For many Nepalese Red-light area of Kamathipura, Mumbai is a familiar name. Over the years it has earned much notoriety for pushing innocent girls into prostitution. It is believed that most of the trafficked Nepali girls are taken to Kamathipura, Mumbai, where they are brutally beaten and repeatedly raped till they agree to solicit the customers
By LB THAPA FOR THE ROAMING POST, in Mumbai, India
I was standing at the Gorakhpur railway station, waiting for Kushinagar Express. My destination was Mumbai. The city famous for Bollywood cinemas, but it is also notorious for one of the Asia’s largest prostitution centers, Kamathipura. I boarded the train and occupied my birth in the 2nd class AC compartment. After having spent several hours, lurching to and fro, eventually I found myself in the Mumbai Central Railway Station.
For many Nepalese Red-light area of Kamathipura, Mumbai is a familiar name. Over the years it has earned much notoriety for pushing innocent girls into prostitution. It is believed that most of the trafficked Nepali girls are taken to Kamathipura, Mumbai, where they are brutally beaten and repeatedly raped till they agree to solicit the customers. Their miseries do not end here as they are further trafficked to the Middle East and the Gulf nations. The stories of Nepalese girls being sold to Indian brothels have been frequently highlighted by the media, but government’s efforts have always been inadequate and apathetic.
The history of Kamathipura goes back to the British Raj. A part of Kamathipura was developed by the British with a sole purpose of providing sexual services to their soldiers who lived there away from their family. In the course of time many European prostitutes were brought to Kamathipura. Some of them were even brought from Japan. These prostitutes entertained British soldiers and civilians for money. As long as the British ruled India, Kamathipura remained a focal point of Sex Bazaar. With the passage of time, Kamathipura witnessed to hold a large number of prostitutes which grew dramatically. When the British left India, Kamathipura was taken over by the Indian sex mafia. Today, Kamathipura has turned into a prostitution hub, where roughly 6000 odd sex workers are actively involved in the sex trade. However, only a decade ago the number of sex workers was much higher in Kamathipura alone.
Kamathipura has 14 lanes. Of which 7 lanes are brothels, where sex workers run their business in days and nights. Other lanes have simple houses, tea stalls, shops, etc. Sex workers are both brothel based and street based. Some senior sex workers have also bought brothels while others have to pay a sum of their earnings to Madams. Most of the buildings are in dilapidated condition, which need urgent repairing. However, only a few buildings are repaired, others are left unnoticed. Madams are the owners of brothels. They have direct controls upon all girls working under
them. Legally, they are not allowed to bring a minor girl into prostitution, but the reality is different here. Much worse than one can even conjure up. Money speaks here. Pay money and these Madams can make available a girl of any age for the sexual gratification. Some rich people pay cash to Madams in advance and demand for minor girls. Their demands are met in a few hours or days. The whole business of flesh trade is being run clandestinely.
The commercial sex workers who stand on both sides of the gully try to lure every person walking through the narrow street of Kamathipura. These girls were of different colors and sizes, but my prying eyes were looking for Nepali girls. I wanted to have some conversation with them. I continued walking, ignoring their calls and sexual innuendoes. Meanwhile, I tried to chat with a few Indian girls, but it did not work. They threw a flurry of questions at me instead. They wanted to know whether I came from some NGOs/INGOs and for what purpose I wanted to collect information etc. Some of them even asked me that how much money I would be paid for collecting information from them. I was really stunned by their questions. I realized I could not get any information out of these clever girls. I was happy enough to escape from them.
I stood at the door of a brothel which was owned by a Nepali woman. I was about to knock at the door meanwhile a black and tall girl, must be a Bangali, appeared from nowhere and said “She is busy with her client. You can come to my brothel instead”. I simply said to her that I was looking for only a Nepali girl, not others. But she was quite adamant at her approach. She kept on insisting on following her. Meanwhile, to my relief, the door was opened and a thin man may be at his 40s, came out exhausted. Looking at me, he grinned awkwardly, pulled up his trouser’s fastener and walked past singing a popular Hindi song.
The Nepali woman was a kind lady. Her name was Mukhi Tamang from Dhading district of Nepal. She was at her 30s and also the owner of the brothel. She was brought here at a very tender age. So young that she did not even have her first period…she was merely 10-year old. I was very heartrending at knowing that she was put into prostitution at such a young age. However, I continued conversing with her, because it was only Mukhi who could give me firsthand information about the dark life of Kamathipura, where many Nepali girls are compelled to live a life worse than hell. I prepared myself for a long conversation with Mukhi. Meanwhile, I made it clear that I would pay her fee for the time I consume whatever in conversation. This made her more convinced and assured.
