Gender, Policy, Social Justice

This is what reality is really like for one woman in Pakistan’s red light district

On some nights, I stay up wondering where she might be right now.

The naked man lying beside her is snoring. His breath reeks of alcohol and his existence alone is more than enough to get her nauseous. She gets off the bed, the jingle of the “ghungroo” (ankle bells) adorning her ankles, ringing throughout the room. They had interrupted his peaceful slumber.

“Kanjriye!” (“you whore”), he screamed. He smacked her right across the face and asked what was so amusing. She could’ve spoken up for herself, but chose to stay silent because “reputable” men like him supposedly didn’t engage in conversation with women like her.

She took off her ghungroo and put them aside. She feels so liberated without them on, like no one will ever know who she is. She wishes she was a doctor, lawyer, or author. But her fate, oh her pitiful fate, didn’t allow her to be. Munni was born to the owner of a brothel, and this is her story.

She took off her ghungroo and put them aside. She feels so liberated without them on, like no one will ever know who she is. Click To Tweet

“Nobody would opt for this life,” she says to me, her eyes brimming with tears as she cradles a child which looks to be a few months old.

“This [child] is his”, she said, pointing to a picture of the father. The middle-aged man, she stated, refused to take responsibility for his own baby because he had a wife of his own, back home. Munni cried and begged him to provide for their daughter. She told him about her wishes for their daughter to not live the same life as hers, but all he did was swear to never “give her business” again because of how whiny she was being.

“Is it my fault, he refused to use protection?” she questioned, rhetorically. The man had forced himself on Munni. He had paid her parents an extra 5000 rupees just so he could “do her fresh” (ie without a condom).

“I don’t know how my parents are this heartless, but what I do know is that I will go to great lengths to make sure my daughter doesn’t have to suffer at the hands of the same fate as mine. If this asshole [the father of her child] doesn’t wanna help me, God will.”

Her faith in The Almighty was what surprised me the most. Despite facing innumerous hurdles in her lifetime, she believed herself to be a part of one of God’s greater plans. And if I’m being real, I’m a billion percent sure her connection with God is far stronger than mine.

Despite facing innumerous hurdles in her lifetime, she believed herself to be a part of one of God’s greater plans. Click To Tweet

“I know my religion disapproves of what I do, all religions do. But since birth, I’ve been told repeatedly that sex work is a must for all girls of the family. I wasn’t sent to school for a day.”

I was now tearing up. No, not only because of what Munni was telling me but because I had once believed the crap that members of the Desi community had stuffed into my head; that all sex workers had no conscience and liked getting laid. When really, so many of them are just like Munni. They are born into it.

“My father swiped his hand, lovingly, across my daughter’s head, but unlike most grandfathers, he prayed for her to have a sexually appealing body, so customers could be attracted.”

My brain was now numb. Her words had stung me, hard. I tried my best to console her, but trying to relate to her life was just so damn difficult for me to do. So difficult, that for a good ten minutes, I stared at a wall, trying to process her daughter’s future. And when I finally did, chills went down my spine.

Sex workers don't like getting laid, get that inside of your head. Click To Tweet

I couldn’t imagine the fate her little baby daughter would face in the future. To be forced to sleep with different men every night…I stepped out of the little chamber, gasping for air. By now, I had let go of a breath I didn’t know I was holding. I felt suffocated just hearing their stories and to imagine that that is how these women have felt for their entire lives, rattles me to my core, to this day.

My breathlessness was interrupted by Munni’s father’s words. “Who are you?” He asked, his words laced with venom and brows raised. One glare of his was more than enough for me to realize why Munni couldn’t escape this mess. His presence was overpowering in all the worst possible ways.

But I, nevertheless, mustered up the courage to ask him why he wanted his future generations to live this life of sin. To which he replied, “what may be a sin to you is my greatest source of pride.” And that was all I heard before I felt a pair of arms around my body, dragging me outside the chamber. I looked back at Munni, her face had a look of helplessness spread all over it.

For a minute, I felt like fighting back and taking her with me, but her smile reassured me about the fact that she would come up with a way to escape, on her own.

On some nights, I stay up wondering where she might be right now, but then the love in her eyes for her baby girl flashes right in front of me, and I find enough peace to fall sleep.