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Mainstream, VOL LX No 2, New Delhi, January 1, 2022

Narratives, Concerns & Problematics of ‘Tawaif Mandi’, Chaturbhujsthan, Bihar | Baby Kumari

Tuesday 28 December 2021


by Baby Kumari

“Prashasan gali deta hai, kehta madarchod, lipstick laga ke khadi hai, jao bhago ynha se randi” [Administration abuses us, they say, “You mother-fucker, you have put on lipstick to entertain your customer, go away from here you whore] (Naseema, 35 years)

The above narration address the ‘Stigma’ that FSWs (Female Sex Workers) at Tawaif-mandi, Chaturbhujsthan, Muzaffarpur have to face in their everyday life. Nassema’s narration suggests that their make-up, gestures, nature of work are regarded as ‘unacceptable’ norms; therefore, sex workers are subject to abuse, humiliation, stigmatization, and discrimination by the state and society. Chaturbhujsthan in Muzaffarpur is one of the biggest red light areas in Bihar. This place Chaturbhujsthan is named after a temple located there at the crossroads, in common parlance this word is in frequent use for ‘Tawaif Mandi’. The wandering at Chaturbhujsthan revealed that Stigma is the “rule rather than the exception” (Scambler, 2007) in the FSWs lifeworld.

Stigma as a sociological category was first defined by Erving Goffman in his work. In his celebrated work Stigma: Notes on the management of Spoiled Identity (1986) Goffman traces the history of Stigma from the Ancient Greek context. His conception of Stigma opines that society categorizes its people into ‘normals’ and others as ‘discredited’ and ‘discreditable’. The attached Stigma escalates the curation of the compromised lifeworld, thus affecting the ‘interactional order’ in the social and their social conformities. The discredited and discreditable beings have to face repercussions like hating self, degrading self, trying to repair self, dealing with isolation, developing trust deficiency for ‘normals’, and being overly self-conscious.

The FSWs at Chaturbhujsthan are facing the expressions of Stigma from varied sources; from their clients, colony peoples (especially males), family members, partners, and from the officials holding state offices. The extent of Stigma increases when it gets amalgamated with multiple axis identities.

Indifferent attitude of Police

Nargis (19 years) while sharing her experience on frequent interactions with police officials said that:

“police yaha pe bohot corrupted hain. Chaturbhujsthan se koi chali jae toh usko gaali se hi

baat karta hai aur sochta hai ki khud hi sex kar lein. Sunta bhi nahi hai koi paresani hum log ka. Kehta hai Randi ka toh koi baat ka mayne hi nahi rakhta hai...toh kuch hota bhi hai toh batane me dar lagta hai”. [Corruption is rampant among police officials here. Sex is the first demand made by them from the people of Chaturbhujsthan who is visiting the police station. They do not even listen to our problems and say that ‘You whores, there is no relevance in listening to talks of yours’. So whenever any problem happens there exists fear of unacceptance]

Nargis’ narration revealed that on a daily basis the FSWs face unfavorable expressions coming from Police officials. She expressed that women belonging to Chaturbhujsthan are first demeaned for their spatial belonging. On knowing the spatial location the ‘normal’ beings curate a ‘grammar of Stigma’ where the FSWs are situated at the subordinate spot. Social identification of ‘dhandhe wali’ is everlastingly attached to them.

Further, Nargis revealed that the FSWs in Chaturbhujsthan experience a ‘continuous fear’ while approaching the Police station, hence they themselves decline to visit the Police station on many mishappenings. Nargis claimed that due to their nature of work many times the serious sexual offenses are also not reported by the police officials; she said

“wo kehte hain aise kaam me ho, ye sab hi hoga.”

The disturbing anecdote was documented when the researcher interacted with the local SHO,

the unempathetic and oblivious stance was revealed by the SHOs statement, “madam aisa koi sexual offence ka case nahi aaya hai abhi tak samne. Unlogo ke sath kya sexual offence hoga wo log toh din raat whi kaam hi karti hai....aisa koi case nhi aaya ma’am.” (Madam not a single sexual offense has yet happened with them. What sexual offence can they face? Day and night they are the ones who are involved in sexual offensive activities. No such cases we have been yet informed of).

The articulation by SHO was disturbing and portrayed the ‘problematics’ existing with the functioning of state institutions. The absence of needful action from the police administration hails the miscreants’ mischievous intentions that make FSWs everyday life dreadful.

Rampant Caste Actions

The documented narrations from two FSWs hailing from the chamar caste revealed the multiplicity of oppressions they face. One of them stated, “jati jaan ke gaali dete hain”. The ‘Dalit’ FSWs’ present lifeworld is the resultant of their historical hierarchical ‘casteness’ ubiquitous in social. The stringent form of ‘caste-based apartheid’ has its prevalence in the intimate quarters of Chaturbhujsthan. Rubina, one of the FSW revealed the episteme of ‘untouchability’ coming from customers, who decline to share their intimacy with an ‘impure’ body. This anecdote reveals the ‘inalterability of the Indian mind’. The ‘dalit’ FSW has their own ‘uniquely’ oppressive social realities when compared with the lifeworld of other sex workers.

The lifeworld of ‘dalit’ FSWs portrayed how cultural norms subjugates and exploits women and increment the incidence of marginalities when their caste ontology intersects with the existing ‘patriarchal’ structure. The lower caste girls are sometimes introduced to sex work due to some ritualistic code (eg. Bedia, Nat etc.) or due to some social pressure. The ‘dalit’ FSW here in Chaturbhujsthan were compelled to join sex work due to socio-economic constraints. The sight at Chaturbhujsthan revealed that there exists a significant relationship between culture, caste and sex work. The documented anecdotes such ‘chamar randi’,‘tum log ka to ye pesha hi hai’, or the frequent incidence of untouchability faced by the ‘dalit’ FSW depict the rampant caste morphology in the social. As advocated by many sociologists that caste decides the individual’s life chances, consequently fewer economic opportunities lead ‘dalit’ women to enter sex work.


  • Scambler, G. (2007). Sex work stigma: Opportunist migrants in London. Sociology, 41(6), 1079-1096.
  • Goffman, E., 1986. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. Reissue Edition. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc.

(Author: Baby Kumari is a Research Scholar at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences and a provisional Ph.D. candidate of Dr. B. R Ambedkar Univsersity, Delhi. She can be reached at babykir2424[at]

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