolved, the gangs rarely
get exposed. Most of the sex workers, engaged on contract system, hail
from two communities.
In a particular community, whose members are mostly involved in flesh
trade, `panchayats' are held to award punishment/fine to the guilty. The
police, in fact, argue that what happened on November 30 at a redlight
area in Eluru was one such panchayat, called to award punishment to a
broker who breached the contract.
The gang steps in with offers of contracts when the `business' gets tough
back home. ``After the local police intensified raids on our brothels, we
lost our livelihood. For three months, we were without money. What shall
we do if we do not yield to these gangs that provide us at least temporary
sustenance?'' says Durgamma (not her real name) who runs a brothel at
Tadepalligudem.
Though exact figures are not available with either the Government or
voluntary bodies, it is estimated that as many as 10,000 women live on the
sex industry in East and West Godavari districts. Mostof them are found
along the Chennai-Calcutta National Highway No 5.
With their communities and families pushing them, more and more young are
entering the trade. Incidentally, all the Eluru girls rescued from the
Mumbai brothel were below 18 years of age.
Ask any sex worker in the coastal belt of Andhra Pradesh and they have
only one reason to be in the profession. ``We do not want to continue in
the profession. But what shall we do in the face of stiff resistance from
within the community? Who will rehabilitate us?'' says one.
While the sex workers continue to live in abject poverty, the middlemen
prosper. ``We cannot do anything unless we receive a complaint from the
affected. As these women and gangs go hand in hand, nothing comes out in
the open. In the absence of documentary proof, we cannot take any
action,'' says an IAS officer.

Sunday, 6 December 1998

Devadasis: Slave to tradition

1998

By Syed Akbar
VIJAYAWADA, DEC 6: Despite the efforts of voluntary organisations to abolish the Devadasi system, it flourishes in the interiors of Andhra Pradesh. Only, the creed of exploiters has changed. Where the Devadasi (servant of God) once served the entire village, she is today a pawn in the hands of influential politicians.
Local politicians in Khammam and Krishna districts organise Bhogam Melas in honour of visiting dignitaries, some of whom are top political leaders. Women are invited and a mela is held in a remote place. The women perform semi-nude or nude dances and entertain the guests after the programme.

The Bhogam and Dommera communities believed that their women were born to ``serve the deity''. Once offered to God as Devadasis, the women became the property of the village. Social circumstances and economic compulsions forced them to leave their profession of serving the deity through their art in various temples of the State, particularly in the Krishna, East and West Godavaridistricts.

The Bhogam community owes its origin to the Devadasi system prevalent in many villages of South India, Andhra Pradesh in particular. The Devadasis are called Bhogams or Kalavanthulu in Krishna and East and West Godavari districts, Matangis in Nellore and Prakasam and Jogins in Telangana.

The girl offered to the temple by the Bhogam community would look after the temple's religious needs.

Dance being considered a form of worship, the girls were trained in various types of the art form. They used to perform before the deity and in the process, entertain the village.

In the last 200 years, the system turned into one of organised prostitution. Some of the Devadasis have taken to the `respectable' profession of `record dancing', giving semi-nude performances during marriages or social gatherings.

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