Sunday, November 22, 2009

India [a photo essay] Day 10

Later, the girls and I were [finally] granted an interview with two of the ladies. Daisy helped with translating, but teasing out their stories was still difficult.

Radha grew up in a small village and was married off at a young age. Soon after her marriage, her husband began to beat her. In her despair, she confessed to a male acquaintance that she wanted to get away from her situation. The man asked her if she wanted to leave with him and she said yes. What happened next is not entirely clear, but she believes the man slipped a pill in her drink and she passed out. When she woke up she did not recognize her surroundings. She was later told she was in Mumbai. At the time she thinks she was only 10 or 12 and already pregnant with her husband’s child. A boy. Years passed. She did not want to tell us about this period of her life. Her son grew up and married, having two daughters of his own. While he was alive, he provided for her. Later, her son passed away leaving her with two grandchildren and a daughter-in-law. With no other family to care for her, she faced a new life of terrible hardship.

With no other options for survival, she started working in the red light district. Her grandchildren played in the streets when she took customers to a room.
Vera met them and began to ask questions about their situation. After a while, she invited the children to come live at her home. Radha is able to visit them occasionally. She reports, “Vera is good and takes care of my grandchildren.”

It may seem shocking to us, but she clearly doesn’t know her true age. She guessed that she may be 45 or so; but decades of life in extreme poverty have not been kind. As an older woman, her earning power as a prostitute fell rapidly and she turned to the owners of the house/brothel requesting money for cleaning and taking care of the house. We asked if there was anything she wanted in her life, and she said that now that her arm and leg are better (she went through a period of bad health) nothing is important to her so long as she knows her grandchildren are safe. Despite her troubles, she maintains a positive attitude. Radha said, “In my life, it is said that I should be sad, but instead I laugh.”

Marchina giggled a lot when we talked to her; yet it was hard to tell if some of that energy came from nervousness. Regardless, she opened up to us and began to tell her story. She grew up in Kolkata. Still single at the age of 18, her neighbors kidnapped her and sold her to workers/a pimp in the red light district in Mumbai. She tried to leave several times after being beat by the house owner, but was powerless to escape. Finally, she enjoyed a short time of freedom staying with a friend, but since they were not related, she was only able to stay for a few months. After five years of living as a sex worker in Mumbai, she married a man and had two children. Her husband treated her very well and provided for her. However, when she went to the hospital to deliver her second child, her husband took all of her money, jewelry, and other possessions and left her. After two months, he returned; but Marchina refused to forgive him or allow back into her life.

After this episode, she started working in the red light again. During this time, a family “adopted her and her children” but this support was short-lived. They soon were not able to care for her anymore so she had to resume sex work again. After a while, she met a man who now lives with her and takes care of her children. He takes them out to play and treats her well, but she refuses to marry him because of her ordeal with the first husband. Marchina wants to leave the district. She says she would be happy if she “could take her children out of the area and clean houses” to make money.

When Vera started her home, she searched the streets for the ladies’ children. She met Marchina’s children. They accepted an invitation to visit the home for 10 days and loved it. Now Marchina is extremely grateful to her. She says, “Vera loves my children so much.” The girls are now twenty and fifteen. The youngest is still allowed to live at the children’s home, but the oldest has to decide whether to continue living in another home with the nuns until she is married or find another path for her life.

After our first encounters with some of the women, Melody, Stephanie, Jardena, and David decided to walk through the red light on their own. Without Karan escorting the group, they received much more attention. Men called out in Hindi, other’s cried out hellos, and child after child ran up to them to shake their hands and ask for money. Later, as they stopped to examine a clothing and fabric shop, David saw a large group of sex workers run for cover when a signal alerted them that police patrol was approaching. They disappeared into the buildings and alleyways. The patrol passed. The women reclaimed their positions.

Over the next few days, there were many opportunities to spend time with Vera, her partners, and the women. The girls met with the ladies and the nuns for lunch. It was more of an introduction to the women, hoping to build trust in our motivations, and to get to know us better. Unfortunately, we lacked translation for most of the time and not much happened other than eating and smiling at each other; yet one of the ladies invited Melody and Stephanie to their home the next day.

... an excerpt from our book: 30 Days

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