JOEANNA REBELLO FERNANDES TIMES NEWS NETWORK , TOI Crest, Dec 17,
From gigolos to strippers, nautch dancers to maalishwalas, male
prostitution is becoming alarmingly common. However, it's still a
phenomenon that's pretty much swept under the carpet
Every month, about eight to 12 boys under 18 arrive in Mumbai from the
hinterland to work as 'masseurs' (read commercial sex workers).
They land here with correct estimates of the money they stand to make,
but cloudy ideas about the job description. Few can guess how
prostitution will transform them psychologically, socially and perhaps
That's when non-profit Samabhavana Society steps in to elaborate in
graphic detail such occupational hazards. "We advise them to go back
home," says Jasmir Thakur, Secretary & EO of Samabhavana, "but they
say they will only give simple massages and not have sex with clients,
no matter what." Jasmir then pulls out the props.
He holds out a wad of Rs 1,000 to the boys - a denomination they've
rarely ever touched - and questions whether their self-made
stipulation would hold fast before such bait.
"We show the 12-year-old a condom and ask if it would even fit him.
We show him a dildo and ask him to imagine what it would be like to
have anal sex with a client. We show him pictures of men with Sexually
Transmitted Infections and of men with AIDS and tell him that could
happen to him without a condom. That they could die before they hit
adulthood," finishes Jasmir with some sweat.
So does the spiel work? He pauses, as if considering the futility, and
then smiles resignedly, "No," he says. "They never go back. I can't
fight poverty and hunger with fear, and I certainly can't do it
Last year, 21 boys under 18 contracted HIV in Bombay. Seven succumbed
to 'professional hazards'. Migration of men from the mofussils to the
metros has been a centuries-old transition, and while patterns and
compulsions of movement remain more or less unbroken, motives have got
Young boys (mainly heterosexual), who in the throes of these times
mature sooner and show physical signs of such ripening, have
discovered a new inroad to money, and contrary to belief, it isn't
easy money. This is a profession where youth and physical beauty have
To understand this, process the recent commoditisation of masculinity,
where smooth figures with waxed chests and shining hair move with a
sensuality previously only imputed to femininity in the ads. Men sell
sexuality as well as women today, if not better. (Perhaps that's why
we see so much of John Abraham.)
Young, smooth-skinned pubescent boys are cut of similar stone. That's
why the age limit of male prostitution has perilously dropped to as
low as 12 years. By the time boys become men at 25, they're considered
too old for the game and required to exit. Their shelf life is
typically five years.
Their monthly income ranges between Rs 6,000 and Rs 1 lakh, contingent
on looks, versatility and, predictably, length of organ. Most have
predecessors - boys who've entered the night garden and return holding
out passion fruit to the hungry young.
The 2009 estimate of the number of children in prostitution in India
is a conservative 1.2 million. It has been assumed that girls form the
greater percentage, and one can only guess at the number of boys
simply because they subvert institutionalised systems. Jasmir counts
9,584 masseurs in Mumbai alone.
"Most of the male sex workers under 18 cover up as 'masseurs'," he
says. "They are street-based and mobile and emerge after 8 pm.
Masseurs are the entry point for prostitution, and since the job
requires vigour and strength, young boys are believed to do a better
In a country where the laws on immoral trafficking and child sexual
abuse are still paper tigers, the situation is worsened by a systemic
It is still believed that it is largely women and girls who are
victims of commercial sexual abuse; the exploitation of boys is
nonsexual, in areas like labour camps and camel jockeying.
The entrenched notions of gender in this heteropatriarchal country
have vaunted masculinity to such social and psychological heights that
boys are generally believed to be untouched by the sexual violations
that threaten girls. These biases naturally deny boys the scope of aid
and support held out to girls. We'd like to believe that boys don't
cry, and are certainly not prostituted.
What's worse, the pressures on the male child to support the family
have pressed many boys into giving out their bodies willingly on
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'
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
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.
The tourist trap
In 2009, the research and advocacy outfit Equations launched a study
in concert with ECPAT International, a Bangkok-based body that strives
to end child prostitution. The project was called 'Unholy Nexus: Male
Child Exploitation in Pilgrim Tourism Sites in India'.
The inquiry investigated the religious cities of Tirupati, Puri and
Guruvayoor and reported that in all places, children between eight and
12 were engaged in prostitution.
The clients in Tirupati were largely domestic tourists, in Guruvayoor
it was the local ones, and in Puri, foreigners. "We learnt that many
of these boys had been abused when under six, and an innocuous
familiarity with sexual advances drew them closer in as they grew
older," says S Vidya, Equations' Project Coordinator of the department
of Child and Tourism.
By 12, the boys know whom to solicit, which public places to retreat
to and how much to charge. "They said Indian tourists often had sex
but refused to pay at the end, threatening to take the boys to the
Foreigners gave them money, clothes, food and took them along for the
ride," she says. The study indicates that tourists cast a wider net
for boys than girls because they are more amenable, easier to find and
can't get pregnant.
Finally coming home to the problem of exploitation within its
jurisdiction, the tourism ministry broadcast a Code of Conduct for
Safe and Honorable Tourism early this month. It is to be seen if it
makes a dent.
Advocacy groups, in the meanwhile, want people to know that the
transactional space of prostitution is occupied by men too,
particularly boys under 18. They hope government legislation becomes
gender-neutral and pays the boy child equal attention (for example,
sections 366, 366A and 366B of the IPC deal with the kidnap,
procurement and import of the girl child, not the boy).
They hope that a thorough and comprehensive law on child sexual abuse
is enacted and compasses both genders. They hope the law goes beyond
paper. They hope people report cases of the sexual abuse of boy
children too, because whether they consent or not, they don't know any
better. And then boys won't always be boys.
Truth resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there, and to be guided by truth as one sees it. But no one has a right to coerce others to act according to his own view of truth. - Mohandas Gandhi
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