Family nudist jpg
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The bright tungsten lights of grocery shops and the high volume of Bangladeshi pop music from the tea stalls mesmerised the whole area. Between these stalls, the alleyways on the other side of wide drains were dark. Following my fixer I suddenly found myself inside one of these narrow lanes, where young girls with heavy makeup and colourful clothes were lined up. The girls of different ages, though mostly teenagers, tried to draw the attention of men by laughing, chuckling and pulling their hands.
The neighbourhood, which consists of around 100 buildings with more than 800 small rooms, is one of the 14 official brothels of Bangladesh. But in essence it is a prison for around 900 sex workers.
The young prostitutes in this brothel must serve at least 10-15 customers each day. Being a “Chukri’ or bonded girl, they are bound to follow the orders of their Sardarni (house owners, who were prostitutes themselves before and purchase girls to run their businesses).
“When I first took a customer; I didn’t realise what was going to happen. He raped me again and again. It was bleeding severely and I was crying. I didn’t have any idea what sex is,” said Hashi, who has been working as a prostitute since she was 10.
“I used to serve customers one after another during the whole day. I don’t know how many, but I guess I had to serve around 20-25 customers in a day. I found at least four to five customers waiting in front of my room after waking up in the morning,” said Hashi inside the brothel.
Hashi cleaned some small fish as she prepared dinner. She didn’t get any customers that whole day. I noticed that despite her age, physically she looks mature.
It is common practice among prostitutes of Kandapara brothel to take steroids like Oradexon — used by farmers to fatten their cattle — in order to gain weight and appear “healthier” and more attractive to clients. The drug can be found in any tea or cigarette stall around the brothel. No one needs any prescription to buy it.
“Six to seven years back my Sardarni forced me to take a tablet; I didn’t know that was a drug. She said, I have to look more healthy and beautiful. I first rejected her offer. She beat me up and stopped giving food. She threatened me and reminded me about my loans.” Hashi told me inside her small, packed room.
“Four years ago my Sarderni left me as she needs young girls to run her business. But I have no choice to go back to normal life anymore. I have a four-year-old son. I gave him to one of my relatives. I can’t even go to see him for last couple of years.”.
“In this brothel customers always look for healthy girls. I take Oradexon. I need customers to pay my bills and repay my loans. I hope to save some money for my son. If I don’t get customer, how can I survive? I have to pay 6,600 taka ($8-.48) rent for this small room. Every evening debtor knocks at the door for money. If I don’t get any customer in a day, I cannot eat in the next day.”.
According to research by ActionAid, sex workers between 18 and 25 years of age are most prone to taking the drug Oradexon as they need to attract clients and entertain them in the way their competition does. The drug’s side effects include headaches, chest pains, skin rashes, gastric, swelling of the body, stomach aches, high blood sugar and pressure.
Shipra Gowshami, a lawyer and human rights activist, who has been working with the sex workers of Faridpur for a long time said, “Steroids are a life-saving as well as a life-destroying drug, which is used by sex workers in poor countries very desperately. Lack of awareness, easy availability and malpractice of quacks are the prime causes.”.
As I roamed around the brothel seeking an opportunity to portray their situation through my camera, Maya, a sixteen-year-old sex worker welcomed me in her tiny room. She offered me food, and became surprised when I accepted her offer. Sex workers are treated as untouchables in the conservative Muslim society of Bangladesh.
For the last eight years, Maya has been working as a prostitute at Kandapara brothel. She earns about 300-500 Taka per day ($0.85 – $1.22) serving around 15-20 customers every day. Maya’s four-year-old son Halim lives with her parents in another town, Barisal. Maya can’t save enough money for her child as she has to pay a lot of bills and is in debt.
“When I was under my Sardarni, I didn’t know how much I used to earn, because my Sardarni took away all my income. In exchange she served me food three times a day. For me, that was enough. I couldn’t tolerate the pain of hunger,” Maya said.
“But when my Sardarni left me, I was all alone and couldn’t even eat properly during the day. I was drying up, there was no glow in my face. I noticed my number of clients was decreasing. I started to take back the medicine just to survive.”.
“After taking the drug Oradexon, I found myself very fresh. It increased my appetite and I started feeling more hungry. I feel more proud in myself.” Sitting in Maya’s room, I found several mouse holes in the floor.
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