We walked up a narrow dark hallway past a Eunuch with a vacant stare sitting on a ledge and turning his head slowly as we passed as if warning us of what we were entering. The feeling of being smothered by evil was pervasive. One of our group said as we entered the area, “We are entering into the lions den.” I felt we were entering into Satan’s lair as we hesitantly made our way up the stairs. A fleeting thought of fear – a feeling of dread sent a shiver through me and caused me to pause as I slowly walked up the dark dirty steps. It was as if a voice was telling us – “You are in my domain and you are not welcome – get out.”
The width of the stairway added to the feeling of being surrounded by evil as if it was pushing in from everywhere. We passed one door that was open as we made our way up the stairs - a woman sat on the tattered bed eating from a bowl - a man sitting next to her stared at us with a puzzled look clearly wondering what we were doing there. I thought we would never get to our destination but there around the corner it appeared in the darkness - a small apartment - children running around excited about foreign visitors. As we walked in the doorway the look of the women was cautious as they sat waiting for us obviously not knowing what to expect.
Everyone was looking at one another wondering what to say. The Executive Director of the Clinic, began introducing the women and describing some of their history. She introduced us to the “manager” of the apartment who was a little reserved at first. As our visit continued she became very open and even went to her room and brought out pictures of her daughter. The director leaned over to me and said, “It is quite an honor for her to show you the pictures. It means she likes you and has accepted you all.” Later the director would explain that the cute six year old daughter she was showing us in the pictures would most likely become a manager of a brothel like her mother.
The room was lined on one wall with Hindu gods and symbols. One of our group described each one as I looked at them but I was surprised not to see the Yellamma – the goddess of prostitution. The main center of worship of this goddess is Soundatti in the state of Karnataka. Many of the girls and men who work here have her to thank for there entrapment. A temple worshiping this Yellamma is down the street and as we sat in the apartment, the music from the temple was playing loudly with a beat which was to set the mood for the customers.
There are many paths that lead these girls to become trapped in a life that will most likely take their lives and break their spirit. The worship of Yellamma is a significant Hindu cult. There is a very secret society which worships this goddess. The hierarchy of priest and followers (many in organized crime and in public positions) are involved in the trafficking of both girls and boys. Many villagers are forced to give up one of their daughters and sons with the promise that this goddess will take away their problems if they provide them as an offering. In fact, if they do not give up their son or daughter the goddess will cause calamity to befall them. The girls are told that if they run away that they will make the goddess angry and she will punish their family. The priest and followers look for males they feel will make good eunuchs for prostitution. There is an elaborate ceremony were they castrate the boys and prepare them for their life as a prostitute. The girls also go through a ceremony of marriage in which they are dedicated as devadasis to the goddess and are thereby disqualified to marry anyone. After the ritual and once the priest and followers tire of them, they are sold through an elaborate web of flesh brokers and end up in the red light districts working for managers who are the operators for those who profit in the shadows.
To look at Gloria, you would think she was any average Indian 22 year old until you looked into her eyes and the pain of her experience seeps through. Gloria has been mentored by director though she still must work because she owes a debt of 10,000 rupees (about $250). She has someone she wants to marry and desires to escape the trade but is bound to pay off her debt. We agreed to pay her debt and director is going to negotiate with the manager to free her to escape out of the red light district.
It was strange to see the interaction between the manager and the girls. You could see the sternness in the manager’s countenance yet the girls wanted their picture with her and you could see a relationship between them. In a perverse way the group of women resembled a family. One of the girls was four months pregnant and many had children running around the room oblivious to nature their surroundings. Like so many other children I have seen around the world, they were enjoying the attention we were giving them and wanting us to take their pictures.
Gloria wanted to show us her room. It was where she lived and conducted business. The room was not much wider than a twin bed and not much longer. A dirty mattress was on the bed and the room was dark and filthy. There was six inches between the side of the bed and the wall – just enough to squeeze into the room. The floor was caked with dirt. We were told that the children are many times forced to stay under the bed while their mother services their clients. Many of the children are given drugs so they will be quiet under the bed during the night. It is too horrible to think what these kids playing in front us have witnessed in their young lives. The director said unless something is done to assist these children they will carry on the legacy of their mothers from one generation to another. In this one small area of the slums there are 3,000 women and eunuchs trapped in this life style.
