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Posts Tagged ‘Bangladesh’

Layover in Kolkata

In Documentary work, India, Kolkata, Sex Workers, Tamracphoto, UN Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women on January 8, 2013 at 4:08 pm

Bangalore and the sex workers or Devadasi are now behind me as I board another early morning flight. My destination is Ranchi but for whatever reason I will be stopping in Kolkata for a full 9-10 hours. At first this sounds great to me but I’m also aware that I’ve been running pretty lean for the last week and getting a bit tired. It’s become more and more difficult to find a place and enough time to catch up on my now seriously depleted sleep. I’m determined to check out Kolkata though and hope to get to the Ganga (Ganges) river. I’ve never been the type of person that likes to read too much about a place or to make too many plans before I arrive. I like to go where my nose takes me. I want to be off the beaten path so with that in mind I sometimes find myself unprepared for what is in front of me. Don’t get me wrong as I like this challenge but it often ends up to be a very big challenge. Note to potential traveling companions, you had better be okay with this or there could be some uncomfortable moments. Anyway I arrive early in the am and proceed to leave the airport and find a day taxi through a service in the arrivals terminal to give me a tour of the city. I meet a nice young man who in his best stuttering English between puffs of his every present smokes claims he understands what I want and will give me a great tour of this city. I tell him what I want is to see the underbelly of the city. I’m not interested in houses of worship or anything where there may be a tourist. No problem he tells me and starts to point out all the tourist spots he can find. Once again I tell him that’s not what I want. Finally after some time he gets it and says he is going to take me to Sonagachi this is essentially the red light district of Kulkuta.

Before all that sex worker stuff, we were going to need to get some food. He takes me to this little place in the center of the city where I’m sure he takes all his fares. He knows the guys by name in the place and quickly orders what surely is his regular meal. I order some vegetarian dish and when it comes I devour it like all the food I’ve had so far and barely take the time to savor the spices that I love so much since my interest is to see what’s  going on outside. After I pay for both of us (is that the way it’s supposed to go?) I get up and wander out the door and behind some stalls to what appears to be a little town hidden behind a bigger city. Little sidewalks zig zagging back and forth like a decrepit Venice Italy. This is where poverty pervades, too poor to beg. Still smiles abound with the children. There were people playing some hand cross version of pool and checkers with an odd number of pieces and other people just making do with the day. There was a small family sitting around a chopping block with the remains of some animal. There was a jaw and a hoof and more fly’s then you would ever want to be around.

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Once back on the road and on to Sonagachi I was given some strict orders from my driver not to talk to anyone and by NO means am I to have my camera with me. I say listen here bub, this is what I do for a livin and I’ll be fine. He is really adamant that it’s terribly dangerous for me to be walking around with a camera and as much as I’d like to be a tough guy he simply will not allow it. Normally since I pay for insurance I’m not too worried about losing my gear but in this case since I had a few more shoots to do I simply could not afford to lose any of it. I decided to take the gear with me vs. leaving it in the car as he suggested.

We begin to walk in the Sonagachi area and at first it seems ordinary enough but very soon it becomes clear that there are a disproportionate number of young girls here. They tend to hang out in little groups of 4-5 and they are very nice to me. Gosh I think isn’t that nice. Who doesn’t want a little attention? Of course it’s not like that at all. These are all prostitutes and they are so young! Seems like many of them are late teens or early twenties. No doubt there are some older ones but the older ones don’t seem to be as out there as the young ones. Granted this was still early morning so I suppose they could have been sleeping from the night before. There was more than one occasion when my driver took me by the hand to guide me.  It’s very common for two men to walk hand in hand but it tends to make me a bit uncomfortable plus I feel i’m a big boy and don’t need my hand held but I certainly appreciate the concern he had for me.

Incredible poverty is what you see in this area but at the same time I don’t see sad faces. I’m not saying these people were happy with their lives only that where I was at that point in time the people I came across showed no obvious sign of stress. I have no doubt that looking a bit closer would reveal myriad of troubles. Like most places people leave their problems at home and then go to work even if their work is prostitution. There were kids playing in the street and both young and old men and women washing in the little corner water pipes.  I do wish I had the camera but I think that without a pre arranged meeting with some people my shots would probably not have been too interesting. Anyway how many shots of sex workers do you really want to see on one trip.

Next it was off to the Ganga. I just assumed this was a place that anyone who you would ask in this country never mind the city would know about it. Funny thing was that it was not as easy to find. We actually had to ask about 5-7 different people on the street to get directions to this magical place. We navigated our way through the crowds of cars and people until we crossed some train tracks and arrived at the edge of this river. These places always seem more romantic in your mind then when you are actually faced with them. It was somewhat hidden behind a row of buildings that lined the edge. As I walked through a break in the buildings my driver decided to hang out with some guys. I do find it amazing that in a city of millions a person can sit down beside what I only can imagine are total strangers and start talking as if family. Meanwhile I walked down some stairs that led right to the waters edge. There were young people washing and children playing. There was a man missing a leg from what I imagine to be polio. He with his crutch and a what I suppose was his girlfriend. They laughed and splashed each other with water. Children running naked as they always seem to do smiling and posing for the camera. I have often photographed two children together with the youngest one happy and giddy to be in the photo while the older one even though also happy to pose there was a small indication that the innocence was beginning to fade,  almost ready to say no photos but not quite independent enough to do so.

As I started to leave I went past one of the areas where they cremate bodies. There are many little concrete divots to build a fire in and then place the body on. There are what amounts to bleachers for people to sit and watch as the body burns. I saw a flame but it had been burning for some time and there was no obvious sign that a life had ever been.

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Once we left the river it was basically a bee line back to the airport. Rush hour if that’s even possible since it seems to always be rush hour would begin soon and my flight was at 7pm. We made it back much faster than it seemed it took to get from the airport to the city and I will say it’s not that close. My driver asked that I tell the service who I reserved him with to say he did a great job and that I would be back later in the week. I guess this helps him, I’m a little embarrassed to say I did not actually do this as I was not heading in the direction of the arrivals terminal where I had originally reserved the car in the first place. Oh well I’m sure he will do fine.

Now onward to Ranchi and meeting the group that works with the Adivasi or indigenous peoples of India.

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Sex Workers (Devadasi) in the Karnataka region, ATM coming soon.

In Documentary work, India, Karnataka Health Promotion Trust, Portraits, Sex Workers, Tamracphoto, Travel, UN Trust Fund To End Violence Against Women on December 9, 2012 at 11:17 am

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.

The KHPT offices in Bangalore, India

The KHPT offices in Bangalore, India

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!

Hubli Station after the 12 hour overnight train.

Hubli Station after the 12 hour overnight train.

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.

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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.

The Pink Card

The Pink Card

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.

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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.

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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.

Our driver going to town on some sugar cane.

Our driver going to town on some sugar cane.

Boiling the sugar cane.

Boiling the sugar cane.

Migrant worker

Migrant worker

Migrant worker family

Migrant worker family