Swathi* and her younger sister, Bhavya,* were rescued from the same brothel on March, 28th 2008. Swathi was tall and thin, tough, and carefree. At the government shelter home, she brazenly announced her desire to return to prostitution as soon as possible. She talked and laughed loudly with the girls around her and was disinterested in the social worker's attempts to connect with her. She kept saying that she needed some tobacco to chew on. She became addicted many years ago and finds it hard to be without it at the home. Eventually, the persistence of the social worker to draw Swathi into conversation paid off and Swathi's story began to unfold.
Swathi and Bhavya belong to a family of 9 people. They have 5 other brothers and sisters at home who depend on their earnings. Their father is a drunkard and their mother's work as a laborer brings in only a fraction of what is needed to support such a large family. Swathi and Bhavya earn the money that sends all their siblings to school, puts enough food on the table, and pays for rent and other necessities.
As the eldest daughter, Swathi decided to get into prostitution because she saw no other way to earn enough money. Her sister Bhavya joined her. They have never been to school and their parents are fully aware of the work their daughters are involved in. When they go home every year or so, they buy all the things that the family needs. The rest of the time, they send money home once a month. Both sisters have been in this trade for 7 years. Swathi says that this is now their way of life and their home.
At one point, Swathi joked with the other girls about their boyfriends (regular customers). Swathi said that she had 5 boyfriends and that the previous 4 had come and gone. She had tattoos of all their names on different parts of her arm. She said she got it done for fun, knowing full well that they would leave her and be on their way when they felt like it. She was talking about one boyfriend she's seen recently. When asked if she wishes to get married to this boy, she started laughing and said that these men just come for ‘physical love,’ nothing more. Sometimes, she says, the men say they want to marry them, but it's never true. She says she's happier unmarried anyway.
Swathi has many deep cuts on her forearm. When asked about them, she said that she did the first one when she was drunk. According to the girls who knew her in the brothel, when people said rude things to Swathi, called her names, or hurt her, she would get drunk and cut herself.
The next time the social worker visited the home, Swathi seemed really upset. She was distressed about being unable to leave and said she missed her mother. Further conversation led to her talking about her father. She had so much bitterness in her heart against him. As a drunkard of many years, he had been abusing her mother for a long time. She wishes that men like her father were not allowed to exist. She is so angry that she says she wants to kill him because he does not deserve to be alive.
Swathi and her sister left home for the sex trade not only because they needed to provide for their family but also to escape their father.
Every girl's story is layered and sometimes it takes many conversations to understand the complexity of their situations. Swathi and Bhavya did not return to prostitution after being released from the home. Instead, they learned various skills such as bookbinding, carpentry, and welding.
*names changed to protect identity