Crime Society

Hell in the Heart of Heaven

Kolkata–the capital of Bengal and one of the most prestigious cities in India. Kolkata is known for its People…Mishti bangali babus(Sweet Bengali Babus),Kolkata… also known for its traditional sweets and fish recipes. There are lots of colors and happy peoples scattered all over Kolkata. Peoples enjoy Durga Puja (Durga Puja is one of the greatest and biggest celebration in Kolkata celebrated in the month of October-November, dedicated to Devi Drga, Goddess of Power or Shakti) by spending million of rupees and the whole city is decorated with electrical lights. But in the midst of all these colors and lights there lays some darkness, a very naked truth that one needs to accept. In the Heart of the city there is one of the biggest Red Light Area of South Asia known as Sonagachi.

Sonagachi is located in North-Kolkata at near the intersection of Chittaranjan Avenue, Sova Bazar and Beadon Street, just north of the Marble Palace. This Red Light District accommodates more than 10,000 prostitutes and so it is one the biggest Red Light Area in South Asia. The area was used by the Bengali Babus for maintaining concubines and mistresses in the 1700s and 1800s. Several mansions in this district have their roots in history in the early days of British Raj. Legends say that even the famous courtesans and patrons of Paris knew of the fame of the Golden district of Kolkata.

There are lots of organizational efforts, made to improve the day-to-day life of these prostitutes. Personally I am associated with the welfare of these women and associated with lots of prestigious organizations who are working for their rehabilitation. We as a group use to visit them to organize various awareness camps like AIDS awareness camp, basic education and physical health etc.

I can still recollect the memories of the day when I first visited that place. I can still remember those innocent faces that were ready to tell their stories. Number of women was just trapped in that hell and few of them are there because of their family lineage. Whatever would have been the reason for those women to be there something was common and that was every woman wanted ….”FREEDOM”. Freedom from Pimps who sell them to dirty Harsh Clients, freedom from an unscure and unsafe life.

During my visit I meet lots of women. I meet Putul, I met Rani I met Laila, Farha, Gauri, Shakeela….to name a few. Putul or Putul Masi (Masi… Bengali means Mother’s Sister); she was in her mid fifties. I visited her in her room. There was nothing special except one thing i noticed. I saw a big picture of Goddess Kali (Kali is the most respected goddess in Bengal) with a big Garland of Jaba Flower (Hibicus) over the photo frame. She cordially invited me in her room. I entered and touched her feet. She offered me a cup of tea and some sweets. She is known as Putul Masi to all women over there. Masi Maa doesn’t practice prostitution recently. She is now associated with the welfare of these girls. I heard about the dark part of our city from her mainly. How the poor innocent girls in this profession of prostitution are being treated…how much they are restricted and forced to do these filthy things they perform…I heard everything from her and was bewildered to know the plight of these deprived women. I was startled to hear that forced prostitution is encouraged by the Police, Politicians, Industrialists, Players and all upper level people.

She told me her own story. She bore in a poor village of Dhaka district to a farmer family. Her father expired when she was 6 years old. Her mother was working as maid in houses to rear her children respectfully. Putul masi was the eldest child of her mother and she had six other siblings including four brothers and two sisters. Maasi grew up in very poor and miserable condition. When she was 16 years of age a boy came to her life. He assured her to marry and told her to move to Kolkata from Dhaka. But she told that guy that if she moved from Dhaka…there will be no one to look after her family. But the boy allured her with job offer and a improved lifestyle where she would be in position to look after her family in better manner. With lots and lots of assurances she moved to kolkata. On her very first day in the City Of Joy (Kolkata is also known by this name)…that guy took her to a person and introduced him as his Uncle. This Fake uncle took her to a house and she was told her that guy would be visiting her in an hour. But that hour never came and she was forced to prostitution. She tried to escape from that mess but it was not that easy. She cried but no one came. After hearing her story; I felt really bad by my heart and told her “Kedo Na Maa…..aaj theke ami tomar pola”. (Don’t Cry Mother…..from today consider me as your son”). I was thinking that she probably would have dreamt for a family; a house; a husband who pampered her cared her and loved her. But this cruel world never allowed her dreams come true. She has been sleeping with her clients instead of her husband. What would have been her emotional plight where she was forced to sleep with unwanted people and raped by people whom she never thought of even meeting.

During my visit; I was also introduced to Shakeela Bano. She came from Murshidabad district of West-Bengal. Shakeela came to Kolkata for studies. Back in home she had an Alcoholic father. One day a guy came to her hostel and told her that her father was waiting for her. She went with him and she saw her father was there waiting for her with the drastic news of selling her; he disclosed that he has sold her in the hands of Dalal just for 10,000 rupees. This is how she was trapped and forced to be a prostitute. She was crying… and begging.. I was thinking this cruel world has deprived a doctor or engineer or may be a pilot who could have served nation.. She was sold just for a bottle of whisky.. I was helpless. I disappointed her by telling that her brother was helpless. She then took me to her house and served Fish and rice. She also tied me a Rakhi(thin thread sisters tie to the wrists of their brothers in Hindus and brothers owe them their security). I felt she was very nice and decent girl. But no one came to help her… and there is not a single guy to marry this 24 year old girl.

