Mumbai: An exclusive magazine for prostitutes is offering a snapshot of life in some of India’s biggest brothels, reporting the murky world of pimps and violent customers and showcasing the dreams and talent of sex workers.
Red Light Despatch, a monthly publication, is full of the emotional outpourings of women sold to brothels as children, personal accounts of torture and harassment, poems and essays by prostitutes, book and film reviews and advocacy articles.
Health workers and prostitutes sit together once a week in a tiny newsroom located inside a brothel in India’s financial capital to discuss stories, headlines and the design of issues. The reporters, often themselves prostitutes or their relatives, file their contribution after scouring the brothels of Mumbai, Kolkata and New Delhi, and some smaller cities.
“We choose the best stories for publishing,” said Rupa Metgudd, a news coordinator and daughter of a former prostitute, sifting through reports for the latest edition. “The magazine is not a mere publication. For us it is journalism of purpose.”
Although prostitution is illegal in India, it is a thriving underground industry and voluntary groups estimate that there are about two million womensex workers.
Launched six months ago, the magazine is a platform for the collective memories, nostalgia and dreams of the sex worker community and an attempt to wean their children away from the profession, said editor Anurag Chaturvedi.
In one recent edition, Sita, a prostitute from Kolkata who gave only one name, detailed a violent childhood marriage that forced her to flee her home and land in a brothel.
“My dignity was torn to pieces. I used to cry a lot. But I soon learnt some things will never change, no matter how much you cry,” she wrote.
Elsewhere, women wrote about betrayed love, bad marriages, their dreams of living a life of dignity, of owning a “house with lots of sky”, and about the “frightening” world of prostitution.
With a little help from avoluntary group, the magazine prints about 1,000 copies in Hindi and English and is distributed free among prostitutes and residents of redlight districts.
The ragtag magazine, without any photographs, looks more like a booklet, but it apparently serves the purpose.
“It’s a platform, a vent for many prostitutes who deposit their anger, hurt and thoughts on these pages,” said Anita Khude, a health volunteer associated with the magazine. “The magazine is for them and it is about them.” There are plans to turn it into a more appealing tabloid in Hindi, English and Bengali.