They write the wrongs

Daughters of sex workers run a magazine to tell their mothers’ stories


By Alok Kumar Gupta
Published: Monday 31 May 2010

They write the wrongs

Mujrapatti and Laltenpatti are dimly-lit, they reek of an acrid mixture of cigarettes and itr (perfume). Most houses there have a nameplate. But these do not disclose the names of the people therein. They only inform of a dance performance: “8 pm onwards”. Outside, in the lanes of the two red light areas in Bihar’s Muzaffar-pur district, women flaunting jasmine flowers negotiate with their clientele. As evenings get busy, their daughters get together for meetings. The meetings are to discuss Jugnu —their magazine that talks about the world of the sex workers.

Jugnu means glowworm—it can be seen only in the dark, just like the life of our mothers here, says Nikhat, editor of Jugnu, who heads a team of 12 girls. It started, after much struggle, as a five-page newspaper in 2002, and has grown into a 32-page magazine now. The repo-rters, some of whom have completed high school, are a passionate lot.

Some-times they travel hundreds of kilometres to cover crimes such as rape. Apart from news of police raids and violence by pimps, the reporters interview sex wor-kers and ask them about their dreams. Most stories of the sex workers are similar: lack of finances forced them into prostitution and now they aspire for a regular family life. “No one wants to marry a sex worker. We are objects of ridicule,” said a 27-year-old asking not to be named. Personalized accounts, though, strike a chord with most of them. They like to see and read their names in the magazine and write letters to the editor. The magazine gets about 70 letters every fortnight.

Jugnu is part of Parcham, an ngo that the daughters of the sex workers set up in 2002. Naseema, its founder, wanted the community to know about their rights. It took six long months, she said, to set up the organization. “We were fed up of police raids and atrocities by pimps. No one knew of our plight and our side of the story. So we decided to bring out a newspaper,” said Naseema.

The red light areas are usually raided when clients are duped or there is violence. “Sex workers do not dupe them. Middlemen gangs are constantly fighting over dominating an area. That causes violence, and consequently, raids. Since they bribe the police, we get arres-ted,” she added. Three years ago, she recalled, pimps threatened to kill the newspaper team because they tried to organize a legal camp and a police-public meet in the red light areas.

“We wanted to standardize prostitution fees, and end the exploitation for good,” said Naseema. The meet was a success. “Police inspectors gave us their phone numbers and lawyers told us of our rights,” she added. They also complained that there is no proper work place for sex workers in Bihar. “Clients go to the sex workers’ houses where nothing is hidden from the children,” Naseema said.

The children, all in their early teens, do not depend on their mothers to run Jugnu. Parcham has a team of street theatre artists who are daughters of the sex workers. Each show generates Rs 1,200 to Rs 1,500. A part of this funds Jugnu.

The magazine, handwritten and photocopied, has its readers in the red light areas of four districts, where the reporters sell more than 800 copies, including 150 to subscribers, at Rs 5 per copy. Members of Parcham also distribute copies personally in the districts. The cash that comes in covers the cost of photocopying, Naseema said, as she gave a copy of Jugnu to Nikhat. The cover had hand drawn images of the feet with ghungroo (anklets), next to a tabla and a sitar.

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