Inside the Brothel (where lights never on)

Few months ago, an injured girl named ‘Doli’, who was tortured brutally by her ‘babu’, who is considered as her husband or lover, was taken by some of her co-workers to the nearby Mirzapur Central Hospital in Tangail but the doctors on duty refused to provide her any treatment as because Doli was a sex worker.

The girls who brought her to hospital did not have the courage to request to the doctors as they all are sex workers. After a long time without being any treatment by the doctors of that hospital Doli regrettably accepted her death as her fate.

This wicked incident was happened in kandapara under Tangail Upazilla brothel which is one of the acknowledged brothels among 12 brothels in Bangladesh.

While visiting the Kandapara brothel, an ancient brothel of this country, this reporter found many problems persist there which is being started from the neighboring mainstream people and end up with the government negligence. In their everyday life they face social stigma, harassment by customers, local people and police, inequity in enjoying basic rights as a citizen of this country. All the sex workers are being neglected despite of being as a human being.

Munni (not her real name), who is taking prostitution as her profession towards 10-12 customers per day since nine years, shares with this reporter, “We are deprived from citizen rights like the mainstream people. We are lack of standard living condition as the cost here is so high that we cannot afford the cost sometimes.

They have to pay for everything like their house rent at a fixed rate. Such as Tk 300 per day for house rent, Tk 1600 for electricity per month, Tk 300 for television, Tk 250 for satellite channel, Tk 120 for DVD player, Tk 20 for shower per client and Tk 10 for toilet usage per client.”

“Either customers come to me or not I have to pay the bills at the end of the day to the bariwali (house owner). If anyone fails to pay that daily expenditure it is habitual for the shardarni (madam) to lock up her in her room or endure sometimes physical and verbal torture.  Is it not exploitation?” Munni questioned.

Babli, another sex worker standing with Munni told, “Every girls here are prostitute either she takes this profession by own or by force, if we want to leave this job nobody will accept us in the society not even our family members. All think about us that we are impure. But the interesting affair is the people who hate us living in the society come to us at night for doing physical relation. This is your mainstream society.”

However, Munni later says that they prefer to be recognized as sex worker rather than prostitute.

Munni later informed this reporter that Babli comes in this brothel 4 years ago. Someone named Aziz took her from her village from Khulna for giving her a job in garment but that man sold her to a Sardarni (Madam) for only Tk 30000. After two years Babli went back to her family but her family rejected her as their daughter as they were somehow informed that their daughter is now a ‘prostitute’.

The situation of Babli is a common picture of many others girls in the brothel. Girls are trafficked from many villages by their lovers in the name of marriage or by some middlemen (pimps) in the promises of giving a good job as many villagers are having difficulties for poverty. Later they are sold to brothels by forcing themselves to involve in prostitution.

According to The Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act, 1933, section 11, “Anyone abducting a below a below- 18 (the legal age of maturity) girl for using her in commercial sex work, anyone forcing or putting such a girl into such work, will be penalized.”

A sex worker, requesting for hiding identity, from the Madaripur brothel informed that a girl who is trafficked from different areas sold here for Tk 20000- Tk 50000, sometimes it costs more.

She later informed that after buying the girls “The buyer (Sardarni) takes the girls to the nearby police station for registration. If the girls are under aged below 18 years, the sardarni has to manage the police official sometimes by money or sometimes let the police to do physical relation with the girl.

Every sex worker took this prostitution as their profession while women aged 18 or above have to submit a written statement declaring her age and willingness to the magistrate’s court and gets it certified. To get such written statement or affidavit which is known as license among the sex workers they have to pay money in every step, she claimed.

The anonymous sex worker assured this reporter that the sardarni arranges all the required documents for newcomer by paying some amount and without fulfilling the legal requirements of the girls appearing before the court. If the girl is under aged then the photograph of the girl in the document is arranged such a way that her age cannot be guessed. Some lawyers and notary public help the sardarnis for getting the affidavit illegally in exchange of some amounts.

In these days, these sex workers are now going to be affected to a new horror. The horror is a drug called Oradexon which is used to make the cattle as fatty. This drug is now routinely being used in brothels throughout the country. Some madams are forced the bondage girls under them to take this drug to attract clients or sometimes the attention of the police.

