She doesn’t look more than 25, yet her eyes are sunken and body is frail. Asma Bibi, who hails from Rajshahi district of Bangladesh, illegally crossed into India nine years back to smuggle saris — but got stuck in sex trade.
Most of the 300 sex workers in the Kalabagan red light area of Duliyan district in West Bengal have similar tales to tell.
“My mother was actually from Domkol (West Bengal), but she got married to my father in Bangladesh. When I was still young, father left us,” Asma said. “My mother was detected with blood cancer. Helpless, I got into smuggling of saris from India to Bangladesh,” she said.
BSF soldiers allegedly seek “sexual favours” from women such as Asma for letting them cross over. This cycle of regularly giving sexual favours for “free”, when sex workers charge money for the same, makes a number of women turn to sex trade.
Saima Bibi, a sex worker from Bangladesh, said, “If we complain [against BSF personnel] then the border will be forever closed for us.”
Saima has been working in Murshidabad as a sex worker for six years. “While I got into smuggling, paying bribes to border officials and at every point on the course got me into a huge debt. So I went to the Farakka area where a lot of sex workers work,” Saima said.
The area near the Farakka barrage has a floating population of around 300 sex workers. Most of them also have a ‘babu’, a proxy husband. He lives off the woman’s earnings and stays with her. Having a babu gives the women a sense of “security” and also helps ward off violent clients.
Samir Sheikh, 26, is from Bangladesh and is a babu to Shama, 42. “I was 21 when I started smuggling cattle to Bangladesh,” Sheikh said. “But two years back I met Shama and we got into a relationship. She has two daughters from her marriage and I take care of them while she goes for her work at night,” he said. “I also have 10 girls working for me,” Sheikh said.