The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Banisanta: a sex workers’ hell in Bangladesh

Written By: admin - Jan• 02•13

On their way: visitors hurry to a liaison in Banisanta, Bangladesh

Just south of the southern Bangladeshi city of Mongla is a tiny town on the Pushur River, consisting of a number of houses and shops made of mud, straw, wood and tin. It’s called Banisanta, and it’s home to dozens of professional current and retired sex workers, mama-sans, barkeeps, shopkeepers, and their children. Its evolution can be traced to sailors plying the river and the Indian Ocean, but it services the needs of the entire region, including the cities of Mongla and Khulna, where there are no legitimately recognized brothels. 

For Bangladeshis, the price for a completed sex act in Banisanta is 300 taka ($3.75 USD). For foreigners, it skyrockets to 1000 daka ($12.50 USD). Of course, everything is negotiable, both up and down the scale. Culturally and visually, it’s reminiscent of the Chicken Ranch in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. You’re not going to find showers or clean bedding here. The girls of Banisanta are predominantly quite young, but are aged well beyond their years. Look under the heavily-applied makeup, and you’ll see girls of 15 that lappear to be 35; the age is confirmed by several local Bangladeshis.   

Their lot in life is not a happy one, and one story in particular seems to represent a common theme. At an early age, many are taken out of villages by confidence men, who convince their parents that they will be going away to a good job in the city, and will send money home. Whether the parents really believe this is conjecture. The con man sells the girls immediately to brothel owners, and they are indentured. 

The life is hard, and many die young of aids-related diseases. Don’t be too quick to judge the mama-sans: they were bought and sold at a young age, too. 

Literally fresh off the boat, a group of twenty or so young Bangladeshi men walk up the bamboo plank ladder and cross the earthen ramparts of Banisanta. Before they can all cross, they are forcefully engaged by a group of women, who verbally challenge them and attempt to pull them into their shops. Bargaining takes place rapidly and at high volume, its frenetic pace accelerated by the sudden arrival on the banks of a rival group of women from a nearby house. At least one sex worker is not in either group. Last night, she went aboard an anchored ship, and as she told it, got drunk, fell overboard, and opened a two inch gash in her forehead that required stitches. But she wasn’t necessarily going to lose out tonight. It’s only 4:30 pm, and Banisanta’s evening has only barely begun.

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