Prostitution in Kolkata

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In Kolkata, prostitution is present in different forms. Prostitution may be brothel-based or non-brothel based as in the case of call girls. Prostitution is illegal in India, causing prostitutes to work underground.

Prostitute population[edit]

The total number of prostitutes in Kolkata is unknown. Some estimates state that there are more than 6,000 brothel-based women and girls in prostitution in Kolkata.[1][2]

The population of prostitutes in Sonagachi constitutes mainly of Nepalese, Indians and Bangladeshis.[2] Some sources estimate that are 30,000 Bangladeshi women in the brothels of Kolkata.[3]

According to some sources the most common form of trafficking consists in offering false promises or some offer of help out of a dead-end or crisis situation, force is used later after the prostitutes have already been sold. "Mashis (brothel owners/older sex workers) use friendship, sympathy, also veiled threats to convince the women that it is now in their best interest to conform and begin working." [1]

History of Prostitution[edit]

A farcical short-drama book named Beshyaleela ( বেশ্যালীলা )was printed in the middle of the year 1880 written by one nicknamed writer Agnatanama ( অজ্ঞাতনামা ). It is not very familiar or much discussed book till now. In this drama, a good description can be found about the negative attitudes shown by the then existing 19th century educated Bengali Babu class of people towards the prostitutes and the prostitution. From the first half of the 19th century, centering on Sonagachhi, a huge organised prostitution area surrounding Cornwallis Street on the east, and Chitpur on the west were formed. Although many areas in Calcutta were inhabited by those prostitutes outside those areas also. On the south it was Kalighat to Khidirpur dock areas, in the middle-Calcutta it was Kalinga-Fenwick Bazar, on the far south in Kareya area many girls from different social-classes of Hindu-Muslim-Christian communities were engaged with this profession. More than that, there was no clear 'mark' or 'boundary-line' between the 'gentleman areas' and the 'prostitutes areas'. Many areas had scattered or mixed up population of those two kinds. Rather, many areas could be termed as 'half-gentleman' areas, where normal gentleman's families and various types of prostitutes co-existed side by side. From the middle of the 19th century, the British colonial administration, Christian Missionaries, and native English-knowing educated 'Victorian' Indian gentlemen started campaign against prostitutes. This was their part of the project of social 'sanitation' process for creating the so-called 'gentle-society'. Under the leadership of Mr. Kaliprasanna Singha, the 'Vidyotsahini Sabha' ( বিদ্যোৎসাহিনী সভা ) submitted one mass-petition in the Indian Legislative Council.

Red-light districts[edit]

See also: Sonagachi

The largest red-light district in Kolkata is Sonagachi. The area came to be known as Sona Gachi from a Sufi saint Sona Ghazi whose tomb (mazaar) is located in the locality.[4] It is an area with several hundred multi-storey brothels, and around 10,000 sex workers.[5] Sonagachi is located in North-Kolkata near the intersection of Chittaranjan Avenue Sova Bazar and Beadon Street, just north of the Marble Palace. In the year 2013, the rates of prostitution in Sonagachhi varies from ₹ 300 to ₹ 10,000 for one night enjoyment (present rate of Indian money is Rupees 65 for one American Dollar). No other red-light areas in Kolkata city has so much difference in their enjoyment rates. Previously there were many Bengali prostitutes in Sonagachi. But now-a-days Rajasthani and Khamia-Nepalese prostitutes have gained in number. There are 'Agrawalis' (prostitutes from a community near Agra city). According to class-division, the red-light areas of Kolkata are also divided into four different classes: poor-class, lower-class, middle-class, and rich-class. For example, The red-light area which once existed opposite to the diagonal angle of Khanna Cinema Hall was of 'poor-class'. When they contacted customers, they asked them "Khat-e na Chot-e" ? Which means, "Do you want to sleep in wooden cot or on jute-sheet spread over the floor?" As customers wished, the fee varied according to their choice. The lower-class and middle-class of prostitute areas were scattered around Haarkaata Gully and near Chetla/Kalighat bridge.

