Intro to the Mumbai Red Light District
Posted on February 12 2018
After a week of being at the workshop with the girls and tailors planning the collection, there was finally time for me to go to Sonapur, the ‘shameful’ Red Light neighborhood. Beena, one of the girls working as a counsellor at the NGO came to meet me off the train and take me there. On the way I wondered how she would recognise me amongst the thousands of people, but then realised that I stand out like a sore thumb. She spotted my glowing with white touristness from a mile away and then lead me to the area.
We went down a tiny alleyway and came to a small road with prostitutes sitting outside every door. Beena told me that each of these houses (or more like rooms) were brothels, and each are owned by a different pimp. It felt like another secret parallel universe where anything is acceptable (and not in a fun Burning Man kind of way). Many of the girls are Nepalese as they have been trafficked over the border in the false promise of a better life. When they arrive in Delhi after being beaten, tortured and all of their money and belongings taken from them, they realise that this is not going to be the case. Some girls even come to the area out of their own free will, as they are so desperately poor and see this as their only hope of survival. Others are tricked or sold by their own husbands or families. One girl can sell for around 50,000 rupees (around $780) and these girls are indebted to their pimp until they have paid this off (which is near impossible). Many girls were already working as young as eleven or twelve!
Rates can range from 200 rupees ($3) up to around 1200 rupees $18 for the whole night. What the men want to do with them during that time, or if they don’t want to wear a condom, the girls have no choice. Any objections from them and they will be punished, often by being forced to have sex with the most disgusting and abusive old men. One of the prostitutes told Beena that she cannot even repeat what some of her customers want to do with her, but burnings from cigarette stubs and beatings are a regular occurrence. One of the prostitutes took me up a ladder to her home where I was met by her ‘husband’ (they call their pimps their husbands) and four filthy beds with curtains around. This is where four girls will bring their customers day and night.
Over the next few posts I will reveal personal accounts and stories about some of the women that are living in this underworld. What made me so sad was the fact that even if they can leave, most do not want to. They have known nothing else from childhood and they do not trust that anyone wants to genuinely help them. Such young girls have already lost all hope. Today gave me even more of a drive to succeed with my brand, Coco Bombay, and enable more of these women to see that a light does exist.