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'The Selling of Innocents'

A still "The Selling of Innocents" (1996) Film by Ruchira Gupta

A still "The Selling of Innocents" (1996) Film by Ruchira Gupta

Moderator
And I know that recently Safe Horizon has started an anti-trafficking initiative.

Question
Hi as a journalist I’d be very curious to know how Ruchira got access to this, to allow you right in the brothels and to be in the midst of a raid where they found the girl with a white dress. I’d be very curious to know how you were able to do that. And secondly, just if you could comment at all on how ironical it is that there were all these men looking for these women, and the women are the ones who are actually, in a sense, oppressing the women. The brothels are run by women. I didn’t see that there were any sort of men--I mean I’m sure you could talk about patriarchy in the largest sense and all of that--but there is some sort of irony that there’s this Mr. Gupta looking and all these women are sort of hiding these other women. So just some comments on this.

Ruchira Gupta
It took me 18 months actually to get access inside the brothels and it wasn’t easy because I didn’t want to use any structure of power to get inside the brothels. So I did not use the help of any NGO, or the police, or the mafia in the area. I actually tried to strike up friendships with the women, and ultimately the reason that this film ever got completed was because these women wanted their stories to be told. At one point while we were making the film, one of the customers pulled out a knife and actually threatened me. And he said, “I’m not going to let you film here.” And the women surrounded me and they pulled me into their room and they said that, “We have allowed her here and she’s going to tell our story.” We were constantly threatened. Our cameraman was pulled sometimes. People would throw stones at our car. So we really had to film this whole documentary with great difficulty. In Nepal too we were constantly obstructed and there’s this sort of nexus between the police, the politicians, and the mafia, which is operating the system and allowing the system to exist. In many instances, the traffickers themselves are political agents for very senior politicians in Nepal. And we were trying to get to one village, where all the girls were trafficked from that village, and we were trying to actually walk to the village. And the politician from that area actually called up the local cop, and the cop tried to stop us. So then we had a helicopter to fly into that village. Our helicopter was stopped permission from landing...and taking off...15 minutes before we could go. So then we used a longer route and went in a roundabout way to get to that village, but it was really really hard and we had to smuggle the tapes out. And really it was because of the spirit of the women that the film ever got made. So that’s your first question.

 

The second is that, "Are these women oppressing women?" Yes, some women are oppressing other women, but that’s because they’re stuck...as you yourself answered in your own question...in the structures of patriarchy. And they’re feeding into this whole system of demands made by various men, and these are the customers, the money-lenders, the brothel owners who are mafia, and the police, who are allowing the system to exist to make a quick buck.

Moderator
And if I can just add, in terms of reflecting on what we said, it seems in the structure that the options that they have available...to take a cot outside if they have a few rupees saved up...or a leaning...it seems like being at the top of the brothel hierarchy is a much better option than those other options available.

Ruchira Gupta
To add to that, very few people get to the top of the brothel hierarchy. So it could be one woman in 10,000 who actually becomes a brothel madam. Most of them just end up dying by the time they’re 30 or 35, and they leave behind daughters who are then pulled into prostitution.

Question
In view of Ms. Raphel’s comments that open up the conversation in the preamble, perhaps the three “P’s” may...and we just heard a fourth “P”, poverty...and there’s a fifth “P” now, perhaps priority. There’s concern among some of us who work within the field, especially through the USAID, and in development, that for about 25 years now, since the Reagan administration, there’s been a sharp curtailment of something that might have worked to prevent some of that new generation in that last film. Of course the role of safe, and reasonable safe, abortions, which had been denied many of these groups and they’ve been a fray to it. And the second point I would ask for your comments on would be that in the UNICEF pattern, this past year as a matter of fact, in a meeting in Geneva, there was concern that some of the funds that were used for some of the programs that Ms. Raphel described have been curtailed and may have been abandoned. And one of the reasons is there’s been a lack of funds because of the Federal Government’s, our own government’s inability, or unwillingness, to pay its dues and its back rent for the U.N., and so some of these funds are denied. So perhaps this may reflect some disingenuousness. Can we have some reaction to that please?

Ambassador Ely-Raphel
On paying our U.N. dues, I would agree with you. It has been a very very embarrassing and terrible situation. However, the U.S. government is now in the process, and has been over the last year, of actually paying our dues, so we will no longer be derelict in our payments. We finally cut a deal that seems to be going through without any problem at this point.

Question
I was just wondering if you had any contact with women’s sex-workers’ collectives that I had heard had been organized in Bombay. And I know that some Cambodian sex-workers had gone to visit those women recently. And if you did have contact with them, if you could speak a little bit about what your opinion is of them?

Ruchira Gupta
Well the only group which is mobilizing the women in prostitution in Bombay is our group which is called Apne Aap. And there’s one in Calcutta which is mobilizing women in prostitution which is called the DMSC. There are other groups which are working in the red light area. Some have public health intervention and the other on is working with children in prostitution. We don’t use the term “sex-workers” because we don’t believe that sex is work. We believe that this is sheer exploitation, what is going on inside the brothels, and if we dignify it as work, than we actually demean the individual who is caught in this kind of slavery. So we use the term “women in prostitution” because a woman could be caught in prostitution for some time, but hopefully she can get out, and this is something which is temporary.