• Far from the City of Joy: The Dark Under-Belly Of Kolkata Dance Bars

    A Special Report

    Kolkata when looked from the eye of an outsider might look clean, safe and happy. The Bengali community that constitutes a larger section of population in the city is known to be friendly, dependable, intellectual… but overall, harmless. However as the night falls we can see a totally different avatar of this City of Joy.

    Today, SheThePeople.TV is in conversation with Sarita (name changed) a lawyer, social worker in her late 40s who has been working closely with many Anti-Human Trafficking Agencies and seen the struggle of girls who are forced into flesh trade covered by the business of Dance Bars.

    “When you visit Sonagachi you will never be directly approached for sex, they will only ask you to come and see the dance, enjoy drinks and have a good time. The musicians, the bartenders, the waiters all are after their share of money once they get a customer into the Dance Bars.”

    “Sonagachi is the biggest Red Light Area in Asia, and it is right next to flourishing Business centres, metro stations of Kolkata, girls who might have lost their way or enter a alley they should not have are never found. We lose them forever.”

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    Illegal Dance bars firstly use to operate in a single area usually but now the few bars that operate with a “crooning licence” – as the name suggests, a performer is only allowed to “croon” – misuse it to parade a bevy of non-singers who sway provocatively to loud music. Patrons shower currency notes on the girls, Chandni Bar style, while pimps hover on the periphery of the stage, ready to strike a pick-up deal.

    “Flesh trade is one of the most well kept secrets of Kolkata which no one talks about openly. I have met girls as young as 15 who are pushed into the trade by their own family members in exchange of money or a loan. Girls are brought here from villages some are even smuggled from Punjab who do pretty well because of their skin color, the fairer they are the higher are they paid.”

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    “The people who work here are pretty well connected; they have ties that go way up than our hands can ever reach. No one, not even us, dare to take legal action — we try and do our bit in helping them making settlements or requests… Force is the worst way of cracking a deal in these lanes,” she tells us.

    We can only see what is right in front of our eyes and what I see from far are happy faces. We often tend to miss the true nature and the struggle behind the smiling faces.

    Picture Credit: The Hindi