****All notes and information are gathered from online sources, local guides and personal observation. For personal uses only, not to be supplied / used / duplicated / quoted by any unauthorised parties without permission from Vicky Yeow.
The mystery of the Prostitution Village.
Ingonia, a remote village in Rajasthan. The villages here belong to the Nats caste, the lowest in the traditional Indian caste system. During the Monarchy days, the females of this caste assumed the role of court entertainers. However, these women lost their means of livelihood when the Monarchy system was abolished. In the struggle to carry on with life, they entered the prostitution trade. The sad fact is that the men in the families relied on the women’s flesh trade for a living as well. This tradition passed down the generations and young girls too, enter the trade when they become of age. The males became their agents. Soon, these villages ‘earn’ their reputation as a Prostitution Village. Some women stay home to carry on their ‘flesh trade’ while others moved to the bigger cites such as Delhi or Mumbai to work in bars and brothels. There are also some girls who moved to villages nearby to make their living.
It was some months ago that my Photography Mentor from China sent me this brief news. It will be interesting to do some shoots in these remote villages in India, he claimed. I thought so too. I was deeply interested. That kept me busy google-ing and asking around.. friends, friends of friends, workshop participants, even strangers... :" Do u happen to know anything about the prostitution villages in India, where all the women work as sex workers and supports their family with selling their "skills". the men in the family aka father and brothers become these women's agents? "
No one knows, not the Indian friends, not the participants... I emailed some photographers from India and kept getting the No answer. In fact, when i told them what I was looking for, some Photographers from India asked if they could join me when I found the Villages and go for my shoots. It was after much effort that I finally landed with some information. There are 3 such villages, each with about a few to 10-odd families. I found out the names of the 3 villages. We arranged for transport with driver and a local guide. The number of Indian dialects are aplenty and they speak a different dialect in different parts of India. I thought we took all necessary steps, after arranging for the driver to pick us in the morning, something unexpected happened. The driver claimed he cannot ensure our safety in the trip. He insisted we have to make a record with the local police post and get permission before we proceed. We have no choice but to do as he insisted. The guide said that we are to tell the police that we are from the media, getting some shots and information on the villages. This was precisely what we were worried about. What if the police disallow us to proceed with our trip to visit the Prostitute Village? Surely we are not going to spend our time lazing in the hotel for the few days.
The different religions in India resulted in many Riots. Anti-government bodies causes trouble every now and then. The police force in India has backward facilities. All these resulted in the Police role becoming a high- risk career. We arrived at the police post at about 9am. Watching the policemen going about their work in the lesser environment, I developed a sense of respect for these men. We met this high-spirited gentleman and specially took a photograph with him. In India, we came across many good looking gentlemen but so far, no beauty crossed our path.
After asking the guide some simple questions and advising us to be extra careful, they gave us the go ahead. Being able to make the trip to the prostitute village, we heaved a sigh of relieve. But at the same time, we started to worry what might happen when we go shooting in these mysterious locations.
On the way to the village.. .
first hurdle : crossing the railway tracks. I asked how long will the train arrive after waiting for about 20 mins.
Answer : Don't know. Depends.
I ask : Depends on?
Answer : silence.....
we waited for about 15 minutes more....
i murmured to myself : patience.. patience..
An interesting observation.
From where we were waiting, the train station was about 100 meters away. However, the train pulled to a stop about 150 meters before the station and passengers start to hop off... checking with the guide, he said:
Those people have no tickets!!!!
second hurdle : after driving in the mud tracks for 10 seconds, my indian driver exclaimed : sorry, too dangerous, cannot go!
my mentor replied (in Chinese): u get off, I drive!
Me: impatient translator.....
driver checking his 'mudded' tyres. standing, looking : Guide who claims it was a dangerous visit.
they make a perfect pair!
guess where is my mentor : )
The Village that has only boys, man, and female under age 10, above age 50!
Wondering in the village, I heard a voice from behind : photo, photo... 1 photo please.. turned and saw a handsome face: ok, 1 photo.... click!
Old lady with her grandsons.
His daughter is not a prostitute?
India is a country where man and nature co-exist peacefully. During the 3 hours’ journey to the Prostitute Village, we came across wild monkeys, peacock, deer and even fox wandering freely in their natural habitat. We had to go on foot into the village as the road was muddy and flooded with water from rains.
Upon entering the village, I paid attention to the villagers but did not come across a female who fitted the image of a prostitute I had in mind, in fact, we did not see a single female! I find it difficult to comprehend that this remote village is one that survives on the sex trade. From where do the customers come from? Men from the neighbouring villages? This may be a slightly more populated village, but it is far from being crowded, how can the sex trade be commercialize?
The guide told us that we will be able to spot prostitutes in the families that are of the lower caste, however, none came into our view. There was a family with a very nicely done up grave in the courtyard, there was even a statue. The guide and the house owner (ie, the old man in picture) started to chat and he turn to me and said : this man has 2 daughters working as prostitutes in the big city. He then pointed to the boys and said that they are sons of his 2 daughters. I got excited and suggested a family photo for them, the old man agreed readily and gather his grandsons for the shot. However, right after the shot, the guide said : his daughters are not prostitutes, they are working in factories in the city. This was like a heavy blow on my head! He continued : prostitution is a thing of the past, these days the girls are no longer in the trade. They have gone into farming and other kinds of labourous work to support their families.
