Neelakurinji- Fathoming The Opaque Identities Of Sex Workers
Updated: May 25
Image Credits: The Economic Times
“Oh Sunflower, the sun's chum ,can I not be envious of you?" , sighs Neelakurinji. “ Oh Rose , the quintessence of affection , can I dare call you my sister?", whines Neelakurinji. “ Oh Chrysanthemum, the all-weather queen , can I ever emulate your timeless blooms?", groans Neelakurinji.
This brief and dramatic monologue is intended to address not only the hypocrisy of our society, but also the superfluous and fallacious shame that we carry under the façade of morality. I would have conveniently resorted to a voluptuous description, undressing your imagination to the dark vestibules of forbidden abodes, but then I do not want to attest to popularised illustrations and legitimize the discomfiture that the people in general face when the question about sex workers is ignited.
Rather than the names given to them, which are more often than not unabashed abuses, I choose to metaphorically refer to them as flowers with a sublime, bluish-purple hue, which bloom slyly once every twelve years, swathing abandoned places: the j. Unable to propagate their beauty and tantamount to a Rose, a Sunflower, or a Chrysanthemum, these blossoms wilt away in drudgery and anonymity. Oh Neelakurinji, I cannot envisage how long the precarious red lights shall define your existence.
Dragooned Into Desolation
As per news reports, sex workers of Asia's largest red light area Sonagachi had expressed their discontent towards political representatives of the area and were inclined to vote for NOTA before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. I could feel an adrenaline rush in my nerves while pondering how these women and also some men mustered courage to walk the streets in daylight exercising their constitutional rights without being judged? Did they encounter a client stealing eyes wearing the garb of civil chauvinism?
Image Credit: behance.net
This inquisitiveness, however, has no pertinence as such a sight is an exception in India. When the government records about people in this profession are paltry, it is but natural for the elected officials to forget about ensuring their rights. It has been more than a decade since the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare gave an underestimated reply to an RTI on the number of sex workers in India. It would be nothing but an exaggerated presupposition to think of sex workers going to press the ballot button, considering the stigma around their clandestine work coupled with the encumbrance of getting essential reliefs and rights in the form of voter ID cards and ration cards due to bureaucratic paperwork. The demand for adequate documents, which these workers fail to supply, keeps the entrenched inequalities in the system intact.
Laws and statutes in paper and in practice are like chalk and cheese, and this is painstaking and traumatizing for the ones who are already shackled. Prostitution is not a criminal offence per se, but what about the de facto criminalization which is implied by the laws? The laws seek to eliminate prostitution instead of checking traffickers without realizing that legislations around the world have not been able to do so up till the present date. Section 8 of the Immoral Practices (Prevention) Act is criticised for being discriminatory as it prescribes a lesser punishment to men than women for the same offence.
It is a fallacious and selective presumption that the society can be immunised against obscenity if sex workers are kept in demeaning isolation from the mundane moral business and ‘righteousness’ of the larger society. The dignity of a sex worker becomes unbecoming and their existence ignominious by vice of such fallacies.
A number of sex workers and their children inhabit red light areas across India,with the most infamous one being Sonagachi in Kolkata , which may remind you of the Oscar winning documentary ‘Born in Brothels’. In Mumbai there is Kamathipura red light area and if the trailer of Alia Bhatt starrer movie Gangubai Kathiyawadi has had the attention of your eyes ,you must be aware of this place. Budhwar Peth in Pune is an ironical place with electronic goods and books existing along with brothels. Meerganj in Allahabad is infamous for it's most precarious nature. GB road (now Swami Shradhananda Marg)in Delhi has ground floor with markets and brothels above them, thus inviting a sense of peculiarity. Chaturbhuj Sthan in Muzaffarpur reminisces the high social space concubines of olden times and Shivdaspur in Varanasi has its sheen lost and lives in oblivion .
Neither is Article 23 (dealing with trafficking in human beings, begar, and other forms of forced labour) being ensured, nor are Articles 14 and 19 of the Constitution being safeguarded from infringement during the course of a dire indignity inflicted upon sex workers. Pragmatically, this is an informal sector business with gargantuan revenue that barely reaches the hands of its employees. Dolefully, the law targets those people in the profession who have given their consent to be a sex worker. It has been accepted that this consent in most cases is coerced with time in light of no alternative. However, if the focal point of statutes will be on saving the new entrants and children of the sex workers ,they will no more be a fodder for the exploitative corners.
Image Credits: ipleaders blog
Choking in Quagmire
The dialogue around the fons et origo and ramifications has already been comprehensive and somewhat trite, but it must be noted that in the backdrop of legalization, decriminalization, and provision of reliefs and protection to sex workers, there lie certain fundamental hassles and societal hypocrisy at work. Conscientiously, the history student in me urges to briefly trace down the memory lane just to analyse historiography's revelation about this profession. An Apsara in heaven, a devadasi in temple, and a Tawaif in Mughal court, all charmed the onlookers by virtue of their exquisite dance moves and euphonic presentations. However, the altering social fabric in each of the aforementioned versions transformed the denotation of customs and artistry into something equivalent to exploitation of the acquiescent by the powerful.
Patriarchy did exacerbate the system bringing it to the current form. However , the augmentation in the number of male sex worker, transgenders, and high end prostitutes, emanates the overbearance of multilayered factors. A blanket perception about the people in the profession leads to harrowing ignorance towards the women and children cajoled or confined in the murky shackles.
While the pandemic conferred tremendous tribulations upon the lives of sex workers, it opened an avenue for virtual technology to be utilized in the profession. However, given the regulations around such practices, its sustenance is anything but smooth.
The saddening part is that there is still an uneasiness in recognising and reaching out to the sex workers directly by the government authorities prior to the enunciation by NGOs and civil societies. The questions hovering in the labyrinth of social dilemma are well-known and herein I present my answers to them. Selling sex for money is not unethical. If anything is breaking the moral norms, then it is the egocentrism and unscrupulousness of the person who tortures the one in this profession. It would be erroneous to believe that sex workers cannot be raped, because they are molested even by a group of people unabashedly howling against the work done by the prostitute everyday. With all maidenly modesty, sex workers imagine about marriage and get emotionally attached, but their dreams never materialize to the extent of providing life-long happiness. Accentuating the caste-based struggle, the lower caste women by virtue of their economic conditions and redundant social norms suffer the most in the profession. So, even if Neelakurinji musters up the courage to bloom, there is no one to embrace her in their flourishing lives. Alas! she remains just an alluring piece in a sultry afternoon.
“Oh! liberate me if I want to be free and leave me if I so desire. Let my children be not besmirched for life. Let your eyes be opened to penetrate through my blurry face to read my emotions and let your ears be pardoned for my groaning silence”, calls Neelakurinji with an oblivious identity. Feel it if you can without adjudicating, or else I shall think what Manto said was right : “अगर आप इन अफ़सानों को बर्दाश्त नहीं कर सकते तो ये ज़माना नाक़ाबिल-ए-बर्दाश्त है" (If you cannot bear these stories then the society is unbearable. Who am I to remove the clothes of this society, which itself is naked. I don't even try to cover it, because it is not my job, that's the job of dressmakers).
About The Author - Anima Singh
She is a first year student of History Honours .Needless to say that she is collectively fascinated by issues from antiquity to contemporary. She is someone who would choose being sceptical over being extreme.