Shobha is a sex worker. She was tricked into prostitution at the age of 14. She was married in the middle for a while, and stayed out of sex work for a few years. She came back to it after a series of compelling events, and became HIV positive.
I'm from Allahbad. I had a stepmother, and had run away from home. Somebody enticed me to find work in Bombay, and took me to Kamatipura when l was 14. He went in while l waited outside - l have no idea what they spoke about. That evening , the woman there talked to me nicely, fed me dinner, and l fell asleep fairly relaxed. On waking up after a little while, l discovered there was a man by my side. I asked him who he was, and he said he was my aadmi.. When l told him l had no aadmi, he suggested l ask my mother about it. I said that the woman outside was not my mother. He raped me somehow…what more can l say?
Six months past this way, until l met Sayed. He was a Muslim. He took good care of me for 10-12 years, and l changed my name to Samina Sheikh. All he said to my gharwali was that he was taking me out for the day. He showed me a room and said we'd stay there together. I said l'd live with him only if he promised to feed me well.
He had a seekh kabab business, and would pay for my taxi fares. We had three children together; Soni, Moni, and Ravi. I raised them to be Hindu - they live in the village, while we have a place in Mahim. My younger sister and brother take care of them.
I left Sayed out of humiliation. We had to vacate our room because of him - he had raped a four-year-old girl, and was being held by the police. I didn't believe it at first and had him released. It was only later that l found out that he had another wife. Althogh he looked very young, he was extremely cunning, and had cheated his first wife as well. He now lives in Bandra with four women.
I left him and started work at Aasha Prakalp Eye Hospital, distributing condoms and educating women in Kamatipura. But they discharged me for missing a few days of work, and l found a job as a maid at Bombay Hospital, earning no more than Rs 100 after every 12 hour day. If l had been able to work seven days a week, perhaps it would have been worth it. But that didn't happen.
I had also tried to work at a beer bar, but l disliked the work there. They dim the lights in these places so that their customers can do as they please - from the front, from the back, in front of everyone. In dhanda, at least we're in a room, and l can demand the money in advance. I have more power this way. Mein to keh deti hoon, mujbe seedhi tarike se karo.
So l went back. I knew the rules - fifty percent for the gharwali, and fifty percent for me. If l had not gone voluntarily, they wouldn't have accepted me. Nobody buys girls these days. The law can punish gharwalis for five years.
These days we have very few new customers because of the fear of AIDS. There wasn't as much awareness until the last two years, however. Some of them tear their condoms intentionally - ki meine dekho phaad hi diya, aisa. Some of them are young - they don't care; marna hai to mar jaayenge. I tell them they should wear condoms, but they cannot say that l have 'it'. I'll lose my work. If l tell them in jest, they say, "Tu to achhi dikhti hai."
I got myself tested after returning to this dhanda. Mein nashe main itna hoti hoon, ki mein khud nahi keh sakti ki mere saath kya hua hai, kya kiya hai meine, isliye. Yet if l don't drink, my mind will not work. The doctor suspected HIV and l became very upset.
I now live with another man named Shivakanth. I met him in this line of work. He works at Mahim Bakery. He understands me - poor girl, she used to work as a social worker and is now a dhandewali. When he invited me to live with him, l said "Tum mujhe quarter pilao, mein tere saath aati boon." I had had too much to drink, but he took care of me. He did not force himself on me at all. We did sleep together, but that was much later. He would tell me that he was very jealous of my customers, and even suggested we buy a room for ourselves. We now live together, and l have told people in my village that he is my aadmi. I work during the day, and come home to our room at night.
I have a lot of respect for him. He does not know that l am positive. But when l tell him that being in this line of work, l could become easily infected, he says, "If you have it, we will die together. If you have it, then it is my destiny." I tell him when we are drunk, and it happens when we are drunk too, but when he is sober, he does not believe me. He is negative for sure.
We don’t use condoms because they are very expensive. The government gives every woman a three-piece packet, but it's impossible for me to get through the day with that alone. If we can't get condoms, how are we expected to use them? Nobody knows that l am positive. If anyone finds out, he won't keep me. I know of many women who are positive. But what is a dhandewali to do? One is drowning in debt, another does not have access to treatment…when l go to municipality hospitals, l get very angry!
I'm on the look out for a part-time job now, but l don't want to give up my dhanda. I need money. I had taken a loan of Rs 24,000 for my daughter's wedding that l have to return. I haven't married Shivakanth, but wear sindoor all the same - every woman needs a man. My children have no idea that l do this sort of dhanda and l will never let them know. Maybe this way they can have a good life.