The ‘other’ face of Mumbai is a multi-part series of all those places that though little spoken about, are (in)famous and form the integral part of Mumbai. The silence about these places to me seems like an attempt of the childish mind – that if not spoken they shall disappear. Sadly, the reality is different. Thus, when it exists I sought to explore it, in my own way. The first part of the series can be read here.
As I started my journey with Realty Tours, all that played on my mind were the images of the slums that I had ‘Google’d’ or those glimpses which I had seen during my daily commutation to various parts of the city. However, I was surprised when my guide told me that we weren’t heading straight to Dharavi and instead I was in for some pleasant surprise.
This is how I was led to the city’s (in)famous red light area of Kamathipura, that houses the world’s oldest profession. According to the 1991 statistical figures of the Mumbai municipal corporation Kamathipura housed around 60,000 sex workers who did business everyday there, despite prostitution being clearly banned in the country as per laws. In 2001 the same body reported Kamathipura to have a sex worker population of around 8000. Smiles in the corner of the eyes are to be preserved, for a reduction in number no way meant that the sex workers had indeed diminished in numbers – research studies found just the opposite. There has been a radical growth of the business of prostitution over the decade and earlier what was localized to only Kamathipura, now spread all across Mumbai thus reducing the localized number count.
When asked I was informed that majority of the women who take up the profession are unwillingly at the start. They are often brought into Mumbai being lured with dreams of good jobs – a fat sum being paid to their parents as a gesture of assured employment which later converts into debt which they are asked to pay off the moment they are introduced to this profession. The other categories are those who are introduced to this profession as a hands down – unable to protect their kids from the vices that surround them mothers give into the pressures and introduce daughters as descendants to their own regime. Reluctant at first, fate catches up soon with them and the acceptance of it too and thus soon after these girls counsel the other new ones in whom they see a glimpse of their past.
I quote out of my story from A Calendar Too Crowded (Gaining a body to gain a mind) – “A prostitute is doubly penalized – first by being forced into a position where she cannot make her own choices and then by hounded by the State for being a prostitute”. I further wonder there through the voice of the protagonist as to, “Why should a prostitute be ashamed of what she does all her life, but the society is never ashamed of what is has done to her?”
I met up with one, who wondered out aloud why I was there. Whether I had goodies to offer her and whether I was looking for something (!) from her. She inquired about my salary without bashing an eyelid and despite me quoting a miniscule of my pay check, asked me what I did to earn so much? Taken aback I was, but then came to know that owing to the surge of prostitution the rates for a single encounter with flesh (passion doesn’t reside here) vary from as low as Rs. 50 to Rs. 3000. The figures vary depending on age, looks, ethnicity and yes the most obsessive of all criteria – young and virgin! If that disgusts you, let me tell you that young girls aged 9-10 years are the most coveted ones here and people are ready to shell out undisclosed figures to satisfy their pervert fantasies.
Law and regulatory protection did you ask? Ha, then let me tell you of a particular scene that I shall not forget, at least in this lifetime. A young girl barely 20 stood there breast-feeding her child, soliciting clients at a stone throw distance from the police station – all at 9 AM in the morning. The police there apparently are poised to protect the workers from atrocities in lieu of a commission fatter than the pimps. As for sticking to the laws, ah well they were never meant to be practical anyway. For in India ironically prostitution is not a crime, but soliciting clients is.
An anarchy we live I realized as I made my way to Dhobi Ghaat (the journey en route Chor Bazaar is for next week!)
Mumbai Mondays is all about seeing Mumbai and its surroundings through my eyes. It’s my take to introduce you to a city and its surroundings which I love, as I see it – alone and often with friends (we call ourselves the Mumbai Mad Caps). It’s a thread that goes live every Monday. I cover places randomly and welcome suggestions too. You can find more posts about Mumbai Mondays here.