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Massage parlors & Dance Bars in Kolkata: See What happens behind the curtains

In Kolkata, hiding behind their swanky ambiance, dance bars and massage parlors have become hot destinations for quite a few. NewsGram's reporter Arnab Mitra digs into the matter.

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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:

https://youtu.be/kukrcvpeqeM

 

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.

 

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  • Dp Dp

    যা যা হয়েছে এগুলো কারো অজানা নয়। এমন কি পুলিশ ও সব জানে। ও ভাগ ও পায়। আনন্দবাজার সহ বাকি পত্রিকা গুলোতে হাফ পেজ জুড়ে #পত্রমিতালি + full enjoyment এর বিজ্ঞাপন থাকে। হাইলাইট করলে এটাই যা/

  • Rajib

    I have been to a number of massage parlours in kolkata & other parts of India & overseas as well. Irrespective why the masseuse choose this line, I never came across any scenario like the one described in Sao spa by the same author. I discussed with some of my mates – got the same negative result.
    I am not arguing that things don’t happen, but this is something which is very bizarre requires authenticity of the happenings…its not always that reporters are right or they want to portray to correct photo.

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  • Dp Dp

    যা যা হয়েছে এগুলো কারো অজানা নয়। এমন কি পুলিশ ও সব জানে। ও ভাগ ও পায়। আনন্দবাজার সহ বাকি পত্রিকা গুলোতে হাফ পেজ জুড়ে #পত্রমিতালি + full enjoyment এর বিজ্ঞাপন থাকে। হাইলাইট করলে এটাই যা/

  • Rajib

    I have been to a number of massage parlours in kolkata & other parts of India & overseas as well. Irrespective why the masseuse choose this line, I never came across any scenario like the one described in Sao spa by the same author. I discussed with some of my mates – got the same negative result.
    I am not arguing that things don’t happen, but this is something which is very bizarre requires authenticity of the happenings…its not always that reporters are right or they want to portray to correct photo.

Next Story

Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)