It is seen as a job no woman would want to do. A job no woman would willingly do.

Yet, spending time in one of Asia’s largest red light districts gives a view of prostitution that jars with what many feminists, gender rights activists and, in fact, society in general believe.

The Sonagachi district – a labyrinth of narrow bustling lanes lined with tea and cigarette stalls, three-storey brothels, and beauty parlours – in the east Indian city of Kolkata raises eyebrows with many who know this place.

It is a place for “fallen women” or “potita” as they say in Bengali, the local language.

Here, heavily made-up women clad in bright saris stand outside dark doorways, leading up narrow staircases into small rooms furnished with just a bed and perhaps a television.