Posted by Harasankar Adhikari
From a study of Commercial Female Sex Workers (CFSWs) at the Bowbazar red-light area of Kolkata, it was found that 48% of the sex workers were Muslim and were from different parts of West Bengal and the Republic of Bangladesh.
It was recorded that the CFSWs from the Muslim community were not preferable to clients. So they have had to change their religious identity according to the demands of the clients. They opined that it helped to operate their trade smoothly.
For the purpose of their trade, the CFSWs “converted” to Hinduism. They put on conch bangles, put vermilion on their foreheads and changed their surnames in accordance with the social identities of their “babus” (male partner/brothel owner) to prove to the world that they were married and had an ‘acceptable’ social identity.
CFSWs from the Muslim community were not preferable to clients.
This “conversion” is also crucial in overcoming difficulties that may arise from the trade linked to the prejudices of customers/clients and local men. The sex workers also took up Hindu prayers and celebrated common rituals linked to Hindu deities such as Goddess Kali, Siva or Sitala.
The children of the CFSWs get their religious identity from their mothers’ babu with whom they have developed an emotional connection, without any customary rituals. This mutually beneficial arrangement between CFSWs and their babus is temporary as many CFSWs claim to have had five babus in their lifetime. This situation creates an identity crisis among the children of the CFSWs.
Farzana (38) was working in Bowbazar for 15 years and more, when her husband left her and their daughter, Parveen. She was got remarried to her babu who was a permanent customer from the Hindu Bramhim community.
Now Farzana has changed her name to Sumita Banerjee and her sister now identifies as Puja. She also has a son named Rupak. She is now expected to adhere to Hindu norms and customs. When it comes to sex work, women are expected to change their identities in accordance with business needs and demands.
This can be better explained by a sex worker herself. Bandana (who changed her name from Farida) said, “Customers do not prefer a girl/woman of Muslim community. When I shared my name as Farida, they refused to proceed further. Thus, I was in a thick and thin position. Thereafter, I changed my name to Bandana. Now I can have customers easily.”
women are expected to change their identities in accordance with business needs and demands.
Srimati, (a CFSW who changed her name from Parveen) stated that “Hindu girls/women always have a demand in the sex market. A client always prefers to enjoy a Hindu girl/woman. Even a Muslim client searches for a Hindu prostitute. So, a religious identity as a Muslim hampers us in this trade.”
For the change in their religious identity, they have not faced any obstacles from their natal families, as they provide financial support to their natal families when it comes to food and shelter, as well as provisions of various sources of material comfort to natal family members.
Indian Journal of Social Work, April 2007.
Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences, ISSN 0973-855X.
Harasankar Adhikari is a Kolkata based independent social worker working on the issue of sex workers and children for the last 15 years. He has several publications in national and international journals. He can be followed on Facebook.
Featured Image Credit: Deposit Photos