On my third day in Kolkata, I had an urge to walk through the lanes of Sonagachi (Sonagachi is supposed to be the largest red light district in Asia). Concerning safety, I chose a late afternoon time to walk this lane. I saw only groups of children playing cricket, badminton and screaming and shouting along with the game. However, their yells weren't loud enough to overcome the silence that lurked these streets. •
Silence speaks much than noise. My heart was pounding as I entered, and even when I picked up a shuttlecock which went off field during a seldom game and threw it back at a waiting child, the silence had enveloped me so fully.
If you must exile me,
Wound my lips before I go."
These lines mean so much in varied contexts. This is how I spent my last Saturday of 2018. Am I grateful?
0 2035:15 PM Dec 29, 2018
♤ Into the Red》》 City in a city, the red light district is vast with hundreds of brothels housing more than ten thousand sex workers.
When I finally reached there with few NGO people, I was a so confused because I did not see any buildings resembling brothels, or any of the ten thousand sex workers that were supposedly doing business here. All I saw in front of me was a vacant petrol pump. We got out and walked about twenty yards and turned left onto a narrow lane that intersects the main road. Just in front of us were several women sitting in a row near the end of the lane wearing bright lipstick and t-shirts with skirts. The farther we walked down the more women there seemed to be standing around in groups or sitting like the others. Then, Sonagachi opened up before us. We walked into a small square from which other lanes, gullies, and allies going off in different directions. We had entered through but one of countless entrances into the district.
The lady above in the picture is Ruprekha she is from Bangladesh she was sold by her husband at the age of 17, A mother of 3 children. She is in her forties, an unactive women where two of her son works as a labour, her elder son are into drugs she termed him as 'dalal' while narrating the story in Bengoli.
She said the cost of the commodities is little high in the area compare to other places that help her to survive by selling fish in the area and the room rent is very low she pays 150 a month. She wish to stay there. She refered 'Sonagachi' as her home.
“What We Saw During A Visit To Kolkata's Largest Red Light Area”: Ashok Alexander, who headed the the Gates Foundation's HIV/AIDS prevention programme Avahan for over 10 years, speaks about what he observed and learnt during his visits to brothels in Sonagachi, in his new book ‘A Stranger Truth’. Log on to our website (link in bio) or check out our IG story to read the full excerpt.
Taken with permission from ‘A Stranger Truth: Lessons in Love, Leadership and Courage from India's Sex Workers’ by Ashok Alexander, published by Juggernaut Books.
"One day, while surveying Sonagachi, we went to a house. I got talking to the couple and their child when a customer walked in. The woman left the conversation and went to the next room to see the client. All this happened in front of the husband and child. That image is frozen in my mind. A strong sense of wrong arose in me. My dominant feeling was that no child should have to see this, day in and day out," says Arnab Acharjee.⠀
Acharjee has the unflinching support of his wife and mother. He leaves home at 6 am and only returns at 10, after finishing his day job and taking care of the kids. “Well, it is only due to their support that I am able to manage my schedule and move ahead in my mission.”⠀
Occasionally, lack of support from the families that he is helping creates difficulty for him.⠀
“It is very difficult at times to make them believe that there is a better world out there, one with far more opportunities and that their kids need not stay in this profession. I understand their situation.”⠀
The 11-year-old Sonali Das(name changed) feels loved and cared for at the center. “I used slangs and bad language before. I am doing well in my studies here. But I love dancing more,” she says breaking into a devilish smile, enough to warm hearts of people who cannot imagine the reality of her circumstances, sitting far far away from these dark grim lanes of Sonagachi.⠀
If you strike a chord with his inspiring work, you may help him to do more. Your help may be in any capacity, as long as it helps to take his mission succesfuly forward to make a greater impact.⠀
Write to him: [email protected]⠀
Yesterday, I meet with the Indian Government of Cultural Relations In Kolkata (they were interested to program Kali in a few months :) where I sat with the scientists and the director. Our conversation flowed from Hinduism, chess, God, climate change, cultural exchange and more! Goutam was god in this room. He said, once you have found God, you see god in others. The conversation continued into the economic health of the farmers (there has been massive strikes). Farmers were traditionally matrichal lineages. Later that afternoon, I was determined to go back to Sonagachi, (watch "Born into Brothels" on Vimeo). As I weaved through the back streets I stumbled across the whole sale farmers. There was something fierce and cheeky by the way the men looked at me. Then it struck me... There were no women... As I stumble into Sonagachi I found the young women from what looked to be 7 years of age parading around in jewels, the teenage girls in red lipstick... This gender capitalistic sexual exploitation is a global phenomenon, yet the risk that these young women face is born into violence! Meanwhile back in Australia, a review of the department of educations "life as a teenage girl" webinar is hitting my consciousness of the extreme differences of reality. #india#farmers#redlightdistrict#teenagegirls#sonagachi#females#kolkata#kali#perspective
পুতুল খ্যালতি খ্যালতি কবে যে পুতুল হয়্যা গিলাম টের পালাম না , এহন আর খারাপ নাগে না - হাসতে হাসতে বলল সে ( কাল্পনিক )
1 8112:30 PM Oct 20, 2018
Dance of inclusion in #Sonagachi#kolkata. Sex workers won a hard fought legal battle in 2017 to perform #durgapujo in public
They also won 3 awards including one for social work because of their intervention in rescuing minors from sex trafficking #missinggirls#shootdiaries
1 436:16 PM Oct 19, 2018
আহারিটোলা যুবকবৃন্দ। .
