The room was about 8 feet wide and 12 feet long. One door opened onto the street the other led to another smaller room and a staircase. There was a poster about discouraging child pornography, otherwise the walls were bare. There were about twenty-five of us crammed into the small room.
I sat on the floor in a circle with Dahn, Hannah, Kiera (one of the other women I’m traveling with) and six or seven boys. We were playing a game where we had to name the months of the year in order, in English, hitting the palm of hand the person next to you as you did. If you said the wrong month you we’re out till the next game.
I don’t know how long we played for, but it was fun. All of us yelling and clapping when someone messed up and someone won. Instead of hitting my hand, the little boy next to me would slowly pull his palm over mine, drawing out the name of the month, playfully trying to throw me off.
Next to us, eight or nine girls crowed around Nadine, sitting on her lap and hanging off her shoulders, as they took pictures of each other with her iphone.
We were visiting the only 24 hour, 7 day a week safe house,where the children of one of the nine Red Light Districts in Kolkata could go to get off the streets. The children live in the safe house, but still get to see their mothers who bring them there, knowing they would be off the streets, getting well fed and educated.
These are children at high risk of being abused and becoming prostitutes. They ranged in age from about 3 years old to about 10 years old. While their mothers work they are forced out onto the streets to fend for themselves. Their chances of not being harmed and taking on their mother’s profession is slim.
It’s only recently that there has been any acknowledgement that boys in India are as much at risk as the girls. Trafficking of boys, although it goes on all the time, is not something that, culturally, people felt comfortable talking about. It’s only now, slowly coming out into the open.
Dahn and Nadine had come to look at this building last year as a possibility to rent for the Center. At the time it had no electricity and they walked through the dark and dirty rooms covered in cobwebs, not knowing what they might find there.
The buildings in the Red Light District are all broken up into small rooms where the women bring their clients. Most landlords don’t want to rent to a charity because they can get more rent from prostitutes and their pimps.
The buildings are not suited for large groups of children, but the people who started this center are making it work.
They’ve put in electricity, a bathroom, and a kitchen in the small six-room building. The walls are brightly painted and the there’s new linoleum on the floors. Upstairs there are two 10’x 10′ rooms with futons on the floor. One for the boys to sleep in and one for the girls.
It’s a new project so they’re still figuring it out. But the people around them are beginning to trust them and letting them know of other children who are at high risk of being abused.
Before we left to visit the “day care” center (I’ll write more about that later), a little girl in a green and sparkly yellow dress touched my hair. I thought she was referring to the color of it, being different from what she usually sees. But after a moment I realized she was intrigued by my bangs. Something else she wasn’t used to seeing.
We had made a connection. Her interest and wonder at my bangs had brought us together in a unique way. Without language, we had communicated, we shared something.
When I stood up to leave, the little girl took my hand and fearlessly led me through the dark city streets to the “day care” center, a couple of blocks away. She didn’t let go of my hand till we got there.
2 thoughts on “Kolkata Diary. The Red Light District”
This was so interesting to me. You might want to write a book about your trip to India. Your writing is that good…love you. Thanks for all your wonderful posts over the years, Maria.
Maria, this is heartbreaking and beautiful. So happy you are there sharing with these children. You are doing good and your writing is arresting. Thank you for you.