I was just about to leave that Hell when I noticed a girl playing with her dolls. She was barely 14 years old. I heard that she came here a few days ago. Her mother sold her. She hardly knew what prostitution is. She innocently kept on playing with her dolls, without knowing the fact that her life is going to be a hell. I called her and asked her name. She told me her name is Rupa. I asked about her family; she told me that her father was expired. But she is having a very “Loveable” mother. She was expecting her mother in few days to take her away to her home. I asked her whether she is studying or not. She nodded her head positively saying that she wanted to be a doctor in future. Just imagine a 14 years old girl in brothel; playing with her dolls and never knows what prostitution is?

Usually I never cry. But on that day I rush to a bathroom a cried severely …and questioned myself is this the world we made it and is this what we expect from it? Gautam Buddha left his empire and became a sanyasi (ascetic). I always laughed over his decision that he just left a lavished life but now I can empathize with him; I am sure he would have visited one of the brothels like this or may be something less then this.

Woman was eve hence respectful and belong some man either as a mother or sister. They are someone’s wife or some ones love. They are the version of Power or “Shakti”(strength)
Maa Kali the most Respectable goddess in Bengal is also a female. She is considered the source of Power. In Hindu mythology every girl is considered as Version of Kali. I was wondering is this the way we worship our Kalis?

Every women over that place dreams of a family of their own. Their desire to have their own children is very high. It is very much visible when they offer Pujas to “God Kartik” considering him as their own son. They take the idol to their home. They bath the idol, changes clothes and offer chocolates….They treat Kartike as their own son. These were the signs showing their strong desire to have their own children.

Social taboos do not allow people to like these prostitutes and
In Kolkata people use to hate these prostitutes considering them malicious and stigma on society without knowing the fact what and why they are prostitutes and who has compelled them to be in this profession. Everybody has abhorrence in their hearts for them even in my house. When I came back from there my mother scolded me badly and ordered me to
take bath with “Ganga Jal”. How lots and lots of families are broken in this way no one ever thought about it. Did anyone ever pay attention towards this grave issue; who is responsible for their conditions? Answer echoed within me …

We; and we are responsible; who else can be other than us. They fulfill the greed and desires of people and in this service they are infected with AIDS. They die in pain and even destiny gives them bad names. But no one is there to help them. They are “Dayan”(witches) in people’s eyes…but when it comes to bloody desire fulfillment …they make them their victim. Their pseudo omens are left far behind when they knock at their doors to satisfy their hunger.

Today several government organizations and NGOs operate here for preventing Sexually Transmitted Disease(STD) and AIDS. Local NGO like Sanlaap etc are working towards the betterment of these prostitues lives. The “Sonagachi Project” is responsible for keeping 5% AIDS rates among the prostitutes. This is the most promising figure as compared to other Red Light Districts in India. Organization like “Durbar Mahila Samanwaya” currently runs this project along with some 65,000 prostitutes and children. They work for the legalization of this profession calling it as “Sex Work is Real Work: We Demand Workers Rights”. The documentary Born into Brothels: Calcutta’s Red Light Kids won the Oscar for best documentary feature in the year 2005. It depicts the lives of children born to prostitutes in Sonagachi.

Coming to the solution and its effects on the society; AIDS is spreading rapidly; there are people who encourage this profession and make hell out of heavens. These hells in return are destroying them also because this disease is increasing in India and reaching to neighboring countries also. On governmental level a campaign is needed to diffuse he image about these women who are spending their lives in extreme misery. Public awareness programs to create understanding about these women is very important.. At this very time; if we are unable to understand the situation and its outcome…… our generations probably would never forgive us for leaving them in hells.

About the author

Ambarish Pandey

Ambarish Pandey is currently working for PricewaterhouseCoopers PVT. LTD. in India, Kolkata. He is a Senior Consultant in the Advisory Division of the firm. He holds Engineering degree from Bengal Engineering & Science University, Shibpur, India's second oldest Engineering college. Besides Developing websites and other software jobs he loves to blog on Women, Minority Issues.

His hobbies are Cooking, Collectibles and Archeology(Egyptology), Bengal's & Punjab's History... His book on cookery in Bengali under title "Hesel"(Kitchen) has been published in India.


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  • The miseries of life can be seen in the plight of prostitutes.. who not only face hatred from societies but also from their families? but did anybody think who encourages and compels them to adopt this filthy profession that has become the majore source of increasing ratio of AIDS in India..

