Shafiq R Khan

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The Lustful Rhododendron : Porn industry’s roaring


                                                                          Article : - Shafiqur Rahman khan with Ajeet singh Sain 
Shimla, the ‘queen of hills’ attracts a large number of tourists from various parts of the country as well abroad. The purpose of the visit to the state varies from one group to the other, for many the lure of the hills is the chief attraction while others flock to this town for a variety of other reasons. The lean tourist season in Shimla will see a lot of young aged tourists coming from the neighboring states for fun and frolic. This segment of tourists comes looking for sexual pleasure. They are either accompanied by a companion or would look for one through the hotels or the travel agencies which arranges their visit.

Shimla town, the capital of Himachal Pradesh, and the most developed district of the state is economically sound. Though there is a skewed distribution of the have’s and the have nots in the district as well as in the town. The disadvantaged, especially the youngsters of the town are more prone and vulnerable to the growing flesh trade. Visits to different places in and around the town revealed involvement of a high number of girls in this trade. Numerous targeted interventions for prevention of further spread of HIV/AIDS are being undertaken in these areas. Conservative estimates suggest the active presence of around 2000 female sex workers in and around Shimla. A study conducted in 2003 by ORG Centre for Social Research reveals in the distribution of sex workers by age that around 45% of sex workers in Shimla are less than 15yrs of age.
In the last decade only a single case on an average in an annual year has been registered under trafficking (PITA/prostitution only). Functionaries of the State Commission for Women altogether wash off their hands from any responsibility while maintaining that this practice is negligible and only a miniscule segment of the migrants from the other states are involved in this trade. While in majority of the cases involving the local girls run away from their homes in search of better prospects. But the moot question is who lures these girls?
It was reported in the Indian Express dated 17th February 2007 that …..
A 13-yr old girl went missing on January 8 last year from her village in Mandi. Her parents did not go to the police but looked for her in the area. They did this for 11 days. Just when the father, a farmer, was beginning to think that she may have eloped, he got a distress call from her in Manali. The police then rescued her from a hotel, where “she was subjected to sexual abuse”, says Chander Shekhar, SP of Mandi. The police later found that the girl was lured by her own aunt, who promised to marry her off to a Delhi boy, only to push her into prostitution.
Certain parts of Himachal Pradesh are perhaps as poor as any other in the country, but crime rate is low and there are never any reports of children being abandoned or sold by parents. Even so, 350-450 children are reported missing every year, according to data recently compiled by the police.
Prostitution in Himachal Pradesh is largely home based and secretive with a well organized setup of middlemen. The secretive nature is a serious impediment in identifying such persons and identification of such groups involved in this trade has to be through some viable and confidential media. Some select Non Government Organizations are working on this issue but the identity of persons (Commercial Sex Workers) is not revealed. People prefer to stay away from this issue and even if they have any related information they prefer to remain quiet.
Rapid Expansion of the Shimla town in the last decade and coming up of new networks of highways ,roads and semi urban settlements has lead to proliferation in flesh trade, sex workers from the adjoining areas come to the town during the day and return to their places by dusk.

