A Day in the Life of a Calcutta Prostitute

Today’s Spotlight Sunday is a very special one. I have had the honour of having been able to interview and delve into the life of a young brothel-worker in Calcutta, who will take us to a place we did not desire to travel, to a place we prefer to ignore, but where we find ourselves right now.

Today we are spending a day in Shampa’s shoes as we head to India’s Black Hole

Prostitution: the facts

In India, prostitution is actually legal. Calcutta has the proud claim to India’s largest red light district (or “prostitute market” as it is called locally) which is found in Sonagachi. 

The population of Calcutta is 13 million.

The actually number of prostitutes in Calcutta is unknown but there are estimations of upwards of 60,000 brothel-based prostitutes. This does not include street workers or call girls, which could easily double the figure.

Though there is a project in Sonagachi, founded in 1992, that has reduced sexually transmitted diseases, an approximate 5% of sex workers are HIV positive. In many brothels there are strict rules that condoms must be worn but many clients refuse to conform and often the rules are not enforced for fear of losing business to another brothel that will allow unprotected sex.

Wikipedia says: According to some sources the most common form of trafficking consists in offering false promises or some offer of help out of a dead-end or crisis situation, force is used later after the prostitutes have already been sold. “Mashis (brothel owners/older sex workers) use friendship, sympathy, also veiled threats to convince the women that it is now in their best interest to conform and begin working.”

Interview

I can’t tell you how it was possible or who was involved in organising this, but I have been very fortunate to have been able to interview a real Calcutta prostitute who has told me about her life, her situation and what she expects from the future.

What follow are the words of Shampa, a prostitute in one of the several hundred multi-storey brothels in Sonagachi. She answered my questions directly and boldly. She also added some information of her own without needing prompting. She wanted this opportunity to give the outside world a view into her world.

I have omitted the actual questions that I asked Shampa and have simply put her answers together so that her words read as a monologue. She was speaking directly to me via a translator and these are her words:

Shampa

“My name is Shampa and I am 19 years old. I am from a poor family in Kolkata and now I live with other girls at the brothel in Sonagachi who do the same as me.

We are there to attend to the needs and demands of men. It’s as simple as that. This is our only role in life and the only thing that matters is that the men who pay for us are satisfied. If they are not then they won’t return.

I have been a prostitute since I was 14 when I left home. My family lived in the slums of Kolkata, all together in just two rooms: my father’s family in one room and my father’s brother’s family in the other room. It was very cramped. We had nothing.

My uncle was a bad man and he and his son, my cousin a few years older than me, used to beat me and my sisters and they would touch us, touch our bodies. I tried to run away but I was caught by my father and my uncle and my father said that if I try to run away again he would kill me.

I finally did run away when I was 14 because I couldn’t take any more. I have not seen my family since or heard anything about my mother and sisters.

I had a friend who was the same age as me and her family was also very poor, poorer than mine in fact. To help her family get money she was working, without her family knowing, as a prostitute in Sonagachi. Her family believed she was cleaning at a restaurant, well, at several restaurants.

She knew my situation and suggested a way to help me leave home. One day she told me to go with her to her work. She had told me that the work was not that bad, that you get used to it. She introduced me to the Mashi and he gave me a job.

Since then I have lived at the brothel and I work every day. I don’t leave Sonagachi. Where would I go?

I don’t have periods because they give me an injection every three months and this stops the blood so I can work every day. I have never had a day off since I was 14. This injection means I cannot get pregnant either, which is good as I could not afford to have a baby. Plus I have seen the state of those prostitutes who have babies: their lives are over as they cannot work and there is nothing for the child growing up in this world.

My body does not belong to me any more, it belongs to the mashi and he decides how much I am worth and how often I must work. If I am tired or unwell, it doesn’t matter. When a client comes to the brothel the mashi calls us and we go to stand in line so that the client can choose.

When the client decides who he wants, the girl takes him to one of our rooms. They normally pay for one hour and two times sex. Sometimes the client can’t manage two times and we do other things for him. Once I had to dance on a chair because that was what the client wanted. Sometimes the client gets angry if he can’t do two times and blames me, calling me ugly and hits me. But normally the mashi does not allow violence. Sometimes the client is nice and he talks instead.

The client has to wear a condom but he does always want to. If he doesn’t wear it he has to pay more. Normally for an hour with sex two times the client pays 2,000 rupees. But that money is not for me; I get about 200 rupees because the rest the mashi takes for my rent and food and taxes.

I have different men who come to me. I have one big business man from the city and he comes once a week, sometimes twice. And I have some more men who are regulars. These are the ones who just fuck and leave. They don’t even speak to me, for them I am an object into which they release themselves and then go.

The tourists are the ones who always talk. They are the ones who want two times but can’t manage it because they are not used to it. So they stay and talk to me as they have paid for an hour. They ask me about my life. Most of the tourists are from other parts of India but sometimes we get white men too from Europe.

I like the tourists best because sometimes they tip and I don’t have to work so hard. Some of them are virgins and they just want to have sex for the first time. This normally doesn’t last very long. Many are boys in groups and they are laughing and nervous. With tourists I feel more like they know I am a person.

The worst thing I hate is blow jobs. Sometimes they taste really bad and it makes me want to be sick.

I don’t take any drugs but I know some girls who do. Not in my brothel; mostly it is the Bangladeshis who have been brought here to work.

I am lucky to have this job because there are many girls without any job. And I am pretty and young so I am often chosen. I try to save some money because when I am old I can’t be a prostitute anymore because no one will want to pay for me.

