Saturday, September 4, 2004

Call of cash

Chandigarh is emerging as the hub of sex trade in the region. The stereotypical image of sex workers being coerced into prostitution has undergone a change. Now, more and more young, educated urban women are joining this age-old profession. While some of them are lured into this business, there are many who are joining it willingly. Sanjay Sharma reports.Illustration: Gaurav Sood

The daughter of a landlord from Punjab found the monthly pocket money of Rs 3000 insufficient to support her lavish lifestyle. Though a student, she needed between Rs 8,000 and 10,000 to sustain herself. The girl struck a deal with a moneyed man for a monthly payment, in exchange for entertaining him and his friends.

A former student of MA English, Panjab University, initially entered the trade for the thrill but when she saw the money in the business, she willingly continued. From a well-to-do business family of Haryana, she is also into the insurance business.

A girl from Kashmir came to the city to explore job opportunities. Though educated, she could only get jobs that paid her about Rs 3,000. Since that wasn’t enough to meet her needs, she chose to trade her body for money.

As per an AIDS control survey, there are 3224 commercial sex workers in the city
As per an AIDS control survey, there are 3224 commercial sex workers in the city

Chandigarh, which till a few years ago held on to middle class values, is fast emerging as a new sex destination. Considered a regional hub of sex trade, the city has recorded an unprecedented rise in this business. In the past couple of months, the Chandigarh police has arrested more than 30 call girls and pimps.

"There is a massive demand and equally easy recruitment of new girls (mostly willing) into the trade," discloses a woman who was in the business.

"The Chandigarh flesh trade market offers a mind-boggling variety — girls from different age groups and strata, gigolos, gays, lesbians, keeps as well as temporary partners," she says.

According to this former call girl, the sex trade in the city is proportionately higher than that in any of the metropolitan cities — Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai.

While some girls are forced into this profession because of financial reasons, the others go into ‘business’ to meet their aspirations of what they consider a ‘good life.’

The police version

The SSP, Chandigarh, Gaurav Yadav, says the police has been cracking down on immoral trafficking and arresting pimps and call girls. There is no survey or data on the number of prostitutes in the city, he admits, adding that a special crime cell had recently busted a number of call girl rackets in the city. This has led to these girls and pimps shifting base from Chandigarh to nearby places. Flesh trade has been controlled largely, Yadav declares even as he confesses that its eradication is difficult as it has its roots in societal demand.

In fact, the stereotypical image of sex workers being pushed into the trade by vile gangs of pimps to satisfy repressed male sexual needs has undergone a change. If statements made by arrested sex workers are to be believed, a good percentage of the current crop of urban prostitutes who are "doing well" are into the profession of their own free will. Of course, many of them are also lured or forced into the racket but the number of such cases is declining.

Moreover, it is claimed that the typical pimp has to a large extent been replaced by a superior species. Nowadays, influential persons — police officers, bureaucrats, businessmen and politicians — are filling in the slot. They recruit girls, with dreams of mega bucks, for extending favours to those whom they want to please. Such girls, many times, enter the circuit for a very short time and exit when they have made the moolah they wanted to. In Chandigarh, most of these girls cater to this powerful nexus of businessmen-politicians-bureaucrats.

The racket in such cases is run as disguised prostitution. Girls are usually hired as office employees and are offered to clients and others to curry favours. An undergraduate girl who agrees to use her charms for the employer can get a salary in the range of Rs 7,000 to 10,000, while one who is on the regular rolls may not cross Rs 5,000 a month, discloses a girl who was doled out a "proposition to please" when she took up her job.

The girl says employers prefer single girls to those living with families for this purpose, and girls from outside the city fit the bill perfectly.

But there is a "willing" section of girls in the city who take up a job only to look for an opportunity to get out of the house and carry on the business. Many students too fall in this category.

The money involved in the business is enormous. Girls brought on contract from Delhi, Mumbai and other areas of the country are getting between Rs 25,000 and Rs 80,000 per trip according to their age, qualification and looks. These girls, interestingly and ironically, seek to gain social acceptability and status with their earnings.

Social scientist Pramod Kumar, Director of the Institute of Development and Communication, Chandigarh, says the trade is growing as there is a struggle for supremacy. He says that men traditionally used their muscle to enjoy power. But today, women have realised that their beauty and body could provide them strength and power. There is also no ideology (idea, value and purpose) available today to accommodate changing needs of an individual and society.

While in India prostitution is banned, in many parts of the world it is not so. An ILO report in 1998 had quantified the sex industry to be ranging between two and 14 per cent of the GDP in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, whereas shares of Daily Planet Brothel in Melbourne, Australia, are being listed on the Australian Stock Exchange since 2003. The World Bank even offered a financial package for the sex workers of Thailand. A prostitute is now called a sex worker. This is in recognition of her activity as an economic activity that can be considered productive.

Feminists’ position towards prostitution is divided: while some define prostitution as an act of self-determination and demand destigmatisation and decriminalisation, others consider it to be sexual abuse and rape. Feminists belonging to the former group pushed a law reform in Germany, resulting in the country recognising prostitution as a regular profession in January 2002. This made it possible for prostitutes to join social security and health care systems and form trade unions.

Furthermore, there seems to be a weakening of resistance against the unacceptability of multiple partners. Advertisement of condoms for family planning and AIDS openly say the use of condom is necessary for sexual intercourse with a stranger or a partner other than your wife. It does not question extra-marital relationships.

