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wake up around 5am so I can use the latrine early, while it's still quiet.  

I share it with nine other households. Each has one room about 8ft square. Although Kalighat is a red-light district, families live here too, street vendors and stall workers, but most prostitutes live alone like me.  

My room doesn't smell so good because it's next to rotting rubbish and the latrine, but it is away from the street.  

I go back to sleep until 8. My bed is a thin mattress on a board lifted off the ground by red bricks at each corner. Under the bed are the pots I use for cooking and washing.  

My saris and underclothes are strung on a wire across the small window. I have electricity, a light bulb, a fan, a black-and-white television and a suitcase.  

If I'm on my own, as I mostly am, I make tea, heating the water on a kerosene stove in my doorway. If my babu — he's like a special client, a temporary husband, you could say — is with me, I give him naan bread and sweets. Calcutta is famous for its sweets: all colours and varieties you can buy here.  

Then I go to the vegetable stalls outside and buy ladies' fingers, brinjal, potatoes, tomatoes and garlic to cook later.  

I put on eyeliner, a bindi on my forehead, my jewelled earrings and gold bangles, and I am working the street by 10am. There are three of us who mostly go together — Arati, my best friend, and I watch for each other. I work a little strip just outside the slum beside the Mohambagam football club.  

There is a disused pitch and that's where I go with my clients. Mostly they are strangers, rickshaw drivers or hawkers.  

Kalighat is the cheapest red-light district, but I have to work here because I'm old now. I need to make 250 rupees a day [about £3.50]; my rent is 45 rupees a day and I am paying off a loan to my landlord for hospital treatment. My clients don't have much money — maybe I get 50 rupees a time. I try to make them wear a condom but mostly they don't. I have been very lucky: I don't think I have any sexual diseases. There is a clinic in Kalighat run by the Hope Foundation for us. I go a few times each year.  

When I was young I worked on a jetty on the Ganges — they call it Babughat. I would go with men on boats they rent. Then I would have 10 or 12 clients a day easily, shopkeepers or truck drivers, and each would pay me 250 rupees.  

My own family in Bangladesh has no idea if I am alive or dead. I grew up in a small village with three older brothers and a baby sister.  

I was trafficked here when I was 14 by a man who married me. His real wife and children were here in Calcutta, and he brought me here. He sold me to a brothel. I was terrified, but he was my husband and I thought I had to do what he said. I did not have the guts to tell my family what had happened to me, so I never contacted them again.  

If I'm lucky I finish around 9.30. There is a lot of waiting around now, so we drink Bangla liquor, a strong illegal drink they sell on the streets. I drink it quite a lot — it helps. If I have made enough money I go home with Arati, and maybe we go to my room or her room and share some food. But if business is slow I stay out all night.  

Even if I finish early, I can't sleep until 2 in the morning. I worry about so many things. I have had six pregnancies, but I only have one child, Sheila Khatoon. She's 14 now and she lives in a girls' home run by the Hope Foundation. I visit her on the last Saturday of every month. I tell her I sweep in a hospital, and I wish I did, but no one would employ me now. She lived with me until she was seven.  

She didn't go to school and I couldn't really look after her, but I didn't bring men back to the room with her there. Then the Hope Foundation found her on the street. I wanted them to take her. If my daughter was to take up this trade, I would want to die. No mother can imagine such a thing as this. But she would have had no choice if she'd stayed here.  

At night I think of my parents and my daughter. I think of what would happen to her if I died suddenly. I worry about how I got myself into this situation and what will happen to me in the future when I cannot make money any more. Around 2am I fall asleep, and then I don't dream.  

Andrea Catherwood is the UK ambassador for the Hope Foundation  

Interview: Andrea Catherwood.



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Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Mjmurphy wrote May 21, 2009
    • so sad



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Safari wrote May 22, 2009
    • so sad and so real and on and on througout the centuries.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      UK Girl wrote May 22, 2009
    • Very sad and very true - it’s hard to describe how much poverty you see when you go to India and the Far East .. I’ve been on route to a factory early in a morning and see whole side roads filled with sleeping bodies ..... and then the shanty towns near the town dumps and the stench is just sickening ......



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Safari wrote May 22, 2009
    • yet the oldest “job” ever in the world.



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    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      'Chelle Brewer wrote May 26, 2009
    • A terrible situation which perpetuates itself until you force something different.  Change is scary and it is very hard.  I cannot say I would do the right thing... no one can unless they are there to make the choice.  But I do know nothing can get any better unless you force it to.  If you are unhappy, but content because you have become accustomed to not having your daughter, your parents, or yourself, this is indeed sad.  But as long as you are alive, there is hope.  

      In reading your words, you are a strong woman. That type of life will do that to you, or kill you; those are the only options, right?

      There is another option--one you have not yet discovered, but it is there.  Find it, if you are indeed ready to do something more.  You are worth it, do you believe me?  You can still think... THINK! Show your daughter the type of woman she can be!



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