Forty and Done Aging Sex-Workers, India


Photo-essay on Aging Sex Workers (sanjay austa austa)

Photoessay in Mint

Click on photos to go to gallery.

The first time I went to a red-light area was to interview  Nimmi Bai in Old Delhi. She was the first  sex-worker to contest  the Lok Sabha election ( in 1991) and she stirred quite a  media buzz. I was visiting several years after her defeat to do a follow up story.  Nimmi Bai was asleep and other women around her were in various stages of comatose.  They   must have been in their  late 40’s , though they all   dyed their hair black. Their second floor kotha was a derelict ding pregnant with an eerie silence.   This was in stark contrast to the other kothas inhabited by  younger girls. The latter were dens of brisk activity, bright lights, bollywood music, edgy pimps and lots of  crude laughter.The older the sex-worker becomes, the bigger their plight. Very few amongst them become a `Kotha walli’ who not only supervises the functioning of the kotha but also in procuring new girls. Most of the older sex-workers however make no money. They have no customers. Some of them suffer from AIDS and all of them live a lonely neglected life. I visited the kothas several times over the years and realized that the moment the sex-workers cross forty they  are virtually done for. The clients don’t come to them, their  families don’t want them and even the media doesn’t care for  their sound bytes anymore.  In the red-light districts of India the elderly are relegated to the lowest hierarchy.  With no livelihood they  are expected to clean, wash and  run errands for the younger women in the kothas if they want food and shelter.  Most of them suffer from many venereal diseases but  they have hardly any money for treatment or medicines.

Occasionally a drunk rickshawalla clambers up to their dark neglected hovels. But any other potential customers are snatched from their doorsteps by pimps who promptly escort them to the younger girls.

As night falls the sex-workers watch TV ( a tiny B/W contraption) perched high up towards the ceiling. This is their only source of entertainment after a day spent entertaining others. (Sanjay_Austa)

As night falls the sex-workers watch TV ( a tiny B/W contraption) perched high up towards the ceiling. This is their only source of entertainment after a day spent entertaining others. (Sanjay_Austa)

Some of them are single mothers with children to look after. Some however have none and their only joy  is watching Ekta Kapoor soaps on television.

The ageing sex-workers believe their misery is all because their profession is not legalized.  They believe they cannot fight for their rights unless their job has some validity.  Sex workers usually clam up the moment you take out your  spiral and pen. I realized picking up a camera would be so much more difficult. Deeply distrustful of the NGO’s , the media and the police,  it took many visits  just to win their confidence.  But their trust was not guaranteed.  Sometimes they would let me photograph them till late in the night but other times I was looked on as a suspicious intruder and asked to leave even before I took my first shot.

5 Responses to “Forty and Done Aging Sex-Workers, India”

  1. Parul says:

    Plight of a sex worker! Nice attempt to showcase one aspect of kind of pain a lady working in the red light area goes through. Sometimes a chosen profession, sometimes destiny, it takes more than a thought to even empathise with these living creatures (are they?)

    Tragic and sad 🙁

  2. sanjay austa says:

    Thanks Parul for your observations.

  3. SHYAM says:

    They are also the important segments of our society and serving social purpose. In their absence so called cultured girls would have been on higher risk.
    Hence government should introduce some subsistence allowance to those who got infected with HIV.

  4. Mrs Eva- Maria Kargi says:

    Good evening, Mr. Sanjay Austa!

    Thank you very much for your great work and for your EXCELLENT pictures!
    I reached your website while searching for pictures of India in „Google“. On your website I saw your photo essay „forty and done“ and it really touched me deeply!
    The pictures are very good – showing the reality without exposing or exploiting the women….!

    Please accept my best wishes and regards!
    With greetings from snowy and icy Austria/Europe,
    Mrs. Eva-Maria Kargl

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