“It’s up to you, Becky. You can go on the scooter which will be safer, but you won’t be able to see as much. Or you can walk with Shital and see more, but it isn’t as safe. It’s up to you.” I’m a soccer mom from the suburbs of Chicago and I’ve just been asked how I want to visit the largest Red Light District in Pune, India. I choose to walk with Shital, and to my great surprise, I feel no fear about it. None.
A downpour of rain just finished maybe an hour ago. Rain makes the roads by my house a little yucky, but rain creates something completely different in India. The dirt on the roads turns into mud – slippery, gross mud. Evan and Shital aren’t sure the Red Light District will even be open after all that rain, but it is worth checking out. So, Shital and I get into an auto rickshaw (my favorite way to travel here!) and head to the district.
I don’t know for sure what I expected– probably dark alleys, the girls being sold back in the shadows with men walking around, trying not to be seen. What I see is nothing like that. The rickshaw driver drops us off in one of the most crowded places I’ve seen on this trip so far. This is a main shopping area in Pune and the rain doesn’t seem to have kept the people away. We blend in with the shoppers or at least I blend in as much as is possible with my blonde hair and light skin. Weaving in and out of the traffic and what I assume is thousands of people while staring at my feet to keep from slipping in the mud, Shital grabs my elbow to keep me with her. We’re walking quickly and suddenly she pulls me down a narrow alley. She’s talking to me the whole time. “See the girls with too much makeup on your left? Over there, do you see them in the doorway? Do you see the men on the right?” We’re walking so quickly I hardly have time to take any of it in. But I see what she is pointing out to me while she continues to stare straight ahead.
Brothel after brothel on my left with girls clumped together in the doorways. Staring at us as we walk by. Blank stares, no smiles. It isn’t dark, it is 4:30 in the afternoon. There are no shadows to hide in. The right side of me is lined with men. Some seem to be standing alone, others seem to be with a buddy. The ones with a friend make my stomach turn a little more. As though this is just another recreational activity– like going out to eat or grabbing a drink with the guys. The men are smiling and at ease as they leer across the alley to choose the one they like. I try to be discreet as Shital leads me even quicker now, but I catch the eye of several girls in their doorways. They look suspicious of me. Why wouldn’t they be? What am I doing walking in the District like this?
Suddenly, we emerge into the shopping area and grab another rickshaw, and then we’re done. It’s over. My first visit to a Red Light District in India is complete. It was sad to see it firsthand, but nothing about it shocked me. I’ve seen pictures of the girls in the doorways before. I’m aware of who their customers are.
But after meeting Karishma* & Rani* in the Ooty workshop, I see them differently. They aren’t nameless trafficked girls or prostitutes in the Red Light District who may be rescued out of this life one day. They have names and potential and I can see the hope that they can’t even fathom! Every one of those girls deserves to be free. And that is why Freedom Firm is here.
*Names changed to protect identity
--Becky Morris, FFUSA Staff