Date: Fri, 1 Aug 97 11:23:25 CDT
From: rich@pencil (Rich Winkel)
Subject: Prostitution in India: The Twilight Zone

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** Topic: Prostitution in India: The Twilight Zone **
** Written 11:33 PM Jul 31, 1997 by mmason in cdp:headlines **
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/* ---------- "India: The Twilight Zone - Story on" ---------- */

From: "Jagdish Parikh" <>
Subject: India: The Twilight Zone - Story on Prostition
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Date: Sun, 27 Jul 1997 23:25:02

Prostitution in India: The Twilight Zone

From Meena Menon <>
27 July, 1997

Dear friends,

I would like to share with you some articles on prostitution and trafficking which were written under a media research fellowship programme of the National Foundation for India, Delhi. Some of them are published in The Hindu. Your comments are welcome.

My email address is -

[Publisher's note: There is actually only one article. I presume others are available from the source of this one.]

The Twilight Zone

Meena Menon

It is dusk and in the fading light, the small shed is only barely discernible. Two women run inside and peer through the door. "Are you from the police," they ask us in fear.

Located on a barren stretch of land, this shed is one of the many dhabhas that dot the Solapur-Hyderabad highway which provide women as an "additional service" to truck drivers and motorists.* The woman who runs the dhaba was in prostitution earlier. Now, with a shed, two cots and a few girls from nearby villages, she is in business. "I rented this place for Rs 1000 a month and take Rs 20 per client from the girls. Here the police harass us often and I cannot even bribe them. They told me it was beneath their dignity to take haftas from me because I am a woman." Since the dhaba is located on a lonely stretch, boys from her native town help her keep guard. "The police chase us over fields and lock us up for the night."

As we speak, women arrive clutching small bags. They will spend the night here and return home in the morning. There are about eight girls, some from nearby villages as well as Solapur, most look in their early teens.

On a dark side of the national highway, 35 km from Solapur, a group of women sit by the wayside. A closer look reveals most of them are garishly made up, wearing bright saris.. "I came here because I saw other women in finery, but I find that there is not much of a show at all," said one of them. Most of the women hail from Bijapur. Behind the road, on a low-- lying marshy area are their individual huts, made of light twigs with stone floors and tin roofs. The clean interiors with a single partition function as their workplace --a spartan area, with a bedsheet and a pillow and condoms strewn in one corner.

J, who is from a village near Bijapur left home after a quarrel. She ran away to Pune where she came into contact with a woman who put her into business (dhandha). She came to Akkalkot where she is at present, again through one of those nameless, faceless contacts.

"I work till midnight and in the evenings we all gather here because it is too dangerous to sit in our houses alone. " In their flimsy houses, they are prey to drunken men who force their way inside, take them to the fields behind and abuse them. The women complained of being beaten up and harassed. In addition to this physical threat, they was the fear of being evicted from their homes.

"We are here because of our bad luck. I was married and then deserted by my husband. This seemed the obvious option for me, " said another young girl.

J earns about Rs 100 -200 if she is lucky. She visits her parents regularly but is not sure if she want to stay with them, even though they are willing to have her back. Increasingly, fuelled by demands from truck drivers and motorists, the highways are turning into impromptu earning grounds for girls from nearby villages who either opt for prostitution or are compelled by circumstances. One dhaba owner said, "The more beautiful the women, the more they earn."

About 70 km from Solapur, again on the national highway, the road has stray dhabas with very little evidence of food or the usual trappings. At a ramshackle structure, the owner, a school dropout says, "Girls are necessary on this stretch, otherwise there is no hope of any business. We do not have to look for the girls or go and bring them here. They come on their own from nearby villages. I have two with me now and I take a Rs 15 commission for each client. I also have my expenses . Since this is illegal, I have to pay the nearest police station Rs 1,000 a month as hafta. If a girl is beautiful, she can get as many as five to ten clients a day." His monthly earnings can touch Rs 4,000 to 5,000 a month.

He is not concerned about the reasons why the girls come here. "Who asks them why they are here. What else is there for them to do in these parts. Some of them are already in the business and come here because the money is good."

I hear the same story from another dhaba owner. There are three women here, one of them from Latur. "They are poor women with no options," he says philosophically. Behind another dhaba, two cement boxes with doorways serve as rooms to entertain clients. All around used condoms lie in small messy heaps. Presiding over this sordid kingdom is a man who was externed from his hometown after he committed murder. "I started eight years ago, before that I was into poultry farms. This is good business and I have ten to 12 girls. I have to pay the police a hefty 6,000 along with my neighbour as a monthly bribe because of our flourishing business," he said.

