By Roshni Chakrabarty and Arnab Mitra
Hiding behind their swanky ambiance, dance bars and massage parlors have become hot destinations for quite a few. NewsGram reporter for Kolkata, Arnab Mitra went to uncover bits and pieces on what happens behind those satin curtains and scented lounges.
Sao Massage Parlor, Salt Lake
Large banners in the vicinity of the Sao Massage Parlor in Salt Lake announced its existence. According to the banner, one could avail Chinese, ayurvedic and various other massages here.
Arnab made his way to the massage parlor which took two floors of a residential building in Karunamoyee, Saltlake. The person who runs the massage parlor is a resident of that very building.
As Arnab attempted to enter the place, he was greeted by 2-3 men who welcomed him with a catalogue. The prices ranged from 500 to 20,000 rupees for the various types of massages. Along with the name of each massage was the photo of the massage expert. All of these “massage experts” were women.
Arnab flicked through the catalogue and said he preferred to “order inside”.
The beautifully decorated massage parlor was marble floored and looked like every other swanky beauty parlor. Separate sections were allocated for the different services. Customers could avail cigarettes, alcohol or ganja as per their choice.
Arnab chose a nominal hair massage worth 500 rupees. The North-eastern woman who came to offer him her services was dressed in a mini skirt and a half sleeved shirt.
On hearing certain noises coming from the nearby room labeled for Ayurvedic massages, Arnab excused himself to go to the toilet which was situated right beside that room.
A grizzly sight inside the room met his eyes. Around 3-4 men were pulling the saree of a woman in the room.
The woman, who seemed to be her early 20s, was pleading with the men who were relentless.
“Tumko 20,000 rupiya diya gaya hai massage ke liya, ab toh jitna maza karna hai hum karenge, parlor mein ghusne se pehle hi yeh kaha gaya tha humse.” (We have offered you 20,000 for the massage, now we will have as much fun with you as we like. We were promised this even before we entered the parlor.)
As the girl kept trying to fend them off, one of the men burnt her arms and body repeatedly with the cigarette he held.
Surprisingly, all this was happening right in front of the owner of the parlor- a middle aged lady of a seemingly middle class family. The other women working there strangely seemed to be enjoying the situation as they taped the incident.
Were these men really customers? Or were they brought in for some other purpose? Is every customer allowed to treat the women in this manner?
Such questions sadly remain unanswered.
Arnab took out his phone and, on the pretext of listening to music, tried to covertly capture a video evidence of the incident. But his intentions were promptly discovered and despite playing the press card, his mobile was snatched away and the video deleted before he was shoved out of the parlor.
When Arnab went to the Bidhannagar Police to complain about the forceful snatching of phone and deletion of evidence, the police mocked him. “Apnara toh news kilogramey bikri koren.” (You sell news by the kilo.)
Soon after, Arnab was asked to leave the police station.
City Heart Bar & Restaurant, Barasat
When Arnab entered the City Heart Bar & Restaurant in Barasat at around nine at night, business was flourishing. High voltage Hindi numbers played while beautiful young women danced on the floor.
Alcohol poured and money flew as the touts made deals left and right on behalf of the women. Earnings are divided amongst each member of the establishment, including the touts and the manager, the NewsGram reporter learned.
As Arnab offered 100-150 bucks to one girl, a tout came and inquired whether he was looking for something special. On a deal of Rs 5,000, Arnab was taken to the girl he had offered money to.
On meeting him, the girl took him by the hand and led him to a room right beside the dance floor, where she proceeded to take off her saree.
Arnab stopped her saying he had come from an organization which worked with sex workers and that he was just looking to speak to her regarding a few things.
After the initial hesitation, Tanisha(name changed) said she was in the profession willingly and that when she had applied for the job, everything had been explained to her clearly. “I am the sole bread earner for my family. I have to look after my parents and other family members as well. This profession helps me earn enough for that.”
She added that a dance performance would only help her earn around Rs 200-300 per day and it varied according to the time and customer. They had no fixed salary. “So, we have to choose the other path to ensure we have enough food in our stomach.”
The tout came and asked what was wrong and whether the girl had refused him. When he started to shout at the girl, Arnab quickly stepped in to clear the confusion.
Citing a family emergency, he paid Rs 500 and left.
Here is a video that Arnab took at the City Heart Bar & Restaurant:
What is the problem?
Unlike red light areas which undergo regular surveillance, these dance bars and massage parlors have no proper system to monitor them. As a result, anyone can do anything in these establishments. One can easily avail marijuana, cocaine and other drugs as well as indulge in various illegal under-the-table give and take activities in such places.
Establishments such as these are on the rise. In suburban areas such as Rajarhat and Salt Lake, a dance bar or such massage parlors be found at distances even less than 2km of each other.
Many of these massage parlors are situated in residential areas which give them adequate cover. Residents are worried about the safety of young women as areas in the vicinity of such establishments lose any semblance of decency after sundown. Young women are called names and harassed with obscene gestures.
“It becomes impossible for us to step out after 11 at night,” said Saltlake resident Amal Ganguly. These new businesses act as a deterrent to normal life of the public. “Drunken brawls, problems created by biker gangs and the damage of property are daily issues. The situation gets even more aggravated on weekends!” Ganguly added.
Residents allege that complaints to police, councilors and administration fall on deaf ears and they are only assured with promises of “will see to it”, but no action is taken.
An incident in Haridevpur around a month ago saw an innocent civilian in his early 30s shot to death in a gang war which started off in a dance bar. Kolaghat also saw a similar incident on Navami night where another civilian got killed.
The government needs to pay attention to these establishments and ensure a system which can monitor them regularly to avoid any grim incidents and criminal activities. Moreover, care should be taken that such businesses are kept separate from residential areas which might otherwise prove to be a problem for other civilians and destroy the natural environment of the area.
Arnab Mitra is a Kolkata based photojournalist and reporter for NewsGram.