Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad cited a drop in flesh trade as one of the positive aspects of demonetisation. Gita (name changed), a sex worker in Sonagachi, Kolkata, one of Asia’s largest red light areas, has something to say.
For how long have you been in this profession?
I was lured by someone I loved, a man in my village in South 24 Parganas district. He later sold me to a brothel in Sonagachi when I was 16. Now I am 30. I handle five to six customers a day, eight to 10 on good days. I charge Rs 500 per client, but I have rent, electricity, local toughs and touts to pay too.
Were you hit by notebandi?
Our business runs on cash. After the announcement, all hell broke loose here. Our customers dropped to almost zero in the days after notebandi. Customers tried to give us banned notes, which some of us took as we did not know about the order properly. In the following months, our customers dropped by three-fourth. All categories of girls, from those who charge Rs 200 to those who take Rs 3,000 per customer, all suffered. In desperation, some took to snatching valuables of customers. They had to eat and send money home to their families.
What happened to you?
I was frantic initially. I had Rs 8,000, some of it in banned notes — four Rs 1,000 notes and two Rs 500. Local youths and touts offered to exchange my money; for every Rs 1,000 note they took Rs 400. Initially I had no customers too. My family back home depends on my income. Within a month, I had run out of money to send to them. I tried to sell my jewellery but there were no buyers. I could not pay my bariwali (house owner) and faced abuses. For the next few months, I could not even pay my son’s school fees. The headmaster was kind enough to allow him to remain in school. I tried to withdraw money from the sex workers’ cooperative bank, but they too had put a limit on withdrawals.
The government calls decline in flesh trade one of the positives of demonetisation.
Who are they to decide if it was positive or negative? It was a kick in our bellies. We are also human beings. These politicians just sit in offices and talk.
What about the future?
My future is as bleak as it was. I cannot get out of this profession. Did anything change in Sonagachi (after domonetisation)? Did trafficking of girls like us stop? No, that never happens. Don’t live in a fool’s paradise.