These women know loneliness here like nowhere else. They build special bonds with each other which survive rivalry, poverty even hopelessness.
“Many turns of life brought Parul on a path which was never expected even in her darkest nightmare. The day her husband died every door was closed for her. On the fourteenth day of her husband’s death she and her children were thrown out from their house and were denied all their rights by her in -laws. ‘I didn’t know when my children will have their next meal. There was no school for them, no routine, and no supervision. Everything fell apart. Being the most home proud person I spent nine days on streets of Jessore with my children. I could not bear it any longer and then I found a place for my two sons in an orphanage. At the time my elder son was eight years old and my younger one was six. Then I was gone. Didn’t leave any trace behind me and immediately travelled to Banishanta and started my work as a sex-worker. Now I have become a stranger in my own city, Jessore. I had all the memories of my childhood there, memories of my married life, — my loving home and being a mother. but I don’t want to go back there, rather die alone here as I was born alone ‘
The forgotten women of Banishanta have been ruined by climate change, shunned by society and abandoned by lovers or pimps. The rise of the Pashur River caused change to the operations of Mongla, the second largest port in Bangladesh. Until a few years ago large trading ships from all over the world docked here, and crew of those ships were the best customers for the island; now these women live in poverty.
Girls and clients are dancing over music and drinks. Men do not go to a brothel only for sex — they also enjoy marijuana, alcohol and other drugs which are illegal in Bangladesh. Perhaps a brothel is one place they can have access to all of these things.
This is the most common sight in Banishanta huts — in fact, in any brothel in the country. Sex-workers usually put on loud make-up. Here Reena is getting ready for the working day.
Love birds relaxing in their little hut at Banishanta Brothel. Shapla does not take any customer when Manik comes to see her at weekends.
Banishanta is a tiny island off the coast of Bangladesh, constantly threatened by rising waters. Its inhabitant are 150 women and girls who live and work as sex-workers in a state-licensed brothel.
“When I reached the Banishantaghat – locally referred as the ‘Banishanta Para’ (brothel), it felt like I had left the city and entered a different world altogether – the world of the condemned.
Many of the chhokris (enslaved sex-workers) are under age. Unregistered at birth, none of them know their own birthdates, and they don’t have any proof of identity. Officially, these girls do not exist, so it is nearly impossible for them to leave the island for a better life, even after they complete their terms as enslaved sex-workers. Some of the girls are runaways who left home to escape poor conditions or bad marriages, and ended up at the brothel where their lives get written off. Many others have been abducted and sold to a Madam by a parent or relative. Others were born into the brothel. They must take five to ten clients a day, and most of them don’t receive any money, as they must first repay the people who bought them.”
Smoking in public is frowned upon for women in Bangladesh, but sex-workers feel free to smoke everywhere as they are already social outcasts. The isolation of Banishanta Island creates deep bonds between the girls — so strong that they become family.
Some of these girls actually have permanent boy-friends or husbands in Banishanta brothel. Usually they come to visit the girls at weekends. Shapla and Manik have been in a relationship for the last two years. Shapla dreams of marrying him soon.
Khadija came to Banishanta after one a major flood in 1998. She has seen the ups and downs of life here. ‘Many men come and go, but I carry on here like a loyal dog. I’ve no other place to hide.’
Banishanta brothel was home for Josna even before adolescence. She was sold for 140 GBP. ‘I’m getting old and ugly. Mongla Port is less busy and not so many ships’ crew come here. so not many customers for me. But there isn’t much difference for me because my life is already done for.’
Suma is a very pleasant personality to have her around. ‘I don’t see sex as sin, I rather see it as my survival and escape from this makeshift so-called society. Well, everyone has their share of happiness and sorrow in life. Yes, it hurts brutally if I look back at my life, but the fact is I’m here today.’
The tiny island of Banishanta, seen from the air. Banishanta is in the Bay of Bengal where the sea level is rising every day; the island might go under water any time. Every year the people are displaced by the tidal surge. This is one of the most vulnerable places for climate change.