India has been called the Land of Kamasutra many a times. The land that released the best sex book ever. The land where temples are adorned with the most explicit of sexual imagery. And yet, when it comes to sex and sex workers, we turn a blind eye or call it a taboo. We call for illegalization of their trade, even though we fail to provide alternatives.
As commonly understood, sex work, prostitutes or prostitution is not illegal in India. This is what theImmoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956 says:
But does it matter if it’s legalized or not? It is still, and will be looked down upon as dirty, and unacceptable to society. And even though its presence in history is spread all over, we tend to ignore those bits, often sidelining sex workers to the fringes, and failing to acknowledge even their existence.
Visit any of the red light areas in the country, and you’ll witness the deplorable conditions they live in. Selling their bodies to make ends meet, and often foregoing half of what they earn to the madams they work under. Battling violence, starvation, squalor and more, these ladies somehow live their lives hoping that one day all of this will be over.
These photographs by one of the only photographers who got up, close and personal with the sex workers of Mumbai will shed some light on the horrible living and working conditions of these ladies in the early 1980s.
The late Mary Ellen Mark lived and spent time with the sex workers of Kamathipura for about 3 months, documenting their lives, and learning more about them.
During this time, she was able to produce some haunting photographs. Clicked in the 1980s, these photographs are a grim reminder of a reality that was, and still is.
The photo series is called, The Cage Girls Of Bombay, and it’s no less than poignant. These photos are from 3 decades ago. Imagine what their plight might be now.