Indian prostitutes speak out in their own magazine

October 2007 -

Every month in a Mumbai brothel, a group of women meets to plan, write, collate stories and publish Red Light Despatch. This is a new magazine in India, distinctive in that it is written and run for but also by women, children and men in prostitution in Indian cities. Already a year old, it will soon be formally registered, joining the country's mainstream media.


The Despatch, the brainchild of an Indian NGO 'Apne Aap' that works in the red light districts of several Indian metros, will initially be published in English, Hindi and Bengali.

Recently, the NGO found that attendance at its reading sessions for prostitutes began to decline because the media holds little of interest to those languishing in the alleys of India's cities. This prompted the conceptualization of Red Light Despatch, which centres discussions around prostitution and violence against women and allows its victims an unmediated voice in public discussion. ‘Correspondents,’ writing from red light districts in various cities, get remunerated for their journalistic contributions.

The authors are women in prostitution, their children and those who have left a life of prostitution behind. They write of not only life in the sex trade but also of related crimes like domestic violence and casteism. Many articulate their growing awareness that they are entitled to lives of freedom and will not tolerate crimes committed against them. Some talk with excitement about getting an education, travelling to other cities and about their interactions with people outside their milieu.

These women conduct candid Q&A sessions with doctors about HIV, and with lawyers about their right to legal redress and the brass-tacks of legal procedure. The staff is immensely pleased that women in prostitution in countries like France and the Philippines have sent their stories for publication. What is striking about the narratives in the Despatch is that they focus on experienced injustices but they are not inward-looking.

Reactions have varied from unambiguous support to concerns that such a magazine might "glorify" prostitution. Asked about the magazine's reception within and beyond the community, Ruchira Gupta, founder of Apne Aap, responds that it is generally promising: "The women in prostitution who read the Despatch feel it gives them a voice and identity. Those who have access to it find it eye-opening, but we need a wider audience. Once it is registered, we will try for wider distribution."