Video editor: Deepthi Ramdas
“This is my personal life. Don’t we have the freedom to use our bodies and do the work we want? I am doing it to feed my children.”Sruthi*, single mother and sex worker
Out at odd hours, creeping in before the sun rises and still being present for their families and community – this is the life led by many sex workers in the IT capital, as they struggle to chalk out a living.
The ignominy of their profession notwithstanding, many of the sex workers have to keep their life under wraps, for the sake of their kids and to have a semblance of a normal life.
Not given a designated place of work in Bengaluru, like red light districts in other cities, sex workers here have to protect themselves – from a threatening client, strangers who view them as ‘easy’ and public glare.
Surprisingly, the biggest threat comes from the police. The very officers whose duty it is to protect the innocent and defend their safety.
Fighting a wave of police vigilantism and brutality at Majestic – the heart of the city where the bus stand, railway station and metro line all converge making it a prime place for business – Bengaluru’s sex workers are speaking out in their quest for self-respect.
Abused in Public, Dragged by Their Hair, Humiliated at Police Stations
“No matter what we do, the problem keeps recurring. Hitting, publicly humiliating dragging us in front of everyone... they do all of these things even though it’s illegal to treat us this way. When we try to open our mouths they say they will lodge a fake case against us and put us in jail,” says Alia*, a 25-year-old who has been a sex worker for the last nine years, in different cities.
With a lack of knowledge and disdain foremost in the minds of other citizens, the women want to know why they are considered public pariahs. Sruthi* says, “When people have all the luxuries in life, they tend to treat us with disgust. Am I not allowed to do this work to feed my children?”
“We are used to being chased like dogs. We are used to being abused.They say things like, ‘Ay whore’ and other cuss words, dragging us to the station and taking away our belongings.”Manasi*
Many Come From Battered Homes and Abusive Husbands
Escaping trouble to greet trouble outside their homes is now part and parcel of the life of a sex worker. Exploited by families, husbands and lovers and then left alone to suffer, is a common thread in many of the stories.
“I thought, forget the first one so I married again. But he also turned out to be the same. He was only interested in my money. After I came here, there were problems with the police, rowdyism and all those things,” said Alia*.
Despite being older than her by two decades, Manasi* has a similar story to tell.
“I was betrayed by a man and that’s how I entered this profession. Society has become like that – you see a young, naive girl on the streets, without parents or support and instead of helping her, you exploit her. Why can’t we help such women who get into sex work unwillingly?”
But the Decision to be a Sex Worker is One Made by Choice
Manasi*, who is now the president of the Sadhana Mahila Sangha, a community effort to uplift, educate and empower sex workers, says that it is not the mandate of the Sangha to dissuade women from getting into sex work.
“We are neither encouraging women to quit nor forcing them to keep working. We are just trying to help protect one another from the violence. We have no right to tell anyone not to engage in sex work,” she said.
“If nobody, not even the cops understand our condition, then whom should we complain to?”Alia*