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Behind the veil of prostitution

Behind the veil of prostitution

Leon Bloy wrote: 'A saint can fall in the mud, but a prostitute can climb to the light.' I have always liked this sentiment. In India, though, this is the greatest fallacy that could be uttered.

Indian anklets perpetually ring in my head. Feet, bare and immersed in red earth, adorned with silver and by the coloured border of wide gowns. Brown arms concealed by metal bracelets, hair covered by a veil. The same veil that some women use to cover their faces in the streets of GB Road, to cover a destiny stained at birth, to hide from the shame of an unchosen life, to shelter from the knowledge that for some, the future cannot be changed, nor dreamed in any way different from the current reality: not in India at least, not here!

The choice of veils is unlimited: they may be plain, made of chiffon, cotton, or silk; covered by busy patterns, hand-printed with wooden or iron blocks, or embellished with jewels and embroidery. They may be light or heavy, made of the purest cashmere or cooler khadi. Some cover long, deep black hair; others are merely placed on the shoulders to complement dresses; some are used in the mysterious traditional dances to adorn the malice of perfect movements; while others remain transparent and reveal the bare features of a face despite their attempts to conceal them.
I lose myself in these faces, that in a game of transparencies and cover-ups, disclosing themselves to the careful eyes of those who love them and respect them even when they dance in the most miserable game that could be played. And when they emerge into the light, still bearing the pain of a worn-out woman, India decides to uncover its complexity, inconsistency, poverty, madness, colours, magnitude, splendour, stench, and infinity. Here this piece of cloth takes on different names and functions depending on its shape and circumstances.

The veil can be an alibi that hides everything beneath an outer appearance, entrusting the image solely to the body contour and elegance of a perfectly upright posture — the same posture which prevents the veil from falling - delivering it to the sun of India in an explosion of colour.

In contrast the melancholic filth of the prostitutes' veil reveals itself, plain and simple in its painful squalor. Sold as a child and "operational" by the age of ten, the value of the prostitute in India is lower than that of the same cloth she uses to cover herself, to cleanse the sweat and moods, her only property in a life devoid of everything.

Near the heart of Delhi's ancient metropolis, only a few streets from the Jama Masjid - the largest mosque in the city – and only a few meters from the most lively and noisy market of Old Delhi, there is a street, where whispers, beatings, the swarming rustle of human trafficking, and moans of pleasure are the sound of business. Here, on GB road, you cannot mention the names of the women in the windows and on railings. Some were born here, by chance, as protection is seldom used, and grew up on these mattresses, watching their mothers, learning about the occupation which they will soon make their own.

The level of performance required is exhausting: 15-20 clients a day. Food is not their fuel. Sustenance is drawn from the same drugs with which the consumer culture feeds animals for slaughter, pills to animate a body that would otherwise be lifeless; a piece of meat which does not need to be nice, but only strong — at least, strong enough to withstand the blows of the men who take pleasure there.

These are women without property, devoid even of the possession of themselves, imprisoned in tall buildings, seeing customers come and go in exchange for a mere three euro per ordeal. Sold for just 100 euros by desperate families while still little girls, these are women whose femininity is reduced to a crevice in which men entertain themselves, men, who in order to own them need to work for a few days and decide whether to love them or to eat. But for these women, such a decision is denied to them; it is impossible to escape, unthinkable to start over. They are already branded by a caste society for which the social status is defined at birth; according to a scale of purity such a decision is denied to them. It is impossible to escape, unthinkable to start over.

They are already branded by a caste society for which the social status is defined at birth; according to a scale of purity that light does not exist. And even the most optimistic amongst them knows that. There was never even a crack through which to see it. It is not even a fable, a myth. The pregnant woman standing before me will never be able to impart a shred of hope to the child in her womb.

'The only hope I can give to this creature is not bring him into the world,' she says. But that single act of love is something her parents did not bestow on her.

(Paola Martani is an Italian Writer. All views expressed are strictly personal.)

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