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The color of Indian call girls
By Siddharth Srivastava

NEW DELHI - Indian authorities have recently unearthed several call girl rackets involving white-skinned girls in the capital, as well as the commercial hub of Mumbai. As huge pockets of India globalize at a rapid pace, bringing in overnight wealth, the economics of demand and supply have resulted in the importing of young girls, who obviously come at a higher price, to meet the typical Indian fetish for fair skin. A comment termed it as the reverse outsourcing of call girls being brought in to meet the requirements of the beneficiaries of the actual business process outsourcing surge.

Police say the girls are being flown in on tourist visas from countries such as Uzbekistan (one of the poorest nations of the world), Azerbaijan and Russia, all of which have fallen on hard times because of the state of their lagging economies. In keeping with the increased permissiveness that comes with lavish lifestyles, over the past couple of years India has witnessed thousands of massage parlors mushrooming in several metropolitan cities as another front to supply girls, whether Indian or foreign. But, as the money gets better, girls are being sought from across continents. The circle is only likely to get bigger, with reports of several cases wherein "agents" are known to establish communication with international porn sites to seek out particular "stars" that a client might fancy.

Typically, prostitution in India has involved mostly women forced into it due to penury. The majority of these women come from states such as Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal and Bihar, where poverty levels are among the worst in the country. Others are transported illegally from neighboring Nepal and Bhutan, in what is considered to be one of the most organized yet brutal operations involving the trafficking of humans. These women occupy the red light areas of GB road in Delhi or Sona Gachi in Kolkata or Kamatipura in Mumbai, living in inhuman conditions, susceptible to HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. They cater to a clientele usually belonging to lower middle class professions such as truck drivers, laborers and policemen. A recent Bollywood release titled Chameli starred top actress Kareena Kapoor doing a Pretty Woman a-la Julia Roberts, all very glamorous on screen, but much more bleak in real life.

The latest police findings, however, tell a different story of prostitution changing with the times. The racket is increasingly turning high-class with several Heidi Fleiss clones in existence. As the amount of money that is being pumped in by the client increases, so is the availability of women cutting across continents. The police have revealed an elaborate communication network that is in place to transact the deals through the use of email. The pimp is no longer a seedy creature such as an auto rickshaw driver, taxi driver or a petty shopkeeper hanging around dark street-corners trying to cut deals with potential customers. Today, the pimp is an "agent", usually driving a car of a foreign make and communicating on a cell phone. In some cases they have turned out to be executives in private sector firms, especially in the hospitality sector.

"As far as catering to a rich clientele is concerned there has been involvement of Russian girls struck by economic re-structuring in the erstwhile Soviet Union. Indian girls from colleges and middle class backgrounds, aspiring models also sometimes look to make a fast buck through this route," says deputy commissioner of police (crime) Dependra Pathak, who has been spearheading the police investigations in New Delhi, "It is, however, for the first time that it has been found that such a wide international network has been laid. It is a reflection of the money-power that is in play."

Earlier this month, police unmasked the kingpin of prostitution, referred to as "professor", whose operations extended from Southeast Asia, central Asian countries, the Middle East and Europe, with his business empire valued at over US$4 million. Professor is the owner of several hotels in the Old Delhi area where most of the girls are housed and supplied to clients who usually check into five-star hotels. The liaising with the girls is done on the Internet, with clients seeking their photographs or websites and fixing a price before-hand. The list of customers is kept confidential with the photographs of the girls forwarded to the clients before the actual meeting. In order to establish a wide database of girls across the world, communication has been established with several porn websites that further liaise with the girls to either meet up with Indian clients in India or some foreign destination.

The police have managed to draw a profile of some of the girls arrested over the past few months. While the usual rates for Indian' girls range from $10 to $50, "white skinned" foreign girls can charge as much as $300 to $1,000 for one night, excluding hotel stay, travel and other expenditures. For girls from Central Asian Republics, the money is needed to tide over problems back home such as looking after children or aged parents, given the lack of employment opportunities. Some of these girls are qualified as secretaries, teachers, doctors and even psychiatrists. One of the women arrested in a raid in Mumbai, Irina Guzairova, turned out to be a doctor in speech therapy. Most arrive here on travel visas, make money and move back once the period is over and come back again after a gap.

For long in India there have been prominent voices seeking to legalize prostitution as sex-workers are considered the most vulnerable to HIV. It is estimated that the number of HIV positive Indians could jump from 4 million today to 25 million by 2010. Prostitution is illegal, yet a flourishing business with estimates putting the number of sex-workers in India at approximately 2 million generating an income of over $1.5 billion a year, most of which is garnered by agents and pimps.

The argument to legalize prostitution is to see the issue as a reality that is impossible to eliminate. Hence, it is better to provide an institutional framework in order to humanize the status of women as well as monitor health care. But, as things stand, according to the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, 1986, "any sexual intercourse outside socially acceptable unions is regarded as prostitution. Procuring, inducing or taking persons for the purpose of prostitution is punishable with rigorous imprisonment of at least three years, but not more than seven years, and a fine of $45."

Thus, for now it's the women who face the brunt of the system - exploited by pimps, agents, customers, police and jail authorities.

Siddharth Srivastava is a New Delhi-based journalist

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Apr 20, 2004


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