After getting to know some of the women I wanted to make my project more personal, to tell their stories as a sister, a mother, a daughter – as a woman, not just a sex worker. I would earn 2,000 or 3,000 rupees a day, and I had to give it to my husband. He was very jealous and accused me of giving the money to another man if I did not earn any money that day. He threatened to send her to the brothels too when she started to grow up. I fought with him but he poured a lamp over me and set me on fire [she points to another scar on her stomach].
I have been working on images that portray intimacy, femininity and tenderness as well as showing the often-brutal reality of life within the brothels. I had to jump into the mud in the lane from the balcony to put the fire out. Eventually I stood up to him and I reported him to the police. He worked for [the NGO] SAI, which is how I know about it. But he died from AIDS about four or five years ago, and now I am HIV positive from him.
In south Mumbai’s red light districts there are an estimated 100,000 brothel-based sex workers. A high proportion of the women and girls have been sold into sex work, often by a relative or a trusted family friend; others are born into it.
Life within the red light districts is incredibly difficult.
Then my mother made me a prostitute too, when I was 14, and I had to stop my studies.
I had to do all the work in the house because my mother was bedridden, and my sister was out all day and night.
They feel empowered, with a new-found sense of self-respect as well as respect within the community.