Part of CINI’s programs is to conduct free quarterly HIV-AIDS testing for the sexual workers in various parts in West Bengal. I was invited to observe this testing day to one of its registered brothel near Pailan. We stopped in a small community by the highway and entered a narrow passageway by foot, almost concealed from the main highway. I was led into a small structure with 2 adjacent small rooms for the doctor’s office and laboratory. So this was it, the CINI Health Clinic for sex workers. I was welcomed by the 3 staff inside the clinic. The blood technician was doing her rounds of HIV AIDS testing in her room with all her testing gadgets – surgical gloves, syringes and needles, and vials for the blood. While doing her task, another project staff gave me a free demonstration on how to use female and male condoms using a wooden model of a HUGE male sex organ (I don’t know if it’s the standard size or the biggest one, I’ll have to find that out…ooops censored X). Took pictures of the demonstration but erased it afterwards because I’m afraid that my mom might see them when I get back home to the Philippines, yikes!
(Note for picture on top: Condom dispenser found in the CINI Health Clinic)
After that, I was whisked by the peer leader (‘mama-san’ in Japanese language) to the rows of dilapidated square quarters at the back of the clinic and I was surprised it is already the brothel! The Brothel looks like a rundown, war torn shabby tiny cement ruble structures. Beside these structures are piled garbage areas where I saw barefooted children (sons and daughters of the sex workers) playing with some garbage particles. At the corner, there is like a compound with quarters for the single sex workers and those with children and ‘dada’ (a big brother, who acts as their marketing/sales officer, otherwise known as the ‘Pimp’) have separate structures. They said they pay for the space or room for doing sex work out of their proceeds. Since CINI operated its clinic in the area, there is quite considerable degree of increase in the purchase of condoms by sex workers. They became more aware of the health risks involved in their profession but the business continues because what else can they do for a living.
There are around 76 sexual workers, ages from 20-55 years old (but I saw some who look like between 15-18 years old) registered in this brothel. Some came from other states and some grew up in the same community brothel. Felt sad thinking about this way of living but this is the reality. Seeing the children’s eyes full of hope and their smiles full of energy for life, made my heart felt depressed for awhile by the thought of what their future might become.
Now is not the season for sex business. August – October are the season period because of ‘Durga Puja’ holiday, where people celebrate their goddess of energy ‘Durga’ or ‘ sometimes called ‘Lakshmi’. Celebration is like that of Christmas. Colorful lights across the streets, beautifully adorned ‘Pandals’ and workers happily receiving their holiday pay are main attractions of this season. Many tourists come to enjoy the festivities for the whole month of September, and as such businesses are flourishing. Therefore, more businessmen come in to the brothel for relaxation and more pleasure.
@ Sundurban - Community Visit
CINI has an affiliated community organization in Sundarbans, the place is famous for the Royal Bengal tigers and boat ride. Sundarbans is a huge fishing area divided by Bangladesh and West Bengal, India. It is a very quite remote and peaceful town with tribal fishing villages along the coast of Bengal. We rode a car all the way to Sundarbans for 4 hours and ate ‘Muri’ along the way. Muri is composed of puffed rice cooked in heated sand, which after cooking, it is shifted from the sand and topped with roasted peanuts. It sure is a crunchy snack that can be eaten anytime of the day.
Before, you can only reach Sundarbans by riding a boat. Now, there is already bridge connecting the island to West Bengal’s District 24 Purganas (South). Missed the boat ride, but it was interesting to see that most of the houses are made of ‘Mud’ as walls with Rice ‘Straws’ or stone ‘Bricks’ as roof. CINI Director said the typical village families start their homes with rice straw roof, as the family progressed they replaced it with real ‘bricks’. So, houses can be a social and economic status symbol in the villages where scheduled caste system is practiced (Don’t ask me to write about this part, way beyond my understanding or capacity to understand since I’m from a casteless society). In every mud house there are piles of hay stock for their animal feeding and roof replacement. A small pond can also be normally seen in front of their houses where they can bath and wash their clothes. Vast farm lands of crops like chili and wheat and rice paddies can be seen along the long road going to the community we were supposed to go. Sundarbans is one of the producers of best chilies in India.
CINI established a sister organization in the community called Baikunthupur Sishu Seva Kendra (means Woman & Child Health in Baikanthupur Village) in 1978. The organization has been operating for 30 years or so, a little bit younger than CINI but they have similar work and services. Went to take some touring around Sundarban’s river dock and saw boats arrived with people climbing up the dock and placing their goods on the rickshaw vans waiting along the dock’s catwalk. Two women were sorting out fishes dried out on the dock’s platform. I smelled ‘fishy’ when I got home because I accidentally stepped on the small fishes lying along the dock. I didn’t know they were left to dry under the sun for some villagers’ food supply. The best part is my lunch with the people of BSSK, the CINI Director and the Assistant Director who graciously permitted me to travel with them to Sundarbans. My lunch was composed of shrimp cooked in curry, fish (one was fried and another was cooked with aloo and red chili), 2 vegetable meals and tons of desserts: mishti doi, rasgula, and tomato chutney. I almost pigged myself out there.
@ Reproductive Health Training
It was a rainy day when the team held their ‘Dai’ Training. ‘Dai’ is a Bengali term for “Midwives” or the person who assists birth delivery. However, these ‘Dai’ women are not registered or trained in medical field unlike the midwives. They were just born and called to deliver births in their respective villages. They are mostly old village women. “Dai” women practice proper way of birthing method…
It is sad to know that most of the village people do not go to clinics and hospitals because they are afraid to be cut or given medicines they are not familiar with. They are used to traditional birthing methods and herbal medicines that may not be hygienic and consequently create health problems and even deaths for the mothers and their babies. Consequently, there are more unregistered births in India than we can imagine. Thus, these kids born in the villages may never go to school due to lack of personal registration papers.
This program in training these “Dai” women is to create awareness on them that there are appropriate and hygienic procedures in assisting birth deliveries and to encourage them to refer expectant mothers to go to hospitals for proper facilities and methods in birth delivery. Since, one cannot control village mothers to whom they will go for delivery, these ‘Dai’ women are taught the proper and hygienic way through the RHT (Reproductive Health Training), a joint project of CINI and West Bengal Government. Twenty-Nine ‘Dai’ ladies attended this particular 3-day training and this is the 2nd batch conducted by CINI. They were all cheerful, active, and eager to learn the proper ways of child birth delivery.