Friday, 30 November 2007

Tricks of the flesh trade


Published in The Indian Express December 22, 1998
By Syed Akbar
Prostitution. The very mention of this word always conjured up in my mind
the picture of obnoxious women, luring men for filthy lucre and spreading
a myriad diseases. It does not do so any more. Not after my tour of the
red-light areas in East and West Godavari and Guntur districts earlier
this month.
During my interaction with the so-called sex workers in the notorious
areas of the coastal Andhra belt, I found that, behind every "fallen
woman", there was a tearful tale, which words alone cannot tell. I heard
tales of broken marriages and love affairs, of unkept promises, and of
cruel economic or domestic compulsions that made prostitution inescapable.
I am not ashamed to confess that there were tears in my eyes when I heard
the story of Manga (all names changed to protect identity), hardly 12
years old. But she is already two years into the profession. Fair and
slender, she was forced into prostitution by her mother. She is the victim
of the system that runs from generation to generation in hercommunity, one
of the two traditional groups in Andhra Pradesh that thrive on the sex
trade.
Lata, however, is the creation of her lover. A native of Gannavaram on the
outskirts of Vijayawada, she fell in love with a boy. Blinded by his
promises, she yielded to his physical desires. Fearing her parents' wrath,
a pregnant Lata left the house and landed in red-light Peddapuram.
Another woman I came across, Mastanamma, left the `profession' last year.
But her two daughters, aged 24 and 19, are in the flesh trade. Things were
all right when her husband was alive. She used to work in a local factory
and her husband used to run an autorickshaw. But his sudden death pushed
her into an economic quagmire and prostitution.
An interesting trade practice I found was the regular transfer of girls
from one brothel to another. This is done to ensure `fresh stocks' at all
times. Girls from Nellore, Hyderabad, Vijayawada and Visakhapatnam are
brought to East Godavari and vice versa. Some of them go to Mumbai
and Bangalore on `contracts'.
While circumstances have forced many into prostitution, others have
entered it to make a fast buck, as one sex worker confides. This,
according to her, has led to the birth of organised gangs, or `contacts'
in the flesh trade jargon. The affected sex workers are taken away to
Mumbai where the demand for girls from Andhra Pradesh is reportedly high.
These gangs, which serve as a bridge between sex workers and
brothel-owners, hire sex workers on contracts ranging between one month
and one year on payment of anything from Rs 1,000 to Rs 10,000. After the
end of the contract, the sex workers are handed back to their relatives.
The contract system is so foolproof that violators will not go unpunished.
In a particular community, whose members are mostly involved in flesh
trade, even panchayats are held to fine or punish the guilty in other
ways.
The multi-million sex industry in East and West Godavari thrives on a
group of financiers. It is not the brokers, but the financiers whocall the
shots. They finance the owner of the `company' (as a brothel in the
coastal areas is called) as well as sex workers for their daily needs.
Whenever the police raid brothels and produce sex workers before the
court, the financiers rush there with bagfuls of money. They pay the fine
imposed on individual sex workers or the bail amounts.
In some cases, money is advanced towards renovation of brothels with
luxuries like revolving beds and rooms with mirrors all around. Some
brothels beat star hotels in terms of modern facilities.
This is one business, where no surety or a guarantor is needed. Everything
functions smoothly on mutual trust. The woman returns the money after she
takes an advance from the `company'-owner.

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