The areas near Rippon Street or Elliot Road could not be exactly referred as a 'prostitute area'. Mainly Anglo-Indian citizens lived there. Prostitutes who also lived there in different houses, they used to do their business in Kothhas or Kuthhis (small empty rooms for prostitution purpose only) scattered over the area. The Bengali customers generally never visited those Kuthhis. In Sonagachhi, few houses can be seen marked with the lines, "ইহা ভদ্রলোকের বাড়ী" which means, "This is a gentleman's house". People who are not involved in any way with prostitution business and do other good jobs, and lived in their family-owned houses for many years, but who have not been able to move out of the area due to financial or other reasons, they have marked their houses as such so that they are not disturbed by customers or any other persons in any way.

There are some difference between the character of Sonagachhi and Soho of London or Pigul of France. The character of race courses and red light areas of different cities of the world are almost same. But the character of Sonagachhi is a little bit different. Prostitution in Kolkata is illegal like many other big cities of the world. Though it is flourishing right in front of the nose of the administration. And for some "legal-show business" the police sometimes conduct raids to show that they have been doing their so-called "government duties" or "law-protecting duties" in those areas. The police hide in the alley and corners of the streets of Sonagachhi in their vehicle in the nights and regularly pick up some customers and send them to the police lock-up. After paying the 'government tax' they are released. The prostitutes and pimps are never touched in those 'raids'.[citation needed]. Generally two trips of raids are conducted in the nights. The people there make joke naming those raids as 'Matinee' and 'Evening'. The 'Evening' raids are conducted at late night 1:30 or 2:00 hours.

Several non-government organizations and government organizations operate here for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) including AIDS. Sonagachi project is a prostitute's cooperative that operates in the area and empowers sex workers to insist on condom use; a relatively low percentage of prostitutes in this district (5.17% of the 13,000 prostitutes in Sonagachi) are estimated to be HIV positive.[6] However, these efforts are hindered by human trafficking: refusal of clients to wear condom, and women controlled by third parties are forced to oblige. Kolkata has emerged as a hub for the trafficking of girls, who often arrive from Nepal, Bangladesh and Burma. From Kolkata they are often sold again to brothels in Mumbai (Bombay). Some will go on to the Middle East, Africa and Europe.[7] Many of the women in Sonnagachi were forcedly taken away from their homes; some were tricked and others sold into prostitution by their friends and families; most of them are illiterate.[8]

According to some sources, prostitutes from Sonagachi who test HIV positive are not told about the results, and live with the disease without knowing about it "because the DMSC is worried that HIV positive women will be ostracized."[9] Some prostitutes in Sonagachi have stated that "the clients, at least three quarters of them" refuse to use condoms and "If we force them to use the condom, they will just go next door. There are so many women working here, and in the end, everyone is prepared to work without protection for fear of losing trade."[9]

In south Kolkata, there is a red light district in the neighbourhood of Kalighat. Though the location of this red light district is much too far-off from the sacred site of the famous Kali Temple but according to civic maps of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation it falls under the area of Kalighat.

Kidderpore is an area in the south of Kolkata. There is a small red-light district on Mushigunj Road, near The Statesman's printing press.

In Bowbazar, opposite the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, there is a small Shiva temple. The address is Premchand Boral Street. The small street left of this is another, small red-light district.

Baruipur is a small locality in the southern fringe of Kolkata. There is a small red-light district. The next station south of Baruipur, there is a railway station named Shashan on Namkhana line. There is a red-light area near the bazaar or local market. There is also a red light area near Rambagan. Near the bazaar in Behala Chowrasta, there was a red-light area, which was later stopped functioning, probably due to social pressure and lucrative residential/commercial complex promoting business. Also there was a red light area near the Khanna Cinema hall, north or Sealdah station, which was also stopped probably for the same reason. A few stations away from Sealdah station, there is a red light area in Naihati railway station near the river banks. South Kolkata Garia More used to be an area. Right now it shifted little bit inside.

