The magazine of the photo-essay
Jan 2017 back issue
Fallen Angels: The Sex Workers of South Asia
photographs by Thomas Kelly
“A free, really high quality photo-essay magazine.  Fabulous!” Stephen Fry. British actor, writer and film & documentary maker
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Eight photographers and fourteen writers explore the complex, hidden world of prostitution in South Asia. The people in this book are real people, just as you are. If you were born into a different family, into poverty, into a South Asian village or urban ghetto, your profile might be in this book. These are stories are written as the people whom the writers have known personally some for many years told them to us. These are the photographs that were given to us,” they said. “We have nothing left to be ashamed of.” All the photographers come from backgrounds of photo-activism. Some have spent years behind the brothel curtains. Others have arrived new to the subject, but not new to its kin—they have shot rural poverty and urban despair, the female debris of gender aggression, and the alienation of the ‘untouchables’. The images come from many collective years of patience: making friends, waiting for permission and avoiding intrusion. Beatings, broken cameras and nights in jail have been part of the project.  
Tamang women carry loads of stones in Sindupalchowk district, central Nepal.  Across the Himalayas, women perform two thirds of the fieldwork and manual labor. Male brokers and returnee Madams, often once trafficked themselves, find little difficulty recruiting in these regions.  Sindupalchowk district, Central Nepal.
Tamang girl threshes wheat on her front porch as brothers look on. Girl children from Sindhupalchowk district are considered high risk for trafficking.  Sindhupalchowk, Nepal.
A woman of an untouchable caste prepares herself for clients while her mother and younger sister look on, many tribal groups and occupational castes have been forced into prostitution as their traditional sources of income dry up in ‘modernizing’ South Asia. Today, many girls of these ‘sex worker castes’ are raised knowing that when they reach menarche, they will support their families with clients brought to the home.
Mumbai: Falkland Road.The brothel district of Kamathipura began in the 17th century by British authorities to satisfy the carnal demand of Her Majesty’s troops. Soon Chinese, Anglo-Indian, French and other “white” women stocked flourishing bordellos on a street once known to natives as “Safed Galli, or “white alley.”  Nepali women from regions of Sindupalchowk began arriving after World War II, increasing to trafficked women from throughout the country by the 1980s.  A hierarchy of pimps, brothel owners, organized criminals; police and politicians share the profits of this criminally controlled sex industry.  Kamathipura, Mumbai, India
Kailashi, a Badi mother, playing with her son. “I was a beautiful child with curly hair. The high castes and “big” people played with me and gave me rupees when I danced. My father made drums and my mother begged. And then we came here to this village and we did pessaa.  9“Later, my father died’. Western Nepal.
Young Deuki girls, forbidden to marry are dedicated at temples of the mother goddess throughout Far Western Nepal.
Business begins about 4 p.m. in the Mumbai brothels. Divya, Bishakha  and Geetanjali  prepare for the evening.  Kamathipura, Mumbai, India.
Business begins about 4 p.m. in the Mumbai brothels. Divya, Bishakha  and Geetanjali prepare for the evening.  Kamathipura, Mumbai, India.
Conditions for prostitutes are marginally better in some brothels, such as the ‘welcome brothels’ of Mumbai, which serve middle-class clients. Here, women are allowed some time for recreation, and are sometimes permitted to leave the brothels to get medical care or visit their families, if they have one. Mumbai sex workers relax in the afternoon before work Mumbai, India
Convicted trafficker Rajan (center) is booked on evidence from two of his Nepali victims, Jamuna (left) and Jyoti (right, all names changed). Jamuna spent three years in the brothels of Mumbai, India, before being rescued in 1998. Rajan trafficked Jyoti’s sister in the ealy 1990s, and later sold Jyoti to the same brothel. Hetauda jail, Central Nepal.
In South Asia, perhaps more women then men are the ‘mules’ that transport girls across national borders. The three women on the left were arrested in 1999 for the alleged trafficking of Nepali girls to Mumbai. Hanuman Dhoka jail, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Without the protection of madams, peers and pimps usually fournd in brothel communities, ‘floating’ prostitutes are at high risks of serious abuse and HIV/AIDS. This floating prostitute was gang raped, doused with kerosene and burned on a city street. Despite the efforts of physicians and the rehabilitation center Maiti Nepal. She died two weeks later. Kahtmandu, Nepal
 On her last breath. A victim of AIDS.
At an awareness-raising activity supported by a Nepali NGO, young village girls dance and sing awareness songs,. Girls in the villages of this part of Nepal are at high risk of being trafficked. Sindhupalchok, Nepal
In Bangladesh, a large proportion of child prostitutes are either trafficked into the brothels of enters as tsukri—bonded domestic laborers who are forced into prostitution when they reach pubescence. A child makes up her face as her madam and an elderly client watch. Tanbazar Brothel, Narayanganj, Banglades.
The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a collective sex workers in Bengal, works actively with the children of the community, with the hopes that they can some day lead lives outside the world of prostitution. During ‘sit and draw’ days organized by the DMSC, the children of sex workers gather to play with paper and crayons. This is the first time that some of these children have ever picked up a crayon Sonagachi, Calcutta, India.
Each year in January, thousands of low caste farmers pilgrimage to the temple of Goddess Yellama, patron deity of the downtrodden, hijras, and prostitutes. Saturated in turmeric dust, crowds of villagers circumambulate the temple shouting "Udheyo! Udheyo! Rise Up to the Mother!"  Saundatti, Karnataka, India.
Weaving in trance, drenched in sacred healing turmeric, devadasis ‘handmaidens of the Goddess’ sway through the crowds, with images of goddess Yellama balanced on their heads, a renewal of the life force at her yearly festival.  Auspicious but impure, according to Medieval temple records, devadasis brought critical income to the temples. Clients made offerings for physical union with the Goddess in the form of devadasis. Today, Yellama’s devotees are mostly bonded laborers who till the soil for landlords, and many devadasis find themselves in Mumbai red light districts. HIV and STD run rampant in these communities. Saundatti, Karnataka, India.
Resisting religious exploitation. Former devadasis are now organized and rebelling against devadasi system. A volunteer from the activists organization Myrada cuts the ritual dreadlocks of a devadasi child. When the dreadlocks are cut, it is believed that the power of goddess is broken Saundatti, Kanataka, India
Transvestites. Sahodaran worker of Prakriti Sahodaran, gets ready to go out for work at the annual Aravan festival which attracts trans-sexuals from all over the country.
Sahodaran worker named Samson, a counselor for Prakriti Sahodaran, a men’s sexual health project poses as he gets ready to go out for work at the annual Aravan festival which attracts trans-sexuals from all over the country.
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