The oppression of the brothel is palpable, assaulting all the senses in unison. The stench of the street mingles with the sickening sweet mask of incense, the dank narrow staircases feel like upward winding tunnels, each floor reveals clusters of women—lovely, dressed for work, bejeweled bodies, empty gazes staring. Quiet, there is no chatter. They languish. It’s hot; it is the slow season.
Each floor is owned by a separate brothel owner and we wind our way to the topmost floor where Reshma is the brothel owner. Timothy is welcome there, a rare visitor gaining entrance through trust. Like many of the brothel owners, Reshma herself was trafficked and her only memories are contained there. She wanted her own children to have a life away from that place, so entrusted them to Sparsh’s care. Two years ago along with Reshma we met one of her ladies, a very beautiful and sad Rekah, who also had given her two children into Sparsh’s care. Later that day at Sparsh we see Rekah again—now a transformed woman! She smiles broadly as she describes her new life reunited with her children, helping in the home and going to cosmetology school.
Reshma is more compassionate than most brothel owners and says she will come out as soon as her debts are paid. On this day we visit with four ladies that work for her. Haseena looks very downcast and holds her naked nine month baby boy as she pours water into his bird mouth from a plastic bottle top . How will baby Imran grow up there? What chance does he have? Rupa tells us she worked in a sari factory very long hours and made $2 or $3 for a 12 hour day; when she was offered the opportunity for similar work at higher pay in Pune she seized the moment… that ended up here. She will stay, she says, because she cannot read or write and she has three children somewhere.
Is there something you would like to do if you were freed from this place? Rupa and another girl giggle nervously. Puzzled by a question that called for a vision of a future beyond these walls, Rupa asks us how learning to read and write could help someone. Each of the ladies’ stories were the similar—they were tricked or sold into this life. Now here, with children to care for, with no education, they are trapped. We look on as Reshma helps dress Rupa for work, carefully folding the beautiful sequined sari and fastening a sparkling necklace. They urge Elizabeth to try on a sari—turquoise to match her t-shirt…everyone laughs and takes pictures of Rupa and Elizabeth together. But Elizabeth gets to leave.
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