Nalini Jameela is now an author. But her past haunts her till date. Formerly involved in flesh trade, Nalini still has a hard time gaining the respect of other people.
By Akshat Rawal
Her Malayalam book, translated into English as the Autobiography of a Sex Worker, sold 13,000 copies within 100 days of its release in 2004 and went through six editions. But even today, bestselling author Nalini Jameela finds respect hard to come by.
“Even at big literary festivals they introduce me as a sex worker and not as an author,” Nalini, in her fifties, said while attending a conclave of sex workers in Bangalore recently. She says she has to literally fight every day against the stigma attached to her profession. “We have done our best to be part of various other mainstream groups, but we are still stigmatized,” lamented the author and sex workers’ rights activist.
At the conclave, titled “Sex Workers Rights Activism in India: Achievements and Challenges,” sex workers discussed the challenges facing them. Around 100 sex workers from across the country came together to demand legalization of their profession to end violence and discrimination against them. Nalini feels the biggest battle for her community is to make the profession legal. “Once our profession is legalized, nobody can harass us,” said Nalini.
“On one hand, police use force and violence against us. Society also discriminates against us because of our profession. All this violence and discrimination will end once our profession is legalized,” she said.
Nalini’s book also looks into the issue of social boycott and discrimination faced by sex workers at large. The book, a first-hand account written in a simple way, brings out the struggle of a sex worker who fights for her dignity, empowerment and freedom on her own terms. “There are double standards that prevail in our society when it comes to the sex worker community. Society has to accept our existence and give us our share of dignity and respect. We are not criminals,” said Nalini, who is also the coordinator of the Kerala Sex Workers’ Forum.
“Along with social boycott, we have to face violence of a brutal nature, mostly at the hands of police, because of our profession. This needs to end.” India is estimated to have two million female sex workers.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, brothels are illegal “de jure,” but in practice they are restricted in location to certain areas of any cities and towns. Nalini, who worked as a child laborer in Kerala’s clay mines, became a sex worker after the death of her husband to feed her two children. “I am a wife, mother, author, social activist and a sex worker. I play many roles in my day-to-day life like others. I want to be respected in all my avatars,” she said with a mild smile.