My first question for her was that how she reached to Kamathipura at such an early age. Mukhi lifted her eyes which had no moisture. They appeared to be much dry, grim and sullen. “We were poor but happy in our village, but one day everything changed. My father fell from a cliff and was bed ridden for months. We spent all the cash and gold jewelry for the treatment of our father, but no avail. His condition did not improve and one day he was found motionless in his bed. He had consumed rat killing poison to end his life. About that time our elder uncle came from Mumbai on leave and took my elder sister with him. He had promised to find a job for her. After three months gap, she started sending money for about one year. Then she stopped sending money all of a sudden. When asked to our uncle he said that she eloped with a boy to an unknown place.
Then my uncle took me to Mumbai. I stayed with him at his residence for two days then my uncle asked me to follow a woman in a taxi. First I refused to go alone with that unknown woman, but my uncle said that he would follow me on his motorbike. I kept on looking back from the taxi if my uncle was coming but he did not. I was taken to Kamathipura. The woman, who was called Madam by everyone, asked me to take rest and have some food. I had good dinner and sound sleep that night. The next evening Madam sent me to a small room. Once I was in, the door was locked from outside. There was a man, waiting for my arrival. He was drunk and ruthless.
I resisted until I could but I was overpowered…I was destined to live in hell” said Mukhi Tamang with much pain and agony that could be seen across her face. When I asked about her elder sister, Mukhi paused for some time. “One day my sister was found dead in her bed. She was a brave girl. At least she had courage to end her life, but I was not that courageous” said Mukhi, and for the first time I saw her eyes welled in tears. Perhaps her tears were tribute to her beloved sister.
From Mukhi Tamang I came to know about the shocking reality of darker world of sex slavery in Kamathipura. If more money is given to Madams, they make available as young as 10 year-old girl or even younger for sex. Many minor girls are also sent outside Kamathipura to entertain influential clients, who never mind paying wads of money for minor girls. However, due to active involvement of many NGOs, INGOs and constant police raid, nowadays Madams do not keep minor girls in brothels for long time. Minor girls are brought from undisclosed locations to entertain special clients. Thereafter they are taken away in a jiffy to the place they were brought.
There are many pimps and agents at Kamathipura who regularly lookout for potential clients. At the same time they also look for every possible opportunity to traffic young girls. They have a very wide and strong network to traffic girls. All kinds of people are involved in this network. Unfortunately, girl’s trafficking has turned out to be a very lucrative business, where money comes thick and fast.
Madams keep in regular touch with their trusted agents who are spread across the country. At the same time, almost all Madams work with gangsters. These gangsters provide security to Madams and help them to execute their work smoothly. These gangsters never hesitate even to take life if needed. A newly trafficked girl is tortured and gang raped for several times till she gives in and begins entertaining the clients. There are many eyes to watch newly recruited girls lest they try to run away. In the beginning trafficked girls implore with every client to help her getting out of the hell, but the clients seldom dare to help them. They do not want to annoy Madam’s goons who are highly organized and determined to go to any extent. However, now and then some clients feel pity and inform police, mostly without disclosing their identities. Mukhi told that on many occasions Madams would be informed by the police themselves right before the raid…but not always.
Many times it happens when a girl who denies entertaining her clients is beaten so hard that either she commits suicide or succumbs to severe injury. Her body is duly disposed unceremoniously and forgotten. No one in the brothels is allowed to talk about the matter again. Sometimes drugs are given to new girls on regular basis. Madams are more concerned about their investment on each girl. For them girls are merely commodities. All Madams try their best to make maximum money out of their girls’ youthfulness. Sex workers are automatically out of the business once they are caught with deadly disease AIDS. But there are many girls who have been continuously performing their daily rituals even after knowing that they are HIV.
Mukhi revealed a shocking fact. “Nowadays to get minor girls have become much difficult than it was in the past. As a result, many resourceful Madams have resorted to buy babies from Nursing homes, hospitals and Orphanages. Madams’ agents keep close contacts with doctors and nurses and ask them to avail new born babies. In many cases, even the family members abdicate the female baby rather willingly. Once the babies are bought they are grown to reach eight to ten years of age. A fat amount is asked as the price money for defloration. The man who is ready to pay the highest amount of money will finally take the girl to the bed. This is all happening here almost every day” revealed Mukhi.
Due to lack of an alternative source of income, many girls remain in the business of sex trade. It is believed that there are about 90 percent Sex Workers at Kamathipura infected with sexually transmitted disease (STDs) and about 70 percent are HIV positive. However, in the recent time some NGOs and INGOs have initiated to work in this direction. But the success is far below than expected.
