July 10th, 2015
Having grown up in Kolkata, Sonagachi is a word that I had been implicitly warned against using in public at a very young age. I found out what it really meant, or referred to, much later. But as a kid, I was overtly conscious of the scandal that the mere utterance of the word could have got me into. Such has been the furtiveness structured around this place that ceaselessly continues to throb in the midst of the city even today.
For those like me who have been born and brought up in this city, Kolkata is ‘the city that cares’. No matter who you are or where you come from, this city has her arms stretched wide open for everyone, ready to be wrapped around every ‘newcomer’ (because nobody here is an ‘outsider’) in a warm, welcoming embrace. Yet, what is so disturbing about the city is its striking indifference to its children that have been born out of lust and desperation, and raised in apathy.
It is disconcerting to even think that there exists a world, so removed from the one that we live in, that has been shunned into ignominy by the same city that has given us our identity. Following a couple of visits to this place (only after getting into vitriolic debates with my parents and finally defying them every time I did so) I realized that Sonagachi may be the biggest red light area in Asia, but the life that it has to offer to its women is in reality a curse so vile that death seems like a more welcoming option to most. Little girls no older than 10-11 years are sold into the grisly, menacing lanes of Sonagachi where they have to trade their existence for survival for the rest of their time. What is even worse is that most of them are forced into abortion once they get pregnant (which happens mostly because of the customers’ refusal to use any kind of protection). Once they get a little older, they are allowed to keep the babies but in any case, their work routine leaves them with very little time to take care of the newborns.
However, there are several NGOs that have been instrumental in putting these children in government or boarding schools so that at least their education is taken care of. What follows next is the ordeal that a brothel born has to undergo which cannot essentially be put into words. But what is surprising is the tenacity and the perseverance with which these people hold on to their lives. You walk into a red light area and there are very thin chances of you hearing a sex worker complain about how miserable her life is. Here every dream, every hope and every regret is referred to in the past tense.
Seldom can you get them to admit that their lives are actually miserable. You pester them too much and you’ll hear them say ‘Ab yehi humari zindagi hai’, with not a tinge of regret or remorse. These are the people who will foul mouth the life out of you if you cast them one loathsome glance. Their profanities have the power to turn you deaf should you dare to make one inappropriate move or remark. But these are also the people who have accepted life in all its ugliness and made peace with it.
Or so I wondered as I promenaded down the morbid lanes of this red light district that it is perhaps their inability to hurl expletives at their creator, or the city that has her love reserved only for her privileged children, or even the prejudices of life that they derive a fatuous pleasure out of cursing anybody who is not part of their lives and hence, doesn’t know what it means to be living in a brothel.
The Accursed Tales Of Life In Sonagachi
It seems rather easy to complain from the comfort of our living space how certain people around us vitiate the society that we live in. How well do we know them whom we consider a permanent blotch on our society? Glance through their lives here.