With the tripod finally fixed I could focus on my next assignment. I would be travelling from Bangalore in the Karnataka region of India. This part of the trip would require an overnight train. I have to say I was a little excited about this train although at the same time perhaps a bit nervous. I had heard of many train “incidents” in India and of course I did not want to be part of one.
Before I was going anywhere I would meet the team of the KHTP. This is an amazing NGO that has done so much for AIDS prevention and awareness. Having been funded by the UN as well as The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation they are one of the most successful NGO’s around, in fact what they have learnt about AIDS prevention and education has been picked up by other countries and organizations. Ironically they have done such a good job that they have essentially put a large part of themselves out of business. Since they have been so successful in what they do, the new AIDS cases have fallen and education is up. Still there is a lot of work to do.
Sex workers will be my focus for the coming days. These sex workers are subjected to violence and harassment from different people and not always the obvious ones. It is most often from family members as well as police vs. their clients.
After our meeting and briefing about the project it was back to the guesthouse to freshen up. Once I was fresh (whatever that means) we went back to the office and headed out to the train station for the overnight train to the town of Hubli. From Hubli we would meet our driver to take us to the Bagalkote district. Once in this area we would travel to small villages such as Mudhol/Jamkhandi and Taluk. The drive from Hubli in darkness was a bit scary since our driver was moving along at a pretty good clip. Seems like they just don’t like to be held to the designated lane so even with no obvious reason (to me) he would drive in the on coming lane. Up until this drive I had not actually seen any accidents but on this road we did see a pretty bad accident involving a tractor and a truck. I was assured people had been killed!
Eventually we made it to the Mudhol were we would be staying in a hotel and I use “hotel” loosely. It was like so many of these little towns; very congested with cars, trucks, Tuk Tuk’s bikes and motorcycles. Of course this had its fair share of cows as well.
Later that day we went to the CAPWS (Chaitanya AIDS Prevention Women’s Sangha) this is where the sex workers support each other and offer information for AIDS prevention as well as support for violence that may be perpetrated against them. I met some amazing women here who must provide all the money for their families through sex work. Often nobody else will work. The family will take the money made by the sex worker and use it to drink or whatever else they like. The family feels it’s the job of that person to support the family through sex work. The sex workers are called Devadasi.
Often these sex workers are alcoholics and very sad. Through their loneliness they will eventually find themselves involved with one of their customers. This person is called the IP intimate partner and often this IP has a wife and family as well. Even though this IP is married they will maintain a relationship with the sex worker for years. Ironically becoming jealous if they are working in the very job that had allowed the two of them to meet. This often leads to abuse both physical and mental. Since most of the women are illiterate KHPT has created an ingenious way for the workers to communicate in writing and pictures what kind of abuse and from whom they have received it from. These pink cards have been incredibly helpful.
It’s a complicated relationship between the worker and the IP. Since the women are so desperate for some kind of love and attention they often put up with abuse. These woman are abused by all sides, from family, the police their IP’s. It’s important to remember that even though sex work is not illegal it is looked down upon.
Still in these hard times the woman have set up support communities and even a bank to loan money and encourage savings. They raise families pay their taxes and generally contribute to society. In fact one of the homes that I saw would have been a great place to live even by NY standards.
Just for a little clarity they can have as many as 5 partners per day. Tough life and yet they still manage to sing and smile. I found these women to be very nice and sweet despite what they face on a daily basis. I even had some offers for FREE!!!
Some other things I saw on this part of the journey was the migrant workers who spend months on end camped out in the shadow of a huge sugar cane factory or cement factory. I was a bit nervous about going into their tent city and asking to take photos but of course like so many places when they saw the camera they lit up. Here are a few images from that time.