The theme, ‘Utsarito Alo’ (streaming light), at the Ahiritola puja is dedicated to sex workers of Sonagachi, one of the oldest red light areas in Kolkata and perhaps Asia’s largest. For a Durga Puja celebration to be auspicious, the idols of goddess Durga, along with goddesses Lakshmi and Saraswati and lords Ganesha and Kartikeya, are created with the right mixture of mud from the banks of the Hooghly river, cow dung and cow urine and a handful of punya mati (auspicious soil) from Sonagachi brothels as per the tradition that has been carried on for decades. But the Ahiritola Jubak Brinda Durga Puja goes one step further. It is a feisty example of how the society can treat women who work as sex workers with respect, instead of disgust. (Source: Hindustan Times).
The pujo theme which created headlines this year for all the right reasons.
Durga Pujo is celebrated across Kolkata with great pomp and joy by people irrespective of their castes, creed or sex. The only people who are denied any involvement in the Pujo or are denied a social position is the large number of Sex workers living and operating in the heart of Kolkata.
Aharitola Jubak Brinda created social awareness and built their Pujo Mandap portraying the lanes of Sonagachi and the lives of thousands of women living a dark life with no hope whatsoever.
A praise worthy attempt indeed. .
Let's celebrate this Pujo season while simultaneously championing the rights of sex workers of Sonagachi. The Ahiritola Jubakbrinda Durga Puja committee unveiled the theme of their street graffiti, centered around the lives of these women. Beautiful and at once thought provoking, these images come at a time while the nation is in the throws of its own #MeToo movement. This was a spectacular way to celebrate the strength and tenacity of women while at once preparing to honour the Goddess as she presides over her earthly home. Our store will be on a break on 17-19 October as we join the city in its festive spirit!⠀
Sonagachi, India. Asias largest brothel, a city within a city, where 14000 women sell their bodies every day.
Some are trafficked here, forced under threats and abuse to have sex with as many as 15 clients every night. Some are 50, some only 10, or younger. Some "choose" to become prostitutes in Sonagachi due to extreme poverty and the lack of other options. Many give birth in the brothels, and the children, especially girls, who grow up here already have a bad reputation in society as The child of a prostitute and will probably have less chance of finding work outside the brothel that can provide enough money. Many of the girls are put to work by their mothers at an early age as prostitutes.
1 1094:59 PM Dec 6, 2017
RAPPORT FRÅN RED LIGHT DISTRICT
Svenska 27-åriga Sudeshna Chowdhury är tillbaka i staden hon föddes i: Kolkata, Indien. I Verkligheten tar hon dig in i Asiens största red light district där hon försöker hjälpa tjejerna ut ur prostitutionen. Hennes drivkraft kommer ur vad hon själv varit med om: "Det kunde ha varit jag".
Okay - 2nd photo from the mysterious disposable camera! This was snapped by a stranger as my travelling companions spent the entire Kolkata leg in bed and on the toilet.. A little backstory may be necessary, I planned our train journey flawlessly. We would arrive in the am in a new city, explore and then be on the night train to the next.. We did this for weeks until our plane from freezing cold, loud, smoggy Kolkata to ocean breeze Goa. So bougie am I right? @foolishlittlething and @andremabrey weren't as adjusted to the food and bugs as me and were violently ill when we reached the airport at 4am. So relieved to finally be on our way to a tropical paradise for recovery we went through security and begin to checkin only to discover we are 24hrs early!! Right... so not flawless I guess 🤣 They crawl to the nearest hotel and I was left alone to adventure through the beautiful unique jewel. I visited Mother Teresa's place, saw gorgeous architecture, and somehow convinced a poor rickshaw driver to take me to Asia's largest red light district #Sonagachi
TLDR: Me in Kolkata, alone 😍
4 1186:38 PM May 10, 2018
Feature photo: @sujatroghosh
Original caption- 'Baisakhi' claims to be 23 years old.
She calls Asia's second largest red light area, #Sonagachi, home.
Baisakhi had a family, just like you and me. However, after she lost her father at a young age, she became a victim of sex trafficking. She was taken to Rajasthan, where she was drugged, and coerced into an initial encounter with a foreigner. Soon after, she accepted her fate as a prostitute. She had thought, "Now, I am impure, so I gave in.” Baisakhi was drugged & sexually tortured on a daily basis. She stayed in Rajasthan for a while, and after a gap of 3 years, she landed at Sonagachi, where she offers her services as a sex worker.
This young lady, now, believes happiness is in spreading love, and she continues to do her part by keeping her customers happy. She considers prostitution her 'job', just how we consider the 'work' we do as our jobs.
As the fight for decriminalisation of sex work continues in the background, we will be celebrating 41st International Women's Day today.
We hope these women are treated with respect & not judged for the work they do, because often, this 'job' is forced upon them, and they are removed from the ambit of opportunities & a good, respectable life out of compulsion, not choice.
This post is a snippet from a series, Sex Trafficking in Sonagachi, photographer Sujatro Ghosh is working on.
13 4332:09 PM Mar 8, 2016
@chifumi_gram in St+art Kolkata painted a mural in Sonagachi, the biggest red light area in Asia. Deriving from the context he was working in, @chifumi_gram drew attention to the transgender community, painting the clap that is unique to the community. This is an essential mode of communication for the transgenders from all over India, as it transcendes the bounds of language.
Chifumi having first observed the clap during his first visit to India, decided to paint it bringing attention to the Unseen of Kolkata through his characteristic way of communicating universally without language and instead with hand gestures.
Location: 143/C Masjid Bari Street, Kolkata 📸 @pranavgohill
Festival proudly suppored by @afdubengale and @asianpaints#startindia#startkolkata#afdubengale#asianpaints#sonagachi#aravaniartproject#chifumi