A prostitute to her daughter - K. Satchidanandan
Dear child, say without shame
that I am your mother
and this city is your father.
Go, tell the chaste wives,
I teach their men how to love.
I offered myself
in place of a thousand women,
and became a saint.
Man, my child, is endless Desire,
you should cross that sea
the way I rose above my body.
Raise your head;
be my survivor, grow to be great.
You should have a tryst with tomorrow:
you should see the sun
that I could not.
I do not want to weep before Jesus
nor do I want Upagupta to weep before me.
Every night I turn red hot,
every morning I become gold.
I conquered lust;
you should transcend greed.
We are the bountiful Earth
and we, the giving Nature.
(Translated from Malayalam by the poet with Rizio Raj)
R was doing a project on violence against sex workers. I went with her to a dingy little room in K.R market, a group of sex workers working against HIV chatted with us there. On their profession, the challenges, the ostracization, life.
From Rio to Rome, from Dakar to Darwin, laws on prostitution are illogical and contradictory. They reflect the confusion felt by lawyers and by the general public about work so clearly connected with sex.
An estimated three million women do sex work in about 400 red light areas in India, approximately 30 per cent are children; a majority are dalits and tribals - issue.
‘My husband doesn't know I am a sex worker. I work by day and go back home by night. I tell him I am working in an NGO spreading awareness about AIDS'.
'My children are made fun of because I am a prostitute. They resent me.'
'Legalization will expose our secrets to an unaccepting society.'
'I hadn't heard about HIV, condoms, AIDS even years after joining the profession.'
'I am much better off living this life, earning a living than in my husbands house where I was beaten up, and our earnings were used for alcohol. My daughter is in the second year of Bsc . I can't afford it anymore. Tell me what opportunities she has.'
'At least now I have this support group of other sex workers. It helps me deal with it.'
'You are paid less when you insist they wear a condom. Out of four fifty rupees, I am left with hundred. The rest goes to the lodge owner, the police or the 'pimp'.'
The 'pimp' refers to the role that is inevitably played by a blackmailing male presence in a society where a man less woman is nothing. To rent a house, they need a man who pretends to be married to them.. Revealing the details of their profession will mean they will be vacated. These men constantly blackmail them and even threaten to break into their house. Hence trapping them into a vicious cycle.
'We can't complain to the police because they will say that we as 'lose women' deserve it. They will go to the other prostitutes when they want sex.'
'I need to drink to forget that I have to sell my body to earn a living.'
'Only they drink. (Disapproving). We are Muslims. We don't drink.'
‘HIV workers don’t care about sex worker welfare.’
'In my next birth I don't want to be born as a woman. That is the worst fate.'
We asked if they would mind alternate employment like sewing, working in a factory etc.
They said that if they were paid at least three thousand five hundred rupees a month, they wouldn't.
'We are sex workers. We are still entitled to a life of dignity.'
(Translated roughly from Hindi and Tamil) Photo from flickr.