Most of the girls trafficked from Nepal and Bangladesh to Kamathipura are underage. In fact the modus-operandi of girls trafficking is quite easy to understand. Nepali agents in Mumbai walk around and meet with several Nepali folks and ask them to bring minor and young girls from their respective villages. They offer more money for minors than adult. The greed of money goads these people to lure minor and young girls of their villages and hand over them to these agents for money. These agents take the girls to Madams and get their part of share. It is also learnt that some parents, due to extreme poverty, willingly sell their daughters to the agents. I met Sunita Pariyar, 21, from Nuwakot. I was stunned when she told me that she was sold by her parents under the guise of marriage. “One early morning my parents took me to nearby village temple. Only at the temple premises, I was told about my marriage with a boy who had a good job in Mumbai. When I wanted to know from my parents that why they arranged my marriage in haste. My parents told me that the boy was from upper caste Hindu, so that they could not arrange the marriage openly. Once boy’s parents accept the couple they would organize a grand marriage ceremony. I trusted my parents and left the village the same morning. Later I came to know that the boy was an agent and my marriage was a fake. I was sold to him in Rs.25,000. He further sold me to Madams in Rs.60,000. I was gang raped for one week until I gave in before them. I even tried to kill myself but I was saved. As a punishment they chop off my little finger from right hand, and threatened to burn my face with acid if I try to commit suicide next time” Sunita divulged her secret that she does not want to share with anyone. Almost all minor girls sold to brothels at Kamathipura bear indelible marks in their bodies. Many girls commit suicide while others succumb to their injuries. This has been happening here ever since Kamathipura came into its existence.
But today’s Kamathipura has gotten sick and old. Owing to active involvement of many NGOs, INGOs and other organizations to support Sex Workers; sex racketeers have found their work much riskier and full of hassles. Meanwhile, nowadays prostitution can successfully run from private apartments outside Kamathipura. They use mobile phones and internet to reach their clients. Literarily speaking mobile phones and internet have made prostitution possible from any corner of the city. Nowadays there are many small groups which are being operated from posh resident areas. High level clients are contacted through mobile and websites thereafter girls are sent to star hotels. It is much safer and more profitable than working in dark and damp rooms of Kamathipura. Another benefit is that normally police never raid a star level hotel to nab prostitutes.
In the recent years property value of Kamathipura and nearby areas has shot up by many times. As a result of this the brothels are being bought by private builders and businessmen. This has pushed Kamathipura based prostitutes to find cheaper places somewhere. This is the reason why most of the brothels of 14 lanes are empty now. The rent of those brothels is out of the reach of many prostitutes. On top of that active participation of many organizations, human rights groups, media and well informed people have made girl’s trafficking not that easy as it used to be some years ago.
Even Mukhi Tamang has planned to shift to Navi Mumbai soon. With the money she has deposited in the bank, she wants to buy a flat in Navi Mumbai. According to Mukhi Tamang, many former prostitutes have started working in restaurants where life is more at ease and they can make more money than they would while soliciting.
I was surprised when Mukhi said that she has a daughter who studies in Darjeeling. She showed me her beautiful daughter’s photograph in school uniform. She studies in the eighth grade and lives in the hostel. Upon her request I have not mentioned her daughter’s name or school name either. “I don’t know who the father of my daughter is, but this does not make any sense. She is my daughter and this is enough. I am glad that one of my relatives in Darjeeling has given his name to my daughter. For the world he is the father of my daughter. I am grateful to him forever. I regularly send in money to my daughter and also visit her whenever I feel so” said Mukhi enthusiastically.
It is good to know that nowadays there are many organizations working in Kamathipura. They have focused different sectors mainly health, education, rehabilitation of the Sex Workers and also for their children. The Sanghamitra is being run by and for the sex workers of Kamathipura. It provides practical assistance to women in the sex trade as well as helping to rescue children and trafficked women from the brothels.
In recent time, the charm of sex trade in Kamathipura has taken a nose dive, but it is not out. A small part of Kamathipura is still alive and thriving. Only a collective effort from all sides can defeat girl’s trafficking. Kamathipura can no longer exist only if the supply of young girls is ceased. To clamp down girl’s trafficking, the organizations one like Maiti Nepal must be strengthened with more power to act freely. The government must show true commitments to fight against girl’s trafficking. At the same time, more development projects should be initiated in the rural parts of Nepal. Poverty is the main culprit of girl’s trafficking in the country. Unless and until poverty is tackled successfully, the disease so called girl’s trafficking will loom large every now and then.
ABOUT THE BLOGGER
LB Thapa is a travel blogger. He is also the author of six books. His books have been published by Nirala Publications, New Delhi, India and Himalayan Maphouse, Kathmandu, Nepal. His book, POKHARA AND ANNAPURNAS has been translated into seven foreign languages. LB Thapa’s books are also available on www.amazon.com
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