The Human Impact

Prostitution: their bodies, their rights

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.

Does marriage stop prostitution? Indian village thinks so

Is marriage a guarantee that a woman won’t be prostituted?

It’s a question that played heavily on my mind recently when I went to the remote village of Wadia in India’s western region of Gujarat to cover a mass wedding and engagement ceremony of 21 girls, which was aimed at breaking a centuries-old tradition of prostitution.

I arrived in the small, neglected hamlet on the eve of the big ceremony. Preparations were well underway.

Soon-to-be-brides sat inside the mud-walled compounds of their homes surrounded by singing female relatives, with “haldi” or turmeric paste smeared on the faces and arms – a South Asian pre-wedding ritual believed to make the skin “glow”.

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