sex worker
Shutterstock/Ekkasit Rakrotchit

No condom, no sex: the story of a Mumbai sex worker

By Harish P Tuesday, November 28, 2017 - 14:24
Do safe sex rights apply to a sex worker? Amrita*, a 27-year old sex worker from Mumbai, tells us about her brush with harassment, that stumbled her on to the path of understanding her rights.

Poor beginnings

Amrita never wanted to be a sex worker but was compelled into it because of financial constraints. She was born in a very poor family in Purnea, Bihar where they barely managed to have two meals a day. When she was 18, her parents forcefully married her to a man, who was 40 years older to her. The marriage didn’t last long as he was terribly abusive and exploitative. Her family wasn’t of any help when she complained to them about her husband. They did not want her to come back as there were no means to feed her.

Two years into the marriage, unable to take the violence anymore, Amrita decided to run away from her husband without any plans for her own future. She stayed for a few days with a friend who worked as a domestic help and lived in terribly impoverished conditions. She tried working as a domestic help herself, but one year down the line, she found it extremely difficult to make ends meet in a city like Mumbai.

Just for a short while

She wished to move beyond the utter frugality of her existence. A chance meeting with Mahima – her friend’s cousin, gave her new hope. Mahima seemed to have a comfortable life, lived in her own house and wore good clothes. Amrita was curious to know what Mahima did for a living. She even asked her friend to ask Mahima to get her a ‘job’. Little did she know that Mahima was in the sex trade.

She had a long chat with Mahima, who told her about the amount of money she made from her work. Amrita was so tired of living in a dilapidated condition that she decided to give that profession a try for some time. Mahima didn’t really force Amrita into sex work. But with her description of the money that came with the work, she definitely managed to lure Amrita.

Amrita moved in with Mahima, where three other girls also lived. The clients found them through word-of-mouth publicity networks they had established through certain local shopkeepers and business owners. Amrita gave herself six months and decided she would make enough money to move out of this profession.

The unsaid norm

Six months soon turned into one year and before she realised, it was already five years in this profession. On several occasions, she had the desire to quit and move on to something ‘normal’ or ‘respectable’ but didn’t because her work afforded her better-living conditions than what her family or husband could provide.

The desire to quit sex work had never gotten more intense than it did a year ago when a certain incident with a man brought her to the edge. Safe sex had always been an unsaid norm in her work culture ever since she had started. ‘Unsaid’ in the sense that she didn’t work for any organization which forbade unsafe sex. She was, more or less, a private operator.

Also, Mahima – who groomed her into this profession, had imbibed the importance of observing safety as a sex worker. On several occasions, she had to turn down certain clients when they had insisted on unprotected sex. Most of these denials happened without much hoopla.

Threatened with life

One day she came across Vikram, a middle-aged man who had sought her services around twelve times in the last three months. They met at his place in a posh locality of Byculla each time. Despite the frequency of the meetings, she barely knew anything about the man and was shocked when one day he insisted on having unprotected sex.

Amrita politely declined his request without any second thoughts. He persisted vehemently, first arguing that he was totally clean and that by now she should trust him. When Amrita refused to budge, he started threatening her to go violent on her. His threats set her instincts on an alarm and she immediately got out of his flat fearing what he would do to her if she stayed.

But the story didn’t end there. Vikram would constantly harass her by calls and messages. He even gave her a warning that if she did not oblige her, he could even kill her by finding out where she lived. He even threatened her against talking about this to fellow sex workers or taking it to the police. Amrita stopped picking up his calls thinking he would stop but he did not, even after a week.

Pillar of support

She was traumatized to the point of wanting to give in to his demands. That’s when she informed Mahima about Vikram. Mahima had never encountered such a case herself but she knew of a few other women who were threatened in a similar manner. She suggested that Amrita change her phone number and it turned out that the threats stopped because Vikram had no other way of reaching her. Thankfully she had been sensible about not meeting Vikram around her locality.

Mahima also got Amrita to visit several NGOs who worked for the rights of sex workers and speak to a few counselors. Amrita had no idea that such a support network existed. It exposed her to many different people involved in sex work as well as people working towards the rights of sex workers. Until now she was under impression that prostitution is illegal in India. Only through meeting and talking to several well-informed people, through Mahima, did she learn that prostitution in a private capacity is not illegal in India. She also became aware that sex workers, like any other individuals in the country, have a fundamental right to consent if any partner insists on unsafe sex.

She still lives in fear though, expecting Vikram to turn out of nowhere someday. This brush with threats and harassment changed Amrita in many ways but now she knows she is not alone in this situation and that she has a support network to turn to in case of a similar situation in the future.  

Names changed. 

Person in the picture is a model. 

Were you ever forced to have unprotected sex? Share your story with Love Matters on our Facebook page. If you have a specific question, please visit our discussion forum - Let’s Talk.

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