This means that we have been in the wrong place. We suspected that the guide wasn't telling the truth. He probably regretted and didn't want us to photography and write about this aspect of India. After wandering in the village for half a day, upon leaving the village, I asked the guide: Do the kids of the family stay with the paternal or maternal folks? He replied : Paternal. I claimed : how is it that in this family, the boys are living with the maternal grandfather? The intelligent guide paused, then turn and replied : his daughters are prostitutes, the boys have ‘no father’, but the old man, after taking the picture, claims that his daughters are not prostitutes, I was puzzled too.
My questions that followed seem to once again, put him in a spot. I asked : why is it that we did not see a single young lady in the village? He replied: Yes. I continued: where have the girls gone to? The girls in India have little working opportunities The waiters serving in restaurants, the customer service people that we came across are all males. Where have all the girls from this village gone to?
Upon leaving the village, we came across a family with some girls seated outside a house but we were quickly harshed away when we tried to get closer, I asked : who are these girls? At this point, the guide could no longer hold on to his defense, he said: the girls in this village are prostitutes, the old man wasn't honest.
Up to this point, I believed the first half of his last answer. He was the one that wasn’t honest. He didn't want us to know, photography and write about this ‘grey’ side of his country, he wasn't prepared for us to interview the people for a better picture.
That evening, after sending us back to the hotel, I asked him to go back and wait for our call (which never happened). We changed a guide.
The sister's grave
In the family photo. From right behind where the picture was taken. The old man's sister's grave.
The old man said that his sister had worked as a prostitute to support the family and never married. She was buried in the family grounds after she passed away.
Prostitutes are wives of God
There are several tombs in the courtyard of the house owner. The one in this picture belongs to his sister. In a casual tone, he told the guide that his sister was a prostitute when she was alive. There was nothing unusual about her grave. A tomb made of sandstone with a white marble slab at the top on which her name was caved. Underneath lies a lone soul. Her name was “Cloud”.
I touched the tomb without an inch of fear, my thoughts were : who robbed her of the dignity she had? Did she feel unfairness and upset while on her job? Or was she proud that she was able to support her family? Was she proud that she now lies at peace, at home?
When did Prostitution started in India?
In the olden days when the Aryans first entered India, ‘mass reproduction’ was needed to counter the high mortality rate due to the wet and hot environment that resulted in virus infections and other major illnesses. They passed this responsibility to Religion. There is a cover in Ramayana which says that the Ganges River begins as a result of Lord Shiva’s flowing semen while having intercourse with his wife. This is the start of The Ganges. In the Indian culture, Lord Shiva is omni-powerful. Lord Shiva represents Destructions and Creation. During religious ceremonies, men are encouraged to present their wives. These women have intercourse with men who are presumably possessed by their God. In Hinduism, this is not ‘dirty’, not ‘immoral’, this is obeying, following the wishes of God. By giving up their bodies to God, these women are loved and are now wives of God. As days get by, some women from poor families live in temples, in the name of God’s wife, they have intercourse with male devotees. In return, they were given some of the offerings that were presented by devotees. This is the beginning of the trade. This being the reason that Prostitution in India is seen as being under the cover of being religious. These women ‘married’ their God, they live in Temples performing their ‘duties’ and are known as “Holy Prostitutes”. 90% of such women belong to the lowest Indian caste system. When these women eventually leave the temples, they continued their trade and made a living out of it. The family, ie. parents, brothers, husband live off the women. Some women were forced into the trade. Women, considered inferior in the Indian culture, used their bodies as a means of livelihood. There is also a group of women who make their living from the sex trade and work in the remote wilderness, they usually belong to the lowest caste.
Their fate is sealed in name of religion. From birth, they are destined to struggle in the darkness of the trade. Directionless.
Once, someone asked a child prostitute in Africa : Aren’t you afraid of contacting Aids? Her answer : If I do not do this, I have nothing to eat, I may not live to see tomorrow. Aids has a dormant period during which I can continue to live. Finding a balance, the child decided on her own philosophy in life. If the same question had been directed at an Indian prostitute, her answer might be : It has always been like this, it will always be like this.
According to the guide, only wealthier families have graves of the deceased built in the family grounds. In view of this, her hardship in life has earned herself a position in her family grounds after she rest in peace. Her body lies in a location where she gets to be close to her love ones and she is able to listen to their voices and laughter. This is probably her blessing and her ‘fortune’. Looking at people of our modern day, we work hard to provide for our family, we strive for their happiness. Being a prostitute may not necessarily be shameful for these women. By not looking at her with pitiful eyes and feeling that her life is an insult is probably a big way of giving her due respect.
This is the first woman we came across after loitering in the village for close to an hour. My mentor and I did not discuss our thoughts as we went about shooting but we exchanged glances as we spotted this mother and her kids!
First woman in village. Click!