There is a street in the Indian city of Muzaffarpur, where men come to watch girls sing and dance… but not only. Beyond the front rooms of its establishments, much darker business is conducted, including prostitution and people trafficking.
Today’s ‘dancers’ are the legacy of bygone days, when Hindu priests invited young girls to a big dance and then chose the best to become servants to the gods. These girls were called ‘devadasi’. They would sing and dance as part of temple worship for the rest of their lives. In reality, they were often sexually exploited by the priests and fell into prostitution. When the British abolished this religious institution, the former ‘devadasi’ moved from the temples to the streets.
Muzaffarpur’s red light district is home to more than 2,500 sex workers. The young women that ‘sing and dance’ have ended up here for different reasons. Some have severe family problems, some have been sold, beaten, and coerced, and some are even following in their mothers’ footsteps. All share one thing in common: they are trapped in a horrific life they despise.
No one here openly calls herself a prostitute. Most of the young women are mothers as a result of plying their trade. Poverty and stained reputations present nearly insurmountable barriers to escape. Most have given up on themselves, but still have hope for their children. A special school has been set up to take care of the sons and daughters of mothers who work at night. One prostitute named Nadzhma hopes that with a proper education her children will rise from the surroundings they were born into and, perhaps, pull her out as well.
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