Commercial sex trade in the state is predominant in places of tourist interest. This mostly takes place in the hotels and rest houses of these tourist centers. Travel agents, local pimps and employees of these hotels are the middlemen who extend help in arranging girls/women of choice for the interested tourists. Another trend that has gained currency is of the tourists who visits these hill stations exclusively to have sex and are accompanied by their sex partners, the employees /owners for their monetary gains though obvious of the reality , provide all kind of help to these unwed couples and there have many instances in the near past where there have been instances of murder and the male partners having absconded from the town, leaving little clue for the police to nab them.
Another section involved in this trade are the young school and college going girls students who find the allure of monetary gains irresistible to support a comparative lavish style which their families are unable to. This increases the vulnerability of these girls to HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted disease’s.
Majority of the sex workers from young age group provide their services to the visiting tourists during the peak tourist season and attend to 4 customers daily on an average. During the lean tourist season they cater to the local clients. Interaction with the middlemen and the sex workers confided that majority of the girls into this profession were teenagers, as the tourists preferred young girls. The middlemen have well coordinated network and ensure the availability of girls for the visiting tourists from the nearby localities and villages. The middlemen also prefer to procure young girls as they can make maximum profit through commissions from the new entrants into this trade.
Sex tourism needs to be viewed in the unique cultural and social setting of the state; the society here is still conservative, with male domination being very strong in almost all the strata of the society.
Identifying the child population lured into flesh trade and readying them for interaction was a challenging task . A local contact helped in fixing a meeting with one of the middlemen,who was intiallly vary in opening up and discusing the dynamics of this activity,he helped in arranging meetings with other pimps and subsequently with the sex workers.
Certain interactions with tourist sex workers
The mission was to identify the child population lured into the flesh trade. And what pushes them into this trade. Where do they see themselves after a certain age. There are interesting cases related to this search. The first case identified will always remain memorable, though this was not the case of a child sex worker but a female sex worker who was highly in demand by the local clientele. She was based in a shangti town Another experience that I would like to illustrate here is a meeting with a sex worker less than 18yrs of age.
Similarly an odd number of 14 such persons were visited by the group of investigators. The
following emerged as common points from one to one discussions with them.
1. Availability of tourist clients are higher only in the tourist seasons, when they attend around 3 -4 clients each day.
2. The tourists pay more for their services therefore during tourist seasons they prefer serving the tourists.
3. Their dealing points are travel agents who arrange tourist visits and ask tourists for their requirements accordingly theses girls are contacted through some other contact – a pimp.
4. Tourists want younger girls for their use and girls above 12 yrs of age are also made available on the basis of tourist needs.
5. Most girls go for regular HIV test as on many occasions safe sex cannot be practiced. Those going for harder sex often land up with condom getting torn in the process and there is no scope for beginning with a fresh condom. The girls showed their HIV test cards to convince that they are safe persons
6. There are instances where young girls were involved with tourists coming from other states but very rarely with foreigners.
It was important to meet the middlemen in the trade and understand their role here. Discussions were with a 2 pimps in the city were only possible. Just as the sex workers work in a discreet manner these pimps are even more cautious. It took a long to get to meet these pimps. It was previously understood from the sex workers that pimps in the trade were both men and women. It took us time to begin on the topic but ultimately that emerged was that,
1. They could arrange for any age girl/women for the customer as long as the tourist/local can pay the price.
2. It also emerged that young girls from high schools and graduation colleges are tempted and lured in the trade in the pretext of leading a higher life style.
There are many cases studied under this effort, the role of the pimps and reconfirmed by all 14 girls covered under this initiative. In most cases the entry method is similar and indicates that the trade is highly secretive – open secret, as people are aware of it. Discussions with a few local persons on the issue reveal this. All prefer to turn a blind eye to it. The attitude is like – as long as it no one from my family. But they cannot be sure some school girl or college girl from their family might already have become a victim. Should efforts be made that parents are made aware of it.
As far as the customers or clients to sex workers are concerned the gratification is not in the sex (for even the married ones) but in the fact that they have monetary power, and society supports the idea that money can buy you anything, including a beautiful woman or girl. This ideology reeks with dehumanization and confirms that men are mere providers of money, and women are subject to its rule.
“I meet a girl as an employee for a tourist company; she charged her rate (Rs 1000 for an hour) for talking as she was giving her time to me. She was easier to talk to as she was young and only felt that it was an opportunity to earn more. She came from a poor family with no earning member in the family and was introduced to this trade by another woman in the same trade. Her mother mostly keeps ill and has high medical expenditure to take care off. There are no male siblings in her family she has to take care of all responsibilities at home. She had locals and tourists as her clients, has preference for tourists as they pay better and goes with them only on reference from an travel agent or a known hotel manager. She was most willing to provide younger age group girls to tourists and they could be as young as 12 - 14yrs. She said girls in the villages go for prostitution at a much lower rate and would willing do the same if offered higher amount of money. So girls at a tender age are available if you knock the right person. Their network is very strong and linked with travel agents, hotels and guest houses in the city. They work only on reference and prefer not to talk to strangers approaching them.”
I had visited a group – I say group because I went to meet one lady but was welcomed by a group – as a person from a tourist company seeking services of young girls and boys for foreign tourists wanting to visit the city. For some time I felt at loss not knowing what to say next and felt totally numb. Then I went on to say I want girls and boys for sexual needs of my tourists. The reaction was silence. Then one of them reacted saying “do you know what you are saying” I replied “yes”. “This is Shimla such things don’t happen here and don’t say such things else where here you will be in trouble” said one man in the group. I looked at the lady whom I had called up she used her eyes to convey that she could not talk and the man right in front of the TV had to be convinced. I tried talking to him but he was indifferent and later told me to leave my phone number behind. I left my phone number behind expecting that he would call. I wanted the lady I had actually called to see me out of the house but she was not allowed to. There was another lady in the room she was asked to leave me at a convenient point I deliberately took a longer time to climb down as I wanted to talk to her and find out about their background. They were from Mandi, both the girls were brought in by the man sitting in front of the TV. This was a younger girl around 22yrs of age she asked me as I reached the foothill – “Sir you don’t require girls of my age”, I answered “I have left my number call me up if you want”. As I walked away from there I knew it was hard task ahead as the flesh trade is very secretive and probably works through reference here. The much awaited call did come not once but many times from different numbers, mostly PCOs, Hotels and 2 private mobile numbers. Unfortunately these calls came from a far off land away from the queen of hills, it came from Meghalaya, the north eastern part of India the area known for cross border trafficking women and children. He had been seeking a time for a meeting with him to discuss something that he could not say over the phone. This was getting a little risky I gave up taking calls from that telephone code I could see a clear link between these calls and my visit to the shangty town above old Raj Bhawan. Are women and children are trafficked through this group right under the nose of old Raj Bhavan, Is the government aware of it?”
Discussions with various NGOs brought out that there has been no initiative on these issues in the past. Women’s empowerment as it is low in the state and women’s concerns are also not taken up adequately by the concerned departments. This was revealed through our visit to the women’s grievance cell and the women’s commission who refused to accept the existences of issues like women and girls trafficking in the state. Moreover according to them “if girls are in the flesh trade because they want to be there and nobody can prevent them from selling their bodies after it is their body.” Yes even we agree we cannot stop them from selling their bodies, but why does this situation arise is our concern? Do we want to continue with tourists coming to take advantage of our women and children? Can we help them in any way or do they look up to the govt. for any support? In most cases they donot as they have lost faith in the system. Under theses circumstances would they like to change or have faith on the government for a passionate feeling towards them? The answer is “NO” and that is what our data reveals. Those who have been in this practice for long years don’t want to change over to any other profession as they are already stigmatized and nothing can happen for them.
There has been one positive initiative taken up by the state government of banning the moonlight parties (happening in Dharamsala) must be regarded as an important decision that could indicate government stand for taking the first step towards a healthy and quality tourism in the state. But much needs to done to provide the state tourism with better direction especially through systematic and continuous advocacy with the tourism department of the state.

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