SOURCE: TIMES OF INDIA 2011
In the safe anonymity and license of cities, boys walk the whole plank of sexual offices – from plying as gigolos, escorts, strippers, nautch dancers and call boys, but according to Samabhavana, children and minors, especially those from impoverished rural backgrounds, are most visible as ‘maalishwalas’. Their migration into the city is seasonal, staying here through the festival calendar, and returning home to meet the onset of farming. To their folk back home, their sons’ occupations are ‘bare-concealed’ secrets.
In the city, the boys’ clients are tabled as men who have sex with men (including men who don’t identify as gay); sugar mummies and daddies;wives of male clients and visitors (businesspeople and tourists). “Many closet homosexuals in conjugal situations employ masseurs for sexual gratification,” says Jasmir.
His non-profit outfit not only furnishes legal and medical advocacy, but attempts to relocate the boys to safer environments of work and living. Samabhavana has successfully proselytised 52 such boys by equipping them with soft skills and training them in automobile mechanics, where they now earn their bread. He wants to set up a vocational training centre in Mumbai and Mathura, UP, the home of many masseurs, and make livelihood options available for boys at the source to stem the inflow. While he is patently opposed to children trading on their flesh, he knows the only way he can reverse the commercial sex tide is if he gains the community’s confidence and offers profitable alternatives.
If public discourse limits the tradition of male prostitution to modern licentiousness, it denies the heritage of the laundas – the effeminate boys who danced at weddings in feudal UP and Bihar. In 2007, Kolkata PLUS, a non-profit organisation supporting sexual minorities, studied the prevalence of the launda tradition, and the eventual prostitution and brutalisation of these boys, of whom 30 per cent of the sample set were between 15 and 19 years. In his report titled Dancing Boys, Agniva Lahiri, executive director of PLUS noted, ‘In India, young gender-variant boys (males with feminine demeanor) are victims of social stigma and human rights violations, which preclude them from joining mainstream occupations.
The absence of alternatives leads many to the “Hijra” (eunuch) community where they undergo illegal, secret and crude castrations at risk to their lives. The other alternative is launda dancing. The dancers mainly belong to indigent families from West Bengal, Bihar, UP and Maharashtra and also from Nepal and Bangladesh. Often at weddings, the dancers’ backs are slashed with blades through backless cholis. Often they are bitten and/or stubbed. A group of 10 to 15 men could easily carry a dancer to a field and gang-rape him, which is a very common trend. In parts of rural Bihar and UP, men satisfy their wild sexual urges with these effeminate young men because, they are available, identified, socially sanctioned for prostitution, and having sex with them proves their mardangi.’
“Many don’t even consider themselves victims of sexual exploitation,” says Lahiri, pointing out the normalisation of violence. For them, prostitution is par for the course – the price for living and earning among equals. Lahiri’s report catalogued several misconceptions about the migration of adolescents and young boys for sexual exploitation – all fixed in the patriarchal view that it is an issue related solely to homosexuality and child sex tourism. Results demonstrated that the perpetrators are largely from the local heterosexual population and not solely homosexual men or tourists.
In the course of this article, several specialised non-profits were contacted for statistics or case studies of male prostitutes under 18 years. There was ignorance, if not denial of the subject. They had all rescued girls, but never encountered boys being trafficked for sex.
Follow the money
According to Samabhavana, male prostitution in India is not institutional. Boys offering sex for favours or money are transient, moving to where the money is. Boys as young as six are trained to approach foreigners and moneyed older Indians, touching them strategically, and offering ‘homo sex’ and ‘suck’. They then repair to cheap lodges in the vicinity or are ferried away in cars. There is usually a pimp who runs these rings.
Mohammed Aftab, national Child Protection Manager at Save The Children, admits there is no empirical evidence on the subject. “Our observations show that such children are compelled by circumstances, primarily poverty, and this creates ‘supply’. Where there is supply, there is demand,” he reasons. And demand peaks at places of tourism – black holes where all discretions are swallowed and forgotten. And as Mohammed points out, as tourism gains, so will hunting grounds spread.