  • yeh this is reality and a black side of our society, Not only us this is black side of whole human kind. this is our so called beautiful word… people should ask first that girl that why she is in this field…before sleep with her.. sex is not only joy in life and this kind of joy….very very hurtable….

    what to do….nobody can change it…and nobody wanna change too…

  • I think there is a need to change the way of looking things.. and respecting these women who have feelings, emotions and desires.. rather than treating these women mere animals.. we need to treat them as human beings and give them their rights… I feel if we will change the way we look things; would help in eradicating so many problems from the society..

  • Very poignant essay on Kolkatta’s red-light area. I was instantly reminded of that song written by Sahir – Aurat ne janam diya mardon ko..aur mardon ne use bazaar diya.

    To control this ill in our society is not so easy.. its after all the oldest profession. Some people have said that if prostitution is made legal – instead of the illegal status that it has currently (in India and other countries) and yet it prospers through nudge-nudge-wink-wink mechanism with connivance of the highest authorities, then maybe things might improve…. Holland has experimented with that.

    Society has tried outlawing it.. and also putting several religious edicts against it.. but it also practised strongly in societies like Iran (check the link)!!

    Sherlock Holmes once said – Whenever you have eliminated the impossible whatever remains, however improbable, HAS to be the truth!

    So, complete eradication of prostitution is an impossibility – given mankind’s history. At least try and save the innocents from getting hurt!

  • Thank you Ambarish Pandey. You are a blessing.

    I was going to wonder out loud
    how we can possibly consider such a life as “a profession”.

    But I won’t.

    And to me, it seems no older than the most recent beating
    taken by one of these women/girls. No older than the fresh cuts
    across their eyes. No older than their tears right now.

    Fortunately, over the past several years I’ve had the opportunity to befriend several prostitutes.

    Not as a “john”, but as a provider of social services here in Des Moines, Iowa. Each of these women has given to me so much wisdom and life that any amount of services I can provide to them will never be nearly enough to repay.

    Their lives are hell. But somehow they distribute heaven. At least to those who care to receive.

    Try it guys. Take a prostitute to lunch. Break bread with them. Listen to their stories. This might go a long way to bringing peace into their lives and yours.

  • Prostitution, one of the oldest professions from the very early history of human evolution is not only a inhuman and brutal one but also somthing which indicates the sexual oppression by one class over another.Now the solution may not only be having a different look to the distressed one, as it can distract us form the root cause of the burning problem. The present social structure leads the mankind to every possible disbalance for their lives. Along with that, the fundamental problem of male dominating culture compels one part of the society to go to this business.

    However thanks to the author for raising the dark stuffs in fornt of our eyes as it at least helps us to know our earth better.

  • Dear Tommy,

    I had infact taken a prostitute to lunch.I must tell you that outside that nasty area they behave very decently like a normal woman.I remembered that day…when i asked her would she like to go with me in a restaurent. She was afraid..but i assured her there will be no harm to her.I asked her wether she would prefer chinese or continental or indian.She told me chinese.I had taken her to Parkl Street a hub shub pub centre in Kolkata.
    i talked to her alot …i feeled the pain …..but unfortunetly i could do nothing….I was just another guy…in her life.

  • Prostitution is the oldest profession in this world…this women are angel.They mess there lives just for the sake to make saome cruel people happy……..i dont know when their conditions will be in a good condition but still hope for best.Inshallah…someday……
    Thanks to the author for bringing this truth in front of us…….i remembered how pappu….was crying after taking a prostitute to lunch…….i am sorry buddy but this is the truth….

  • Sonagachi is only a part of sex world. In India you can get a place like it in almost every popular city as example, Kamtapuri @ Grantroad Mumbai, D.B. Road Delhi, Nagpur, Muzaffarpur, Khalpara Siliguri, Khas Bazar Burdwan etc

  • In the Western countries…..prostitution is legal and to the best of my knowledge, they are also subject to taxes….this makes this business a hell lot transparent where the involvement of pimps are minimal and the women who are involved in this business come forward willingly only. The plight of the women faced in places like Sonagachi is generally not present in these western country brothels….and the women take this profession just like any other profession. Adult shops, strip bars etc. are there aplenty…and everything is legal. But, there are some strict restrictions like no involvement of any children under a certain age of 16 or 18…and whoever you are, you have to follow this rule. The beauty of this kind of system is that it almost eradicates the involvment of pimps, exploitation, children in this business and social outcast etc. If India would have made the profession legal, these involvement of police, politicians and pimps could be minimized. Prostitution is one of the earliest trades of the world…so you can never stop that. A section of the community will always have unsatisfied sexual life. They have money and excuse too. So, instead of trying to eradicate the trade if it is accepted legally as another profession, the problems would be largely minimized.

  • @ Sushim Da,

    I agree with you that considering this as a legal profession …the problems can surely be minimized at least to a certain level! however thanks dada for going through my blog…really nice of you!