In the city, the state AIDS control survey estimates commercial sex workers to be around 3,224. Many of them are entertainment workers and beauty saloon employees.

Pramod Kumar says in the present times, when values and culture are in a state of flux, the new generation is emulating icons from the world of glamour like beauty queens and film actresses who now openly declare that there is nothing wrong in exposing one’s body. To consider the body as a source of power takes the logic to the next stage, where it is not deemed wrong to offer the body for pleasure and money. This ‘philosophical’ framework provides an opportunity to the so-called modern girls to accept prostitution.

Dr Rajesh Gill, Reader in the Department of Sociology, Panjab University, says she had conducted a study in Palsora Colony, where sex trade is rampant. She learnt of a mother who had pushed her 14-year-old daughter into the trade and a number of men who "offered" their wives for money. "The metropolitan anonymity now available in the city is providing an opportunity to girls to slip into the trade," she says, adding that the city has now become infamous for flesh trade and a girl sitting alone near a bus stop may have to face an awkward situation as she may be mistaken for a sex worker.

Dr Gill says the Punjabi girl has been projected as a commodity in video numbers with semi-clad girls dancing with a Punjabi male. This image, she says, has created a demand for them.

She laments that values have undergone such a change that girls prefer rich persons as their marriage partners instead of the educated and the virtuous.

Interview with a "call girl"

How rampant is the trade in the city?

It seems it is on a larger scale here than in Delhi and Mumbai.

What kind of girls are coming into the trade?

From the very poor to the rich and famous; and mostly those living alone.

How much do they earn?

Those who work with "aunties and uncles" earn between Rs 15,000 and 25,000 per day. Those on contract earn even a higher amount.

Who are the customers?

Policemen, bureaucrats, businessmen, politicians, professionals, tourists, etc. These clients look for new girls and high-class call girls, including models. They are ready to spend Rs 30,000 for a day also.

How many girls enter the profession willingly?

About 50 per cent.

How many of them get married?

More than 50 per cent.

It is said a girl on contract has to cater to many clients in a day.

Most of these girls use drugs.

Where do these girls come from?

Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Haryana, Delhi and even Mumbai. They are from respectable families.

How much does a pimp earn?

It can be as high as Rs 3.5 lakh a month.


Don’t moralise, make it legal
Reeta Sharma

The year was 1994. The place was Germany. My host and his German wife were escorting me to a market. On the way, a particular sight baffled me. In house after house, beautiful German women, aesthetically dressed up, sat by the windows as if on display. How could every window have a beautiful woman, either sitting or standing, knitting or reading or smoking or plainly staring? I could not restrain myself any more and asked my host why these women were so ornamentally dressed up. The question embarrassed my host.

The wife, however, explained it in a matter-of-fact manner. "They are all call girls. In Germany, call girls can adopt prostitution as a profession. They are issued formal licences. Any man can approach them and if the price is mutually agreed upon, the man can enter the house of the call girl. She then closes the window, which indicates that she is busy. Neither society nor the police interfere in their life unless the call girls themselves have a complaint to make."

I also learnt that call girls in Germany usually did not remain in the profession for too long. They were highly paid and hence made quick money in a short period and then moved on to settle down in life. Besides, they were entitled to government healthcare programmes. The best of doctors examined them every week and educated them on ‘safe sex’.

Amazingly, German society has never looked down upon call girls. I must confess that I found all this hard to digest in 1994.

On my return to India, this issue kept haunting me every time I read a report about call girls being arrested by the police. My interviews with many arrested call girls made me aware of the provisions of the Prevention of Immoral Traffic Act (PITA). According to the Act: "A magistrate on receiving information that any person residing or frequenting in his area of jurisdiction is a prostitute, may record the substance of the information and issue a notice requiring her to appear before the magistrate and show cause why she should not be removed from the place and be prohibited from re-entering it in the interest of the general public". The Act further describes prostitution as, "...the sexual exploitation or abuse of persons for commercial purposes and the expression ‘prostitute’ shall be construed accordingly."

The Act directly implicates any woman indulging in prostitution as a criminal. But this Act has failed to curb this activity. The Act, largely, ends up punishing only call girls and an insignificant number of pimps. Because of the loopholes in the Act, the customers, who use the call girls , by and large, go scot-free. The only method that the police have evolved in the past 48 years is to send ‘decoy’customers to nab these call girls.

What is sad is that a majority of call girls in India are actually victims of their circumstances, which are responsible for them entering this profession. Leave aside a small percentage of glamorous call girls, who are drawn into this profession while chasing a luxurious life that neither matches their family background nor do they have skills to achieve it, a majority of the other call girls are from the lower strata of society.

The PITA has not only failed to check prostitution but also ensures that once the call girls are arrested, the tag of a prostitute gets firmly stamped on their foreheads and they don’t get any chance of rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, the media too plays a role that is no better than that of the PITA. The reports largely paint the call girls black and there is no sympathy shown for the exploitation they have to undergo. The hypocrisy and the paradoxes of the male world could not have a better example than the world of call girls in India.

I wonder whether the world’s oldest profession — prostitution — can ever be eradicated. Sadat Hasan Manto’s story Nagar Palika (Municipality) has become a universal truth. In Nagar Palika the removal of a red-light area from a city to its periphery had been ordered. However, overnight, the "pious" men were seen rushing to the red-light area on the periphery. With such a hard truth before us, it is time we unshackle ourselves from a false moralistic stand and pave the way for legalising prostitution. The Act should be amended to help any girl, who is being coerced into prostitution.