But I don’t like this work because I don’t like the men grabbing me and sometimes bruising me. If we are busy then I don’t sleep. And sometimes if I am sleeping in the night and a client comes I have to wake up and seduce him.

I dream about having a home and a husband who will look after me but I know that will never happen. No one has ever told me that they love me and no one ever will. Who wants to marry a prostitute?

I won’t ever have a normal life but this is better than what I left when I was 14. The girls are my family and we take care of each other.

I have another wish; I want to eat a McDonalds! There is a restaurant across the street and it smells so good! One day I will tell one client to bring me a McDonalds!”

Shampa gave this interview without her Mashi or any of her co-workers knowing. She prefers it to stay that way. Though there are thousands of prostitutes in Calcutta, not a lot of them are willing to give interviews about their lives due to the fact that they feel dirty, as though what they do is disgusting, but mostly because they are afraid that somehow they will lose their job.

orchid

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About the Author: Lisa, born and grew up in England, live in Mallorca, Spain... Have visited more than 20 countries, have twice as many to yet visit, love sharing experiences....

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  1. paramveer singh says:

    Prostitution is illegal in india,india is a very conservative society but these brothels operate in secrecy .. but sonagachi is there since the british invaded us.Its illegal and the cops are paid off and hence they keep their eyes of this place.

    • Lisa says:

      Thanks so much for your insight and for taking the time to comment, and so eloquently expressed too. Yes, I was fascinated to learn about Sonagachi and the British influence as well. However, I’m quite sure that prostitution in brothels is legal in India and only street prostitution is illegal though it would seem that some aspects of the law are quite vague and that while some acts of prostitution are legal they are socially unacceptable, just as you say that India is a conservative society.

      • piyush says:

        prostitution is not legal in India..it is illegal but law is not actually enforced..if caught ..one has to face a lot of trouble..similar is the case with marijuana..there are stringent laws but they are seldom enforced ..if lucky one can buy police and get Scot free..

      • HEMPRAKASH says:

        miss LISA,its very common job in the world in every society,one who are poorer by birth and they dont have much option,i think govt should allow this job atleast rape case may be stopped thats panic for that girl who raped,

      • shuvadip says:

        actually street prostitution is not illegal,strictly speaking u can ask anybody to come at your home and give some service,in street prostitution the girls stands near the light post or other places and wait for their clients to pick them ,normally they don’t offer any place ,such girls we call as call girls cannot be banned,as in a free country the enforcement agencies interfering at your home means a curb on your freedon,which the constitution prevents but houses specially meant for prostitution is banned as prostitution is illegal in India,so govt.allowing the brothels to operate will mean giving license to prostitution,but as all knows that ideology doesn’t feed the belly,so both law enforcement agencies as well as the legislators allow their functioning as it gives them a lucrative revenue for their election campaining.in India illegal means a little more costly than the normal.

      • shuvadip says:

        actually street prostitution is not illegal,strictly speaking u can ask anybody to come at your home and give some service,in street prostitution the girls stands near the light post or other places and wait for their clients to pick them ,normally they don’t offer any place ,such girls we call as call girls cannot be banned,as in a free country the enforcement agencies interfering at your home means a curb on your freedon,which the constitution prevents but houses specially meant for prostitution is banned as prostitution is illegal in India,so govt.allowing the brothels to operate will mean giving license to prostitution,but as all knows that ideology doesn’t feed the belly,so both law enforcement agencies as well as the legislators allow their functioning as it gives them a lucrative revenue for their election campaining.in India illegal means a little more costly than the normal.everything is on paper just for namesake but whatever happens is out for open

  2. i chose to stay anonymous says:

    Yes, prostitution is illegal in India. Though I havent met any prostitute but I have seen them waiting for clients beside the roads of Sonagachi. Their regular clients are generally auto drivers and daily-wage workers. and they dont spend much. Even policemen too are involved. They ask for free sex.

  3. amit says:

    14? the girl was so young when she started…!!!
    INCREDIBLE INDIA!!! 🙁

    • Lisa says:

      I know, it’s awful to think about, isn’t it. But it’s not just #IncredibleIndia; it’s Incredible World in this case, there are many other countries where young girls go through this and worse.

      Thanks so much for reading

  4. Jasmeet Singh says:

    Damn. Beautiful interview Ameila. The cycle of life, these girls are stuck in !! There is practically no one to help them.

    • Lisa says:

      Thank you for seeing it in the way it was intended. In fact I was actually hoping to speak to more girls in this grim situation but haven’t yet managed it. I’m glad you appreciated the post Jasmeet, and thanks again for taking the time to comment 🙂

  5. Sayan says:

    Lots of Thanks for knowing us the dark side of this brothel areas prostitutes…..
    How much they are suffered for living a life. Really no one think of them..
    Should we don’t need to do something for them?

  6. Amit says:

    What i knew that most of d girls in sonagachi are mostly brought from bangladesh.poor bangladeshi parents (or orphan) sell their little girls in very high price(4-5 yr girl also)n they live in the brothels.then she belongs to the masi only. Its a huge racket, mafias are involved in dis thing bcoz here is no recession (alwyz demand).

  7. manoj says:

    what i want to know is,wont there b something v can do to prevent dis atrocities to women..dey r nt commodities..i pity myself to live in ds world….sex is a holy n divine thng..to understand that one must be grown up lik dat..he must kno his mother too is a women..

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