Saved at last? or Sex Workers Don’t Want Rescue? Stories from India

Photo Jignesh Mistry

Saved at last: CSWs were sent to the Rescue Foundation at Hadapsar was the original caption on this photo. It went with a story the other day that recounted a rescue operation in Budhwar Peth, an area of Pune (Maharashtra, India) known for electronics shops and sex workers. The report said the workers were saved but recorded a couple of oddities: 1) the police got a translator but the women gave a fictitious address (there is more than one reason they might have done that) and 2) the police claim ‘medical tests’ will determine the women’s exact age (I don’t believe such a test exists yet).

Two days later, the sex workers are reported to have rioted at the rescue home. The person in charge there is not worried, because it has happened before and because she believes the girls are programmed to lie. True Rescue Ideology. It is quite possible, of course, that the women don’t want to do sex work, just as it is likely that they don’t want to be placed in a ‘home’.

Note: The redundant label CSW-commercial sex worker appears sometimes, though it is difficult to see what the word commercial adds to the meaning. If you call people workers, you imply they are doing a job in exchange for money, no?

Sex workers don’t want rescue, 23 October 2010,

21 sent to Pune shelter clamour to return to brothel, manhandle staff

More than a score commercial sex workers rescued on Wednesday and sent to a shelter in the city began a violent clamour last morning for a return ticket to brothel life. The demands began barely 24 hours since they were brought to the shelter, said Shaini Padiyare, in-charge of the Rescue Foundation home in Hadapsar that sheltered the 21 sex workers. At 9 am, all 21 sex workers stomped out and created a ruckus. They broke off the grill and engaged in a fight with the management. “The rescued sex workers began insisting on going back to Budhwar Peth,” she said.

Budhwar Peth is the red light district of the city and the sex workers were found at a brothel there. Nine of the rescued sex workers are believed to be minors, and all of them Bangladeshis.

In yesterday’s drama a member of the management suffered a minor injury on the arm. No sex worker was hurt. A case was registered at the Vanudi police station. “In major raids, initially such things happen,” said Padiyare. “In an earlier raid, when 46 girls were brought, the same thing had happened.”

The police suspect the sex workers were illegally brought into the country and forced into prostitution, though this could not be established from their statements taken after Wednesday’s raid as these were found to be misleading. “They are programmed to lie, so we don’t have correct information about them,” said Padiyare. “They even lie about their origin.” Padiyare said they were sure six of the sex workers were minors and these were produced before the Child Welfare Community.

Here is the original story:

Rescued sex workers confuse cops, 21 October 2010,

9 minors among 21 sex workers rescued; cops need Bengali translator’s services to take their statements

The police employed the services of a Bengali translator after they rescued 21 commercial sex workers (CSWs), nine of them minors, from a Budhwar Peth brothel yesterday evening.

Late in the night, the translator eventually found out that the information provided by the girls had many problems. PSI Sharmila Sutar, the investigating officer, said, “It was difficult to comprehend the address given by these girls. Many of them claimed to be from Khigirpur village in Autganj district of West Bengal. But this place is not in existence.” The brothel owners and the CSWs were later sent to the Rescue Foundation at Hadapsar.

Medical test to know their exact age will be made after these girls will be brought before the court tomorrow,” said Sutar.

The police also arrested brothel owners Gauri Tamang and Reshma Tamang. Cases against Gauri Tamang (40) and Reshma Tamang (50) were filed under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1986 (PITA). Filing of charges continued even after the midnight at Faraskhana police station.

Acting on tip-off from anti-immoral trafficking activist Shyam Kamble from Marian Trust, ACP Ranjeet Dhure along with police inspector Rajendra Kadam of Khadak police station, PSI Sutar and others raided the ground floor of Sagar building in Budhwar Peth, the place where the brothel functioned.

According to police sources, most of the CSWs were brought to the city from Bangladesh illegally. Brothel keeper Gauri Tamang has been arrested before under similar charges. Of the rescued 21 sex workers, 10 of them seemed less than 16 years old.

Debi Walker, a women’s rights activist, said, “The brothel ‘madams’ had warned these girls not to approach the police. By creating horror stories about the police machinery, they wanted to prevent the girls from approaching the police station for any help.”

– Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

23 thoughts on “Saved at last? or Sex Workers Don’t Want Rescue? Stories from India

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  5. Marc of Frankfurt

    “In an industrial suburb near Bombay, NGO activists took the Special Rapporteur to meet some sex workers during the day when they had to time to speak to her. Many of these women were from traditional devadasi families. Their families had given them to the village temple for sex work but after a while they left the temple and went to work in the city. A group of women met with the Special Rapporteur at her request. She spoke to them of the possibility of setting up a rehabilitation centre near the suburb so that the women could get medical check-ups and learn another trade and find alternative avenues of employment. The women were visibly upset by the Special Rapporteur’s suggestion. They informed the Special Rapporteur that they were very happy in their work and that they earned and saved enough money to keep their children and their parents back in the village. They had no intention of changing their trade. They informed the Special Rapporteur that she and other middle class women were safe and comfortable because of the sex workers and their trade. If the Special Rapporteur wanted to assist them, she could help them with programmes to prevent AIDS or programmes to educate their children. However, they felt that they were not in need of rehabilitation.”

    Report from Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Rapporteur on violence against women to the Economic and Social Council of the UN 2001.

  6. Amanda

    The medical test to prove their age is likely the same test they do to rape victims to determine if they’ve had sex before: see how many fingers the doctor can stick in.

    Someone tell me I’m wrong with my guess.


  7. laura agustin Post author

    I am not sure, since they have such good mechanisms for explaining, like ‘they are programmed to lie.’ No room for self-questioning.

  8. Dave

    I’m about 2/3 of the way through your book (I’m a very slow reader since I have so many ‘hobbies’ that compete for my time). If there is anything that book makes clear, it’s how simplistic this entire topic is portrayed by the rescue industry and mainstream media as compared to the far more complex reality. The idea that all sex workers (or even the smaller subset of just prostitutes) can be categorized under a single broad heading of “exploited” or “abused” or “trafficked” is so incredibly preposterous that you have to wonder how anyone can keep a straight face while doing so.

  9. Dave

    Came across this story today about how rescue industry workers now outnumber the trafficking victims in Cambodia.

    Quoting from the first paragraph:

    We all know that there is a big sex industry in south-east Asia. In fact, it often seems that sex is the only thing we hear about in reports from this part of the world as the media peddles salacious stories about ‘sex tourism’, ‘ladyboys’, virgins for sale and girls tricked into prostitution. But in recent years another kind of trade has boomed there: the anti-trafficking industry. And local sex worker rights activists tell me that this industry is a far bigger problem for them than punters looking for sex or company.

  10. Divinity33372

    Laura, your work is amazing & so helpful to all of us who have taken up the fight for sex workers rights. I want to share with you a video made about this article by my good friend and mentor in the cause FeministWhore. To go to it just click my name & it will take you there. Again, thanks you for all you do.

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  12. Lee Todd

    As we saw on the PBS documentary, the Indian ‘policeman’ who tried to liberate the girls but they refused, returned in the night to pay for their services.

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