This Trans Woman Is Changing The Narrative On Sex Work In India
“As long as my body is willing, and clients still request me, I will keep working. I want to work until I am old, because this is not evil work, this is not dirty work, this is work that gives humans happiness.”
"I was 15. At first, [sex] was forced upon me, which is why I chose this path. I used to work at a bag factory, and one youth at the bag factory forced himself on me. After that, I left the job and went to [the state of] Bihar to dance. [Ed. note: In some parts of India, it is good luck to invite transgender people, known as hijras, to dance at weddings or birthday parties as a blessing.] "But dancing over there, I found people forced themselves upon me for free sex. At that time, I worried about it. Then I decided that I would treat this as a 9-to-5 job, that I would do sex work and take money for it."
The police used to harass us, used to manhandle us and hit us…Today, the police bring us a chair to sit upon and respectfully ask us, 'What would you like to drink?'
"I had a lot of troubles at the beginning. Number one, no one used to listen to us. Number two, I couldn't initially tell anyone that I was a sex worker, because at that time, the police were oppressing us, goons were oppressing us, landlords were oppressing us, and even the people who lived nearby continually oppressed us. "In 1995, the Durbar organization was created. The police used to harass us, used to manhandle us and hit us…Today, the police bring us a chair to sit upon and respectfully ask us, 'What would you like to drink? Tea, or cold water?' Today they do that because we, ourselves, are organized. "Today, movie stars dance naked, and if they can enjoy this, then why can't sex workers? We want to have fun amongst ourselves, we want to have festivals. We want to show that we don't just do sex work, we can also do things outside of that."
I want to work until I am old, because this is not evil work, this is not dirty work, this is work that gives humans happiness.
"Different types of customers come to us. They want to do different types of sex [acts]. And everything depends on them as to how they can satisfy their mind's joy. Today, in their homes, they cannot find that happiness. For that reason, we are collecting all of the various happy stories, too, so that they will stay as a sort of history about what kind of clients visit sex workers, and what kind of sex they like to have."
Among all of the experiences you have had and all of the stories, which one do you find the most memorable?
"There is this one customer who brings a thin cotton towel, a lathi [stick], and the leaves of a jackfruit tree with him. Then he says, 'Tie my neck with this towel, like a goat.' And he sits and sleeps just like a goat. Then he says, 'Feed me the leaves and hit me with the stick, while saying, Eat the leaves, eat the apple, and hitting him.' Hitting him like this is his biggest sex [act]. He screams a lot."
Does he come to see you regularly?
"He comes once a week."
Does he only want that experience?
"Yeah, he only loves that. And, if anyone laughs, he doesn't keep that person in the room and shoos them away. Only I have managed to stay with him, and even I — to keep myself from laughing — sometimes bite down hard enough [on my lip] to draw blood."
"Yes, my favorite is person has been with me for approximately 20 years. He is beautiful to look at, and he really loves me."
What challenges do you face as a transgender sex worker?
"Actually, the biggest problem is that I have no place of my own to take my customers. I don't have a brothel area where I can take them, like [other] female sex workers do. What we do is — at bus stops, below cinema halls, or at some beautiful place — we stand there for clients so that they can make out who is there [to be picked up]. After that, they take us to a hotel, or a house or apartment, or to one of our own places. Sometimes, we take the client to another didi's [sister's] place. Most of the time, I take clients to another didi's place because it's a safe place. "Another problem is that if we stay in one area, then the local boys there call the cops, who extort us. Or the boys themselves, they commit atrocities. They forcefully take money from the clients or from us. Or they force us to have sex with them, without paying for it, and without using condoms. Right now, I hope that I don't become HIV-positive, because many others have. That is the biggest risk."
If customers don't want to take a condom, then we explain to them that, 'Behind you is a world, a family. For a moment of happiness, you will be ruined, and I will be ruined.'
"If customers don't want to take a condom, then we explain to them that, Behind you is a world, a family. For a moment of happiness, you will be ruined, and I will be ruined. In my body, you don't know what diseases exist or not; in your body, I don't know what diseases exist or not. Therefore, it is better that we use a condom, so that both of our families will live well." What is your role in your community now?
"I am the president of Anandam, a branch of Durbar in Kolkata. The word anandam means happiness. We give happiness where violence happens. People like us, for the most part, have violence that comes from home and from society. We have suffered a lot of violence, but we root it out and return it to a beautiful state — the name of that is anandam." How long do you intend to keep doing sex work?
"As long as my body is willing and clients still request me, I will keep working. I want to work until I am old, because this is not evil work, this is not dirty work, this is work that gives humans happiness."
Editor's note: This interview has been translated from Bengali and edited for length and clarity.