Posts Tagged ‘brothel’

The Cages of Mumbai’s Red-Light District

Saturday, April 9th, 2016

Last night I went to see the LA premiere of SOLD, an extraordinary film based on the true stories of girls sold into prostitution. The film opens in Nepal, where twelve-year-old Lakshmi is deceitfully taken away from her home and forced to work in a brothel in Kolkata, India.

The film is heartbreaking and violent. How did we as a society get to a place where we’ve allowed the abduction and serial rape of the poorest and most vulnerable? Who are these men who thrill at causing such brutality and suffering? It’s said that every eight minutes, a girl disappears into sex slavery. And yet, throughout the film, there it is, the light of humanity, in simple kindnesses between the girls in the brothel, in their camaraderie and caring, in the ways in which they resist, and eventually, in the act of sacrifice that saves them all.

I wrote about the red-light district of Kamathipura in my first novel Haunting Bombay. I had walked those streets with a group of fellow students, and later had done interviews and research to learn more in order to set my story in the 1960s, but time seemed to have stood still there, adding only more decay to the peeling painted wooden buildings, the lower sections fitted with bars behind which the prostitutes beckoned. Garbage festered in the corners, the tang of sweat and desperation saturated the air. My heart felt as if it might burst from my chest. I felt drained of hope just being there. How could anything ever change?

In my book, my minor character Chinni had been sold into prostitution upon her husband’s untimely death, her infant son taken away from her. Her first thought was to kill herself. But the madame, experienced with breaking-in girls, chained her to the cot by her ankle and promised that she could see her son after half her debts were paid off. Of course, debts are rarely paid off. The brothel, 24 Falkland Road, is fitted with velveteen drapes and rexene-covered sofas. Behind the drapes lie tiny cubicles where girls and women have access to nothing but a filthy toilet pit and a bucket of potassium permanganate diluted in water to be used as a postcoital antiseptic, or in more concentrated doses, to induce abortions.

Years later, Chinni’s son eventually shows up at the brothel, a gangly, pimply-face adolescent, with his uncle, the man who had sold her into slavery, eager to take his first prostitute to bed. Chinni’s story is a thread linking the centers of power to the peripheries, showing how we are all culpable, how we are all connected in this dynamic that allows such depravity. In the end, she does what she can to break the cycle, stealing a knife and murdering her son, her betrayer, and then taking her own life. Fifty years ago in Bombay, this is the only way she could bring an end to her suffering, never mind the massive juggernaut of pain and abuse that continued on beyond her.

This is why the film SOLD, now in the midst of its 21-city tour, and the work done by so many in the ensuring years to end sex slavery and give survivors a new chance is critical, as is the rising tide of compassion and consciousness in each one of us. Change is happening. We can bring an end to this global crime. Death should not be the answer but life. Life, hope, renewal.