From the first page of man’s history till date which are replete with accounts and anecdotes of flesh trades and sexploitations social reformers have failed to get rid of prostitution, the oldest profession. It should be admitted in fairness that Manipur has been having its closet sex trade,albeit at a very limited market.The people are jolted to rude reality of the increasing number of prostitutes,now known as sex workers, and transvestites only when armed militants round them up from the sex dens of the hotels of ill repute which are euphemisms for brothels and frogmarched to the place where press conferences are arranged or some sex related crimes including deaths due to overdose of drugs take place. More recently there had been uncontradicted reports that some personnel had intercepted,beat up some sex workers to snatch their day’s earnings. This shame was echoed in the Assembly although the Home Minister is turning a deaf ear. In the meantime the flesh trade continues uninterrupted and uninterfered.
Unlike in other states the fallen women in Manipur are not pawns in the hands of the manipulative and exploitive pimps but operate free lance. But being coy by nature they do not solicit business direct. Friends coming from other parts of the country used to stay in the posh hotels in Imphal. They invariably tell me that the room service manials at night come to their rooms after serving the IMFL bottles to beat around the bush and then come straight to the point as the night advances that girls are available for “massage”. The educated friends recoil since it is made out that Manipur has the highest incidence of AIDS. To my knowledge none of the friends had availed themselves of the “masseurs”. But then there must have some tourists who are not so well educated or drinks could have muddled their heads thereby contracting the incurable deadly disease.
There is no gainsaying the fact that millions of rupees set aside for fighting AIDS have never reached the sex workers in the state. Almost all of them are not aware of the fatal risk of having unprotected sex. The customers who are already HIV positive or at the advanced stage of AIDS insist on sex without condoms even if some sex workers feebly try to protect themselves. No social or health workers with free condom can be seen in the areas where the sex workers hang around for business. Instead, dipsomaniacs and drug addicts are ubiquitously present at North AOC, the undeclared red light area,to panhandle from the customers so that they could have some slugs of country liquor or doses of heroin.
Even if it is conceded that those who are making a living out of the incidence of AIDS had tendentiously inflated the actual figure of the HIV patients there is no denying the fact that the scenario is quite appalling in Manipur. Some high profile sex workers who were sighted some years ago in the Imphal city are no longer seen. It is assumed that they died of AIDS and some other sexually transmitted diseases.But some sex workers had married some persons and they are leading a nomral life after burying the shame in the past.
From the way the militants have stopped raiding the shaddy hotels it is reasonable to assume that they are chalking out some effective strategies to tackle this Herculean social problem.The mystery of missing women one comes across sometimes in the newspapers is partially solved by the information gleaned through the grape vine.Some such women are stationed in the roadside hotels in Assam where truck drivers halt for drinks and dinner.They serve exclusively the non-Manipuri drivers and at the sight of a Manipuri looking driver or passenger all of them will scurry for hiding till the coast is clear. The grass widows,victims of domestic violence,neglected wives of alcoholic and drug addict husbands or housewives wallowing in poverty,etc are easily lured out by human traffickers and experienced women by promising lucrative market business elsewhere and gainful employment in Assam.
It has not been possible to abolish the oldest profession and Manipur is no exception. The best thing the social and health workers could do is to educate and provide AIDS fighting materials to the sex workers. The expensive seminars in posh hotels and other glittering functions have no impact on the sex workers which means that while millions of rupees go to private pockets the disease is spreading like wild fire.
Imphal Free Press