Sex workers chronicle life in Indian brothels

MUMBAI Mon Jul 30, 2007 5:06am EDT

1 of 4. Sex workers stand on a roadside pavement for soliciting customers in a red light area in Mumbai July 28, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Punit Paranjpe

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MUMBAI (Reuters) - An exclusive magazine for prostitutes is offering a snapshot of life in some of India's biggest brothels, reporting the murky world of pimps and violent customers and showcasing the dreams and talents of sex workers.

"Red Light Despatch", a monthly publication, is full of emotional outpourings of women sold to brothels as children, personal accounts of torture and harassment, poems and essays by prostitutes, book and film reviews and advocacy articles.

Health workers and prostitutes sit together once a week in a tiny newsroom located inside a brothel in India's financial capital to discuss stories, headlines and the design of issues.

The reporters, often themselves prostitutes or their relatives, file their contribution after scouring the brothels of Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi and some smaller cities.

"We choose the best stories for publishing," said Rupa Metgudd, a news coordinator and daughter of a former prostitute, sifting through reports for the latest edition. "The magazine is not a mere publication. For us it is journalism of purpose."

Although prostitution is illegal in India, it is a thriving underground industry and voluntary groups estimate that there are about 2 million women sex workers.

Launched six months ago, the magazine is a platform for the collective memories, nostalgia and dreams of the sex worker community and an attempt to wean their children away from the profession, said editor Anurag Chaturvedi.

DREAMS AND DESIRES

In one recent edition, Sita, a prostitute from Kolkata who gave only one name, told of her violent childhood marriage that forced her to flee her home and land in a brothel.

"My dignity was torn to pieces. I used to cry a lot. But I soon learnt some things will never change no matter how much you cry," she wrote.

Elsewhere, women wrote about betrayed love, bad marriages, their dreams of living a life of dignity, of owning a "house with lots of sky", and about the "frightening" world of prostitution.

With a little help from a voluntary group, the magazine prints about 1,000 copies in Hindi and English and is distributed free among prostitutes and residents of red light districts.

The ragtag magazine, without any photographs, looks more like a booklet but it apparently serves the purpose.

"It's a platform, a vent for many prostitutes who deposit their anger, hurt and thoughts on these pages," said Anita Khude, a health volunteer associated with the magazine. "The magazine is for them and it is about them."

If there were any doubts about the quality of the magazine staffed by people with no journalistic experience, two former journalists help edit it.

There also are plans to turn it into a more appealing tabloid in Hindi, English and Bengali.

"We have little money, but we still pay our writers small amounts so that they realize they can earn a respectable living as well," said editor Chaturvedi.

For its reporters, getting stories from brothels is not a problem because "we are accepted as one of them".

"When we go to people's homes they are comfortable and they talk," said Khude. "In the next issue we will write about how a 'normal' man -- a poor roadside snacks seller -- fought prejudices and married a prostitute he fell in love with."

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