Even in Durgapur which is nearby Asansol and 170 km away from Kolkata there is also a small red light area named Kadaroad near to main gate DSP.

Street prostitution[edit]

Street prostitutes work in Esplanade Crossing, opposite of cinema ‘Metro’ and in the street between Elite Cinema Hall and Regal Cinema Hall, Jagat Cinema near Sealdah station and under Sealdah flyover, and another place is Ultadanga flyover and railway foot over bridge, kalighat, and Garia.[citation needed] Also a very small level high class escort service operates here, mostly college student or housewives or executives.Generally they use hotels booked by client or the flat of their pimp.

Private brothels[edit]

There are numerous private brothels and they are everywhere, but impossible to find without a guide[citation needed]. In the Maidan area, in front of Victoria Memorial main gate, some hookers move during evening in search of clients.[citation needed]

One interesting point to highlight is that the police is aware of these prostitutes roaming in the streets of Kolkata, but it often happens that they intentionally harass the man with the prostitute for money, without any protocol on how to follow in these situation for the well-being of the exploited person.[citation needed]

Call girl[edit]

Call girls operate independently and through pimps or escort agencies. Prostitution is operated from many beauty parlours and massage parlors in the city.[10][11] Pimps (commonly called agents) in nightclubs, pubs, star hotels and floorboys acting as agents generally keep catalogue with pictures of the call girls.[11] The girls operate in places like flats, hotels. etc.[12] Generally the call girls go to the rooms in star hotels. However, when the client cannot provide a place of convenience, the agents provide one and the place is generally decided on before.[11]

Call girls in Kolkata come from middle class, upper middle class and upper-class family. They may be executives, housewives, college student or actress.[11][12]

The Kolkata Police have connections with many call girls working as their informers. Many criminals like to spend time with the girls. Hence some call girls are used by the police to get information about suspected criminals.[13]

Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), which runs the Sonagachi project and several similar projects in West Bengal, lobbies for the recognition of sex workers' rights and full legalization.[14] DMSC hosted India's first national convention of sex workers on November 14, 1997, in Kolkata, entitled 'Sex Work is Real Work: We Demand Workers Rights'.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

Born into Brothels, a 2004 American documentary film about the children of prostitutes in Sonagachi, won the Academy Award for Documentary Feature in 2004.[16]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b [1] Archived 19 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b Plight of prostitutes in Kolkata. Retrieved on 2011-10-23.
  3. ^ [2][dead link]
  4. ^ Prostitutes and AIDS in India Website of Alicia Patterson Foundation
  5. ^ Girl-trafficking hampers Aids fight BBC news. 30 November 2004
  6. ^ In Sonagachi, keeping HIV away a daily battle. Indian Express (2009-12-02). Retrieved on 2011-10-23.
  7. ^ Grant, Matthew (2004-11-30). "Girl-trafficking hampers Aids fight". BBC News. 
  8. ^ Prostitutes Calcutta Sex Slaves. (2005-11-07). Retrieved on 2011-10-23.
  9. ^ a b Welcome to Sonagachi – Calcutta's largest brothel area is thriving. Tom Vater (2004-05-12). Retrieved on 2011-10-23.
  10. ^ Kolkata cop's wife in prostitution racket
  11. ^ a b c d Mitra, Nabamita; Chatterjee, Chandreyee; Chattopadhyaya, Sanjoy (2007-04-01). "New girls on the block". The Telegraph. Calcutta, India.  The Telegraph – April 1, 2007
  12. ^ a b "Hidden sex trade -callgirls of kolkatta". United States National Library of Medicine Gateway. Archived from the original on 29 April 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-10. 
  13. ^ Call girl aide to catch criminals- 230 escorts brought into the detective department fold The Telegraph – May 12, 2006
  14. ^, homepage of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee
  15. ^ Sex work is real work: We demand workers rights, announcement of the 1997 sex worker convention
  16. ^ "NY Times: Born into Brothels". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  17. ^ Arora, Anupa. "Independent Escorts service provider in Kolkata". Bengali Girls. Retrieved 13 December 2016.