(West Bengal): She doesn't look more than 25, yet her
eyes are sunken and body is frail. Asma Bibi, who hails from
Rajshahi district of Bangladesh, illegally crossed into India nine
years ago to smuggle saris - but got sucked into the dark world of
Most of the 300 sex workers in the Kalabagan red light area of
Duliyan district in West Bengal have similar tales in which
smuggling and sex are intertwined. Around 13 of them are from
"My mother was actually from Domkol (West Bengal), but she got
married to my father in Bangladesh and that's where I was born. When
I was still young, father left us," Asma told IANS, sitting at an
NGO-run night shelter on the river bank.
"My mother was detected with blood cancer and we had no money to
treat her. Helpless, I got into the smuggling of saris from India to
Bangladesh," she added.
Border Security Force (BSF) soldiers posted on the border allegedly
seek "sexual favours" from women in exchange for letting them cross
over for smuggling - and so it was with Asma.
This cycle of regularly giving sexual favours for "free", when sex
workers charge money for the same, makes a number of women turn to
sex work professionally.
They earn only a couple of hundred rupees through smuggling. Working
as a sex worker helps them earn as much as Rs.10,000 a month - a
portion of which goes to the pimp or madam in the brothel and the
bulk to their families.
A BSF senior official said on condition of anonymity: "We take
stringent steps if any of our men are found involved in smuggling or
any human rights violation."
Saima Bibi, another sex worker hailing from Bangladesh, said:
"Sometimes if a BSF jawan likes a girl, the whole group won't be
allowed to go unless a few women are provided."
"If we complain then the border will be forever closed for us," she
Wearing a flimsy night gown with a dupatta, Saima said she has been
working here as a sex worker for six years.
"My family was very poor. While I got into smuggling saris and
condiments, paying bribes to border officials and at every point on
the course got me into a huge debt. So I went to the Farakka area
where a lot of sex workers wait on the roadside and then came here,"
Farakka is in Murshidabad district. The area near the Farakka
barrage is where a lot of truck drivers stop for meals at roadside
restaurants. It has a floating population of around 300 sex workers.
"My children are with my mother back home and I send them money
every month. I also visit them sometimes," said Syeda, another sex
Most of them also have a 'babu', a regular client who is like a
proxy husband. He lives off the woman's earnings and stays with her.
Having a babu gives the women a sense of "security" and also helps
ward off violent clients.
Samir Sheikh, 26, is from Bangladesh and is a babu to a 42-year-old
sex worker, Shama Mondol. "I was 21 when I started smuggling cattle
to Bangladesh," Sheikh told IANS at his home in Farakka.
"But two years back I met Shama here and we started a relationship.
She has two daughters from her marriage and I take care of them
while she goes for her work at night," he added.
"I also have 10 girls working for me," Sheikh said.
One of the findings of Swagoto Sarkar's research for the NGO Sanjog,
which works on trafficking, said: "In India the smugglers regularly
supply women to BSF personnel to facilitate the passage of goods.
Smuggling and sex are intertwined."
(Azera Rahman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)