While visited Faridpur Douladia brothel this reporter found that every pharmacy inside and outside of the brothel sell Oradexon and the price is comparatively low.

Lutfun Nahar, manager of Action Aid who works with sex worker since 2002 tells, “Government should take steps to stop this steroid tablet selling and using from the brothel. Drug administration should monitor the availability of this drug carefully. They never monitor here.”

Apart from this, the use of condom among the sex workers is decreasing. While asking many sex workers in Madaripur and Tangail brothel about using condom for being secured from HIV AIDs or sexual transmitted diseases utmost everyone says that their last customers do not use condom. Although many NGOs are working about make them aware about condom using but the customers do not prefer to use condom.

Shipra, a sex worker from Madaripur brothel says, “We are provided free condom from the NGOs offices or sometimes we buy it from nearby shops and we are aware about the use of condom and the diseases transmitted from condom free sex but the NGOs should make aware the customers also as they not only harm their own life but also their innocent family members also.”

“Sex workers of the brothels are deprived from many rights from the society. The society cannot accept them as a human being they treat them as curse of the society but they are created for the need of the society. Government keeps this prostitution alive for the male gratification but never thought about their basic rights which are violated time to time” says Dr. H K S. Arefeen, professor at Anthropology department in University of Dhaka.

Rozi Begum, president of Tangail brothel based organization ‘Nari Mukti Sangho’ told, “We the sex workers of brothels are constantly harassed by the society people, police, babu and local people. All these people take the money of sex workers.”

But act does not support it. Section 8 of The Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act says, “Any persons, 18 or more years of age, will be punished if he or she knowingly depends for his/her livelihood, totally or partially, on the income of a person engaged in prostitution.”

“We live from our body for which we are hated by this society but who used to come to us? They are the members of that so called polite society.We are sometimes being threatened by the political figure or by the administration of the government if we talk to the media about our problems. But why? Are we not human being?” she questioned.

“If someone of us wishes to build house for future outside the brothel we are told to feed the whole society which will prove then we are included with them as a human being and become pure” she says.

She had built a house outside this Kandapara brothel but she could never go to her house as she is a sex worker.

“Some days ago I went to nearby Agrani bank for withdrawing my accounts but the bank official neglects me to help in time because I am a sex worker. We are facing problems also in receiving treatment from the local hospital if the doctors can identify us. The babus here in the brothel regularly torture the sex worker for money. They take away all the money savings by a sex worker” Mrs Rozi shares her experience who was previously involved in prostitution.

“A sex worker here involved by trafficking and once she enters in this profession she could not come out from there in her entire life. Many criminals live in the society after committing murder but we are workers work by selling our body. You the society people force us to do this work. So please stop deception towards us. We are also human being like others in the society” Rozi adds.

Local police are now a problem for many brothels as the brothel are mostly situated near the police station and the brothels are now becoming a good place to take money using their power.

While visiting the Madaripur brothel this reporter was charged Tk 20 for entering the brothel and Tk 20 when he left the brothel. A customer who wants to reside with a sex worker for the whole night in the brothel he has to pay to police Tk 60.

It is really surprisingly observed that the duty police collect the money from every brothel quarter like toll collection.

Most alarming matter is that bonded prostitutes or underage girls is on increase. Bonded prostitutes are known as chhukris who have no sovereignty over her. They inhabit the lowest ranks inside the brothels. After being a victim of trafficking or even sold by step mothers to the sardarni (landlady) the chhukris have to start forced prostitution and come under the overall control of their owner. On average chhukris have to spend a period of bondage which lasts for 1 year to 5 year. During this period they cannot enjoy any kinds of rights or freedom. Every bonded girl in the brothel does not consent their actual age as it is strictly prohibited by their owner.

Section 373 of the constitution narrates, “Whoever buys, hires or otherwise obtains possession of any person under the age of eighteen years with the intent that such person shall at any age be employed or used for the purpose of prostitution or illicit intercourse with any person or knowing it likely that such person will at any age be employed or used for such purpose with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend 10 years and fine. Any prostitute or any person keeping or managing a brothel, who buys, hires or otherwise obtains possession of a female under the age of 18 years, shall until the contrary is proved, be presumed to have obtained possession of such female with the intent that she shall be used for the purpose of prostitution.”

