How Hard Is It To Exit Prostitution?

by Juanita Kakoty | https://twitter.com/JuanitaKakoty | Apne Aap Women Worldwide
Friday, 18 August 2017 11:56 GMT

Photograph of the Perna Basti in Dharampura taken by Khushboo Mishra in May 2017

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* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Two days ago, Noor Bai (name changed) was attacked by her daughter's father-in-law and mother-in-law. She was beaten, her clothes were ripped, and her thin as reed seven month pregnant daughter received blows on her protruding belly. The whole of Perna Basti in Dharampura, beyond Dwarka in Delhi NCR, had gathered outside her house. But no one called the police.

In some time, Noor Bai called up Khushboo at Apne Aap Women Worldwide. She just said, help me, I am being attacked. We at Apne Aap dialled 100 and requested that the police be sent to her house immediately. It took exactly an hour for us to reach Dharampura from Anand Niketan. Outside Noor Bai's house, there was a big crowd but no sign of the police. When we contacted the police again, they said they had gone to help the victim but were sent away by the crowd with the word that it was a matter of the biradari (community) and the biradari would settle it. The police told us that this is how it always is at the Perna Basti in Dharampura.

When Noor Bai saw us, she seemed relieved and her daughter's in-laws withdrew from the scene. We asked her to come with us and file an FIR at the police station. But all those gathered would just not let her leave with us. They blocked her way and used all means to deter her from taking this step - they used threat, plea, emotional blackmailing and what not. Someone even said that her daughter's father-in-law would be nominated as the pradhan (chief) of the caste panchayat this year and so she ought to be careful.

Noor Bai is from the Perna community, where one finds the practice of inter-generational prostitution. She has built a small two room house for herself, where she lives without any extended family member unlike the rest of the housholds in the Basti. Last year, she had won a significant case at the Panchayat with Apne Aap's help. Two of her daughters are married and two are in a private residential school in Najafgarh, with the support of Apne Aap. One of the married daughters, Radha (name changed), came home last August crying that her husband and in-laws were forcing her into prostitution. Noor Bai supported Neha and told her in-laws that she shouldn't be prostituted without her will. This caused quite a furore in the neighnourhood. A Panchayat was called by Radha's in-laws and after a gruelling six or seven hour session, the Panchayat finally gave the verdict in favour of Noor Bai and Radha. This decision of course was influenced by the presence of Apne Aap members, and Noor bai's long association with Apne Aap.

Since then, Radha has been repeatedly asked by her in-laws to either get into prostitution or pay them INR 2.5 lakh that they spent on her wedding. She has been harrassed about this and so she often came and lived with her mother. That day, when the incident took place, her husband took off with the little money she had saved over the months with her mother's support. Apparently, he went to enrol himself in an akhada (a place where boys train in body-building and wrestling) with that money so he could kick his alcohol addiction. He didn't think it appropriate to consult her before taking the money. The husband's father, later when he spoke to us and tried to reason with us about why there should be no police case, told us with a lot of entitlement that his son but had the right to use his wife's money for improving himself. 

Noor Bai, who lives off prostitution, has faced tremendous reprovals for keeping her daughters off prostitution. Radha became a mother at the age of 14 and is now pregnant with her second child. Her in-laws have a problem feeding her and her child since she does not earn.

We have been conducting intervention programmes at Dharampura for about five years now. And we have seen how the Pernas and Saperas (traditionally snake charmers, who now play drums at weddings, or engage in seasonal migration to earn money) would not allow their girls and women to move out of the Basti (neighbourhood) for work. They would tell us, get our girls and women work here in the Basti, they will not go out. And amongst the Pernas, what is allowed though is going out for prostitution, not for anything else, not even education.