SONAGACHI RED LIGHT PROJECT
India's Commercial Sex Industry
There are an estimated 3 million sex workers in India.
While poverty drives many women to the industry, others are trafficked in from neighboring countries, such as Bangladesh and Nepal.
Women are forced to receive a high-volume of clientele each night, yet they only walk away with a few dollars in the morning after the pimps and madams take more than half their earnings. With the little they have left they must support themselves and their children.
Children under the age of 18 make up 35% of workers in the sex industry. Recent reports estimate that this number is increasing by nearly 10% per year. While 80% are forced into prostitution against their will, many are born into the trade and see no other option than to follow their mothers into the brothels. They are hungry, hopeless, and cannot afford their only hope for freedom – education.
When sex workers pass their prime, the madams send them back to their villages to beg or starve. The same thing happens if they are found to be one of the estimated 9% of sex workers who are HIV positive. They are used, abused, and then finally let go.
It is extremely difficult for a woman in India to lose the stigma of having been in the sex trade. They are rejected by their families, evicted from rental flats, withheld alternative employment, denied marriage for their daughters, and considered open to further sexual exploitation. Unable to regain a respectable identity, they learn to expect and accept stigmatization and discrimination for the remainder of their lives.
Calcutta's Sonagachi Red Light District
Sonagachi is home to the largest red-light district in Asia with over 11,000 commercial sex workers compressed into a one-mile radius.
Every evening, rickshaws vie with one another to enter the illicit roadways, weaving their passengers past mounds of rubble and sewage streams to begin a night of sordid entertainment.
The district’s "Sonagachi" main street gives way to a clumsy patchwork of dark alleyways on which hundreds of decaying, multi-story brothels crowd the narrow walkways. The brothels’ colonial walls crack open like parched earth. Their highest floors creak and lean precariously into alleyways, ensnaring in their crooked grasp a thick aroma of dirt, sweat, and hot garbage.
Brightly-adorned women in tightly wrapped saris lean seductively against the decaying outer walls advertising their services. Men, young and old, circle the women, following them unashamedly into dark hallways. Fifteen minutes later, the pairs emerge again, the men disappearing around the nearest corners and the women resuming their position to woo their next customer.
There is nothing nice about the area. One 16-year-old girl has reported that “Yesterday I played with dolls. Today I am a woman and have been raped five times.” The girl entered prostitution when she turned 12, and already has had five abortions.
By all estimations, the needs in Sonagachi seem
insurmountable. But there is hope...
Setting Them Free
Would you put a price tag on your mother, your sister, your son or your daughter?
Just as they cannot be fitted with a price tag, neither should the women and children of Sonagachi. Like the rest of us, they deserve a fair chance to reach their true potential. Women should not have to live with the stigma of prostitution. Children should not forgo their health and happiness for a bed in the brothels.
Mukti in Hindi means “freedom.” Mukti Village paves a path to freedom for the women and children of Sonagachi. For women, we provide alternative employment so they are not ensnared by pimps and madams. The ability to work a respectable job not only helps them regain their sense of self-worth and purpose, it also enables them to create a new identity for themselves where their past remains in the past.
We empower and enable children to realize their dreams through education. We pay for their school fees and ensure that they receive a daily meal and medical care. We enable children to be children – a simple luxury that is all too hard to come by in Sonagachi.
What will you do to be a part of this movement today?
Please note: You should be aware right at the start of your support of Mukti Village that apart from transparent financial reports, we will not be sharing pictures that reveal the identity or the real names of the women and children we are serving. The idea is to give these children education, employment opportunities to their mothers and a path to mukti (freedom). If I were a daughter of a sex slave, I would not want everyone to know. The women and children we serve also want to be treated with the same kind of respect and be given another chance. Join us as educated and mature partners who are committed to making a real difference.