While talking with an underage girl named Rahima (not her real name) of tangail brothel, she says, “I am forced to do sex with 14-15 men every day which is really sometimes unbearable for me the pain as still I am not mentally and physically prepared for doing sex where such prostitution is much far from my mind.”

But these types of forced prostitution is prohibited according to law. Section 366A says, “Whoever, by any means whatsoever, induces any minor girl under the age of eighteen years to go from any place or to do any act with the intent that such a girl may be or knowing that it is likely that she will be, forced or seduced to illicit intercourse with another person shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to 10 years and shall also be liable to fine.”

Rahima further adds, “As now I am a chhukri so it’s a normal that my owner never hears about my problems. She spends money to buy me, to feed me and to make me attractive to customers. But I have a dream of being free within the next year for which I could return to my family.”

Here are the recent pictures of sex workers and bonded prostitutes in the brothel throughout the country

Brothels Name Number of sex workers Number of Underage girls
Daulatdia Brothel 1623 250
Rothkhola Brothel, Faridpur 500 202
C & B Ghat Brothel, Faridpur 150 12
Tangail Brothel 800 120
Mymensingh Brothel 310 80
Jamalpur Brothel 192 80
Madaripur Brothel 315 100
Jessore Brothel (included 3 brothels of jessore) 220 100
Fultala Brothel, Khulna 90 14
Banishanta Brothel, Mongla, Khulna 175 17
Bagerhat Brothel 64 10
Patuakhali Brothel 74 15
Total 4513 1000

Source: Sex Workers Networks (SWN) of Bangladesh

On the other hand, sex workers in many brothels are now frightening about being evicted from their residence. Recently brothel of Madaripur, Khulna baniyasanta brothel and fultala brothel, tangail kandapara brothel and the sex workers living in those brothels are given threat for eviction in many ways time to time directly or indirectly.

Islami Koum Porishod of Madaripur district called a meeting for deportation of the brothel of Madaripur. They said in the meeting that this brothel caused social depreciation for the society people. They also warn if the brothel will not close down they will immobilize the whole madaripur district.

Sumi, a sex worker of Madaripur brothel says, “Although we are prostitute but we never disturb our nearby society people as we maintain a strict discipline inside the brothel. We also have respect for the society people and the religion as we are also belongs to a religion.”

She points out to an old woman who is known as Maasi (ex sex worker) and says, “How this women live if this brothel will evict. There are more than 60 maasis who work as our maid servant and feed more their family members by their income.”

“If the government does not take any action against those who are trying to snatch away our living place that will not bring any solution rather we will scattered in the society and keep up our profession continuously as floated to save ourselves and our children life.”

A shopkeeper outside the brothel named khaled tells, “The market condition here in Madaripur is better now. Many businessmen come from many areas to do their business and go into the brothel for recreation. If it will closed down then it will affect the business condition here.”

Apart from this, Razia, President of Nari Jagoroni Sangho under Baniyasanta brothel in Khulna informs this reporter that some local goons wanted to sex with the sex workers without paying any money in Baniyasanta. When she did not let them to do that they threat to evict the brothel and after that they have already given statement to evict the brothel of Baniyasanta to the local member of the parliament Nani Gopal Mondal.

Joya Sikder, President of Sex Workers Network (SWN) of Bangladesh tells, “The previous largest brothel of this country, Tanbazar was forcefully closed down in 1999, Kandupatti in Dhaka in 1997 and Magura brothel in a south western district in 2002. The sex workers of these brothels are still selling sex, largely around the same area. So it is really shocking that some peoples in the name of the religion are trying to evict the brothels which will bring more acute problems for the society.”

She further adds, “Government should take initiatives to rehabilitate the sex workers in a perfect way as the constitution does not prohibit sex working. I want to add here that many countries of the world do not prohibit the sex working as profession including many Islamic countries and they have a clear law about this profession. So I request our government to make the law about sex working clearly to all.”

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