He let on quite accidentally that he goes to Bombay to bring women from there and he seems to have some sort of a network which he did not wish to speak about.

At another dhabha, a young girl from a nearby village said, "My husband left me and I am back with my parents. We own land and my father is employed but they do not care for me. I have to fend for myself and my child. The dhaba business is very insecure. One raid and the police can fold up your business. The owners may change, but I will always be here."

The sprightly owner who studied upto the tenth standard, says,"I am from a very good educated family." She pays hafta to the police so that her girls are not harassed. "At least now they let me put up lights. Otherwise we had to function in complete darkness."

Near Indapur, two girls stand alone on the deserted highway. One is an orphan from Pune." People like me cannot live in dignity and I was already doing "dhandha" by the time I left the orphanage." Her daughter is looked after by domestic help at home as she travels all over depending on stray contacts and addresses. She is away from for a fortnight at a time travelling from place to place.

Women said they were beaten up and raped in the fields by clients or goondas who demand free services. Local farmers also took advantage of them. The police did not register any complaints of assault and in one case, a woman who was running to escape the police in pitch darkness, over unfamiliar fields, stumbled into a well and was killed. Sometimes, bodies of women are found on the fields, half eaten by animals. The police take no cognisance of these cases, the women said.

SR from Nippani on the Maharashtra-- Karnataka border, who solicits on the Belgaum--Dharwad highway, said one woman was beaten till her kneecap broke. These women lived a dangerous life, waiting at lonely dhabas, only to be caught by the police or forest guards and beaten black and blue. Some of these women work all night going from truck to truck to earn a livelihood. "We are poor women in need of money but all we get is torture and stigma," said one of them. In Pandharpur, K said that earlier she used to solicit on the highway but a friend of her had her ears cut off after she was seen counting her money in a truck. She was robbed and left unconscious on the road. She used to work as part of a highway outreach programme, distributing condoms at dhabas. " I will stop that now," she said grimly.

For these women, many of whom have chosen this profession, it is not the stigma of being a prostitute alone that is damning. In addition, they have to put up with physical and mental torture and absolutely no help from the police. It is ironic that on occasions such as Republic Day, the police invite women from the red-light area to sweep the grounds clean and carry out menial tasks without paying them anything in return."The payment is that they do not beat us," said one woman from a border town.

Last June police raided Bhurud Galli, Belgaum, and put an end to prostitution in the area. Activists of Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha (SANGRAM) who work with the community, were told by one woman she was beaten and kicked and dragged out of her home by the police. The police confirmed that the raid was carried out to suppress prostitution in the area. Many of these women, who could not return to their homes, have now found their way to the highway dhabas to earn a precarious living.

*Some of these women who distribute condoms to truck drivers along the highway, find it increasingly difficult and dangerous to continue with the programme. It is ironic that outreach programmes are promoted by the government and NGOs in a bid to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS while women who are actually enforcing it have no security. In fact, they said the police or the people did not even care what happened to these women since they were in prostitution.

*While economic reasons seem to be the main reason women are opting for this precarious life on the high road, many also come from broken families, some are deserted by their husbands and others look on it as a means of increasing their earnings.

There is also no ruling out the fact that some are procured for the business. Some of the owners of the dhabhas disclaimed that they actually procured women, and said the "girls" came on their own. However, a few women said that were given these contacts by people known to them. It is in this silent, insidious way that rackets such as these seem to operate. The manner in which the dhabas are set up, at various seemingly random but carefully chosen locations, the allocation of bribes to the police and the network of contacts which bring in the women, seem to suggest that it is an organised set-up and not the casual operation it is made out to be.

The police seem to think deterring the business or closing down these dhabhas would solve the problem, what is not tackled is the economic security of the women or their future. All over the country, highway dhabas are mushrooming, populated by women from nearby villages or towns. While health outreach programmes express concern for the welfare of the women by distributing condoms for safe sex, the status of the women themselves remains insecure. This region is also a place where the devadasi tradition still survives and many of the red-light pockets are dominated by women dedicated to the Goddess Yellamma. It is also an area marked by migration to the cities due to drought, poverty and lack of employment opportunities. Prostitution has always thrived in such areas where deep seated poverty, unemployment and vulnerability mingle to form a potent background to exploitation.

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