As we looked at Gloria’s room, the word came to us that we had to leave because a customer was coming. The kids all followed us down the steps. I motioned for Gloria to walk ahead of me and she sadly shook her head and pointed to the apartment. I walked a few steps downward and turned to look up at her. I caught the sorrow in her eyes as I waved goodbye and she waved back. Gloria was not coming back to the office with us.
The look on her face has haunted me since we left. I do not think it was an accident we were there at this moment and pray that in the midst of the darkness Gloria will experience the wonder of God’s light full of love and healing.
We walked down the stairs and emerged into the street and many of the girls and eunuchs had begun to appear from their tiny rooms to walk and sit on the street. Many of them were very friendly and greeted us with smiles – it was if they knew that we were there to help both them and their children. As we turned to go up to the office, the director introduced me to one of the girls and said, “She is a transsexual.” She then turned and introduced me to another girl and said, “She is a eunuch.” Both girls greeted me very politely and you could tell they were appreciative of our willingness to help.
We made our way up to the offices and as we walked into the door, there was a small emaciated woman under the sink with a surgical mask covering her nose and mouth. The director told us the story of Dorothy. Dorothy is dying of AIDS. She is in the last stages of the decease. No retro virus medication can save her at this stage. The director just arranged for her seven year old boy be admitted to an orphanage that will care for him. As difficult as it was to allow her son to go to the orphanage Dorothy felt relieved that he would be well cared for after she is gone. Dorothy acquired HIV as a prostitute and as so many of the girls she was thrown out of the house where she worked because she became to ill to work. The director said many of the girls are thrown in a pile of trash - sick and dying. She finds them with flies on them being eaten by ants too sick to cry. Dorothy found her way to the Clinic because she knew the director’s heart and that she could get the help she needed unconditionally. Dorothy needs hospice care so she can die with dignity. We provided the funds to pay for her to go to hospice program.
One of the volunteers brought in a small photo album in plastic that barely kept the pictures together. In the album were pictures of Dorothy in happier days with her family and her son. She was a beautiful young woman. Dorothy wanted us to know her before sickness robbed her of her youth. She now weighs 50 lbs and her face reflects the horror of this plague. Estimates in 2002 had this area of India at a 1.8% infection rate. The World health organization has determined that anything over 1% is an epidemic. The indications are that the rate is much higher now and getting worse. The director told us Dorothy probably has about a month to live. Our prayer is that Dorothy dies with not only the peace that her son will be well cared for but she will have the peace of knowing her Savior Jesus Christ.
As we talked to the director about the possibilities of partnership, her eyes began to fill up with tears. She paused to regain her composure and as she began to speak it was clear she was very discouraged and had been praying for hope renewed. She began telling us about a family she dearly loved and had poured her live into – Ramesh and Silvia. She said that she had been mentoring them for a long time and finally there was victory – they accepted Christ as their savior. She paused again and said they had just been tested for HIV and were found to be in the later stages of AIDS. They will not get their antiviral drugs until June 1 because the government has a waiting list of those that need treatment. They have four wonderful children. The director began to cry as she described how she had worked so hard to get a core family as leaders and now that she had them it seemed they were going to be taken by this horrible disease. You could tell she was questioning if she had the stamina and faith to endure their passing and the orphaning of four precious children she loves as if they were her own.
I told her that it is not by accident that the Lord had brought us to this place. Our team had prayed that the Lord would lead us to the people, children and organizations with which He desired us work. You could sense that she was hoping that we were the answer to her prayers.
We walked down the stairs of the former brothel that was now the offices that was a light to this dark community and as we stepped out into the streets another manager was yelling violently at one of her girls. I thought she was about to attack her - she was so angry. The director’s assistant looked at my alarmed face and said, “Just another day on the streets.”
I am still processing my experience. One thing which keeps coming to my mind is that despite all the evil and the hold that Satan has on this place there is still light. In the midst of all this suffering, the Lord sent a faithful servant to provide a way out of the grip of the devil - those who chose to accept the Lord in faith will find their way home into his loving arms where he accepts all who would believe – prostitutes, eunuchs you and me.