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.

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