Riya (name changed) claims to be 18 years old but looks younger. She is wearing a body-hugging low-waist jeans and a white skintight cropped top that may look a little too screaming, but she could be a teen party-goer. Though Riya works at night.
She claims she is from New Delhi. The aspiring model says she is a first-year science student who has come to the city to follow up a modelling assignment. She services clients on the side. She can’t do so in New Delhi because her family stays there, but has clients in Mumbai too. Her rate for an evening — Rs 3,500, out of which Rs 1,000 will go to the “contact” (read her agent).
But her agent Meera (name changed) has a different story. “She is very much from the city and goes to one of the high-end schools here. Otherwise her rate would be much higher. Girls from outside the city cost a lot more,” she says. “Most of the girls make up such stories,” she adds.
Riya is not alone. Like her, more young girls, many of them “English-speaking” and allegedly from reputed schools, are joining the high end of prostitution to earn that extra buck. Much of it has to do with the demands of lifestyle.
“Student prostitution has increased in the last five to six years. Especially since the price of mobiles has gone down. It makes students more accessible,” says an NGO worker in the city who works with the floating population of women in prostitution.
Many girls also pose as students. “It is difficult to know if a girl is lying. They come wearing uniforms that they wore in school to prove it,” says Manisha, a 27-year-old who runs a massage parlour in south Calcutta.
The reasons are many and can range from “just fun” to serious need for money… but the cash that comes in plays an important role.
For Riya, who has her heart set on being a model, it is the need to maintain her looks, dresses and build an impressive portfolio. These take money, for which she takes up “extra assignments”.
“My parents don’t approve of modelling. So I have to fend for myself. I have a very high-profile lifestyle to maintain. This is the easiest way,” says Riya.
Most girls use more than one mobile, often the latest model. “I have two numbers, one Hutch and one Airtel. My Hutch customers call on the Hutch line and Airtel customers on the Airtel line,” says Manisha.
Brand new clothes and footwear, club-hopping and movies are also triggers. “When a girl gets picked up from a nightclub, it is for more than just money. Along with earning the extra buck they get to taste the nightlife without having to shell out a penny,” says a journalist from the electronic media who has researched the issue.
Students of many high-profile institutions in the city, colleges and schools are increasingly taking the easier path to sustain the demands of a high-flying lifestyle. Purva (name changed) has flunked her boards twice and is now studying for graduation long distance. She is seen returning to her south Calcutta house at different hours of the night, very drunk and always in expensive cars, a Sonata one night, a Scorpio the next.
“It has increased in the past four to five years, especially in and around Salt Lake,” says a police officer. Though most women in prostitution are forced to take up the profession to support the family, the young night-hoppers don’t seem to come from the same socio-economic background. “I have come across girls from very rich and middle-class families, as well as from families from the lower income group and those living in abject poverty,” said the NGO worker.
“But it has now become very difficult to identify these girls. They blend into the nightclub crowd. You don’t even see girls hanging out outside nightclubs hoping to get picked up,” says a regular at a happening nightclub in town.
“Most of the girls coming from relatively well-off families will not be caught hanging around. Most of their deals happen on the mobile,” says the NGO worker. But this is for the hip and trendy. Young girls from the suburbs, yet to acquire “the look”, are recruited into massage parlours, which have increased about 10 times in five years, says a parlour owner.
It is usually acquaintances who introduce the girls to prostitution.
“A woman from a well-to-do family in Dhakuria would drop her daughter off to a reputed school in south Calcutta. While waiting for her daughter outside the school, she made friends with the owner of one of the school buses. The man asked her to bring a schoolgirl for his friend,” says the journalist.
The woman started to woo her daughter’s best friend, taking the girl out, buying her expensive gifts. “She convinced the girl that she needed to have expensive clothes, shoes and gadgets, for which she needed money.” The girl and the woman were arrested in a raid at a DH Road hotel.
“Sometimes the girls directly contact the agent,” says the NGO worker. “Reference” is important in this flourishing “industry”. “An agent or even a massage parlour-owner will be reluctant to appoint somebody who does not have either ‘reference’ or ‘work experience’,” says another parlour owner.
Demand and supply
A client can specify the details —from the age of the girls to the school or college they study. Agents assure that even models are available. “There have been cases when a girl lied about her education and the client walked out on finding out the truth,” states a parlour owner.
“A lot of students say they are going for tuition and meet clients. Even expensive gadgets and clothes are explained away saying that they’ve bought with tuition money,” says the NGO worker. “No one in my family knows. I usually say I am going to visit friends or that I have modelling assignments,” says Riya.
Ads in newspapers or sources in the city start the ball rolling. “Once a client spells out his preferences, rates are decided. The agent usually accompanies the girls,” says Manisha, who was in prostitution but now works only as an agent. Often girls are delivered to rooms in star hotels. If the client is unable to provide a place of convenience the agents provide one. The place is generally decided on before.
In some cases, one-third of the fees is given to the girl. Others pay 50 per cent of the amount. “Imagine earning Rs 1,500 per hour. It is easy money,” says Manisha. “The amount of money depends on the profiles of the girls and the time they spent with the client,” says Riya’s agent Meera.
Models (at least the not so well-known ones) and out-of-towners command higher rates. “Agents in nightclubs, pubs and star hotels and floorboys who act as agents have catalogues with pictures of the girls,” said the owner of a prominent city modelling agency.
“Most of the girls get into it for quick money intending to go back to their normal lives. There are girls who go on to marry, but the relationship seldom survives,” says the journalist.