[Survivor Series] This former sex worker says no other woman should undergo what she suffered
I have come a long way since my husband left me after four years of severe abuse. Even when I was seven months pregnant, he would continue to beat me. After he abandoned me, I tried to go home, but my own mother refused to accept me back. With no skills to get a job, I ended up working as a housemaid and was cleaning vessels to feed my children and myself. One day, a man approached me and offered Rs 100 if I slept with him.
I had no work at the time and we were starving, so I took him up on his offer. That is how I first became involved in sex work. I tried to sell vegetables to make a living, but the vendor said that he would only give me vegetables in exchange for sex.
I was forced to take his offer and he gave me vegetables worth Rs 2,000. I spent the next few years like this, but I had no choice with two small children to care for and no one to help me. My husband had walked out on me, my own family had disowned me. I spent nearly four years like this. The only people I met were my clients and once their job was done, they would leave after paying me Rs 10 or Rs 20.
My life changed the day I met Tabassum Shaikh. She had stopped to buy vegetables from me. When she handed me the money, I fainted. I had been starving for more than two days. Tabassum was working with the Bekalu Mahila Sangha, a community organisation, which is part of Taaras Coalition, a platform for marginalised women. She got me clothes as mine were tattered. She even got blouses stitched for me. When I visited the NGO office, Suresh Gudadari sir and Leela Horakeri madam, who are service coordinators, asked me about my situation. I told them my whole story -- how my husband abused and left me, and how I was forced to opt for sex work to make a living.
After joining the organisation, I realised that I was not the only one who went through this trauma, and that there are many like me. The organisation helped me find a home, got my children admitted to a school, and spoke to the vegetable vendor and cautioned him to never coerce me into having sex with him.
I availed benefits under the Chetana scheme where I was given Rs 20,000 to restart my business on my own. My children are my strength; they are my courage. I keep pushing myself so they can have a bright future. I am grateful I met Tabassum as she helped me to get me out of my misery.
If anyone solicits sex from me, I boldly tell them, “Get away! I am going to my organisation if you force me. I work hard and earn a living. If any of you touches me, I will call my organisation members. You used to make me drink and dance to your tune. Now if you force me to drink, I will beat you instead”.
The struggles I have gone through, no other woman should ever undergo.
Lakshmi Bamani is a member of Taaras Coalition, a national platform for women in sex work leaders and their community organisations.
Edited by Diya Koshy George