Kavita Hosmani always wanted to be a Sufi singer but no one at home encouraged her. She was four when her father died. As the daughter of a sex worker in Mumbai’s redlight district of Kamathipura, Hosmani has seen life’s cruelties from a very tender age. This week, Hosmani and other daughters of sex workers are retelling their experiences in a performance at the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival. Playing the part of an abusive client or a lecherous policeman wanting sex or money comes easily to her. “We have seen all this and there is nothing to hide; it’s what happens, it is part of us,” she says.
The 15 young women, aged 15 to 22, are mounting nine shows inside a church at the Edinburgh Fringe, the world’s largest arts festival, as well as performing at theatres, community centres and temples around Britain, with some shows even being put on for sex workers with the help of NGO Kranti that works in Kamathipura.
“Lal Batti Express (Red-Light Express)”, which premiered in London before going to the Fringe, is an improvised show in which the stories of women, some of whom were victims of trafficking, are told as a train journey which stops at different stations reflecting periods in their life.
Hosmani added it was “amazing” meeting sex workers in the UK, even staying in a sex workers’ house because she “realised we have the same struggle”. “It was interesting as some of them admitted they enjoyed having sex, while some were forced into it.” The audience, she said, comprised mainly Scots. “Many were crying when we were performing.”
Sixteen-year-old Rani’s smile could light up a room. But it is only now that she has learned to smile so often. She was only 11 when her father died. Within hours, Rani’s mother, a sex worker, brought home a man, describing him as her ”new” father.
“He beat my mother and me almost every day,” she told BBC. Till Rani ran away to live in a shelter run by Kranti. She has let go of anger against her mother and stepfather. “Now I can see that they are also human beings trying their best at life. I have learnt that the biggest gift you can give to yourself and others is forgiveness.” Robin Chaurasiya, 32, American co-founder of the NGO, said “Lal Batti Express” aimed to not just tell a story but to challenge stereotypes about sex workers.
Theatre gives the girls confidence and helps them overcome abuse, she said. “In one of the theatre therapy sessions, one girl, who was gang-raped aged nine, had to imagine in her mind that she had said ‘No’. It’s a way to restructure how your mind and body feel,” she added.
Ashwini Mane, another performer soon to fly to New York to study psychology, said the show had really boosted her confidence. Aged eight, she was bundled off to a Christian hostel because her single mother, who made her living as a sex worker in Kamathipura, was unable to provide for her.
She hated the hostel as it was too strict, so after her mum died when she was 17 she ran away and moved into the Kranti hostel. “It’s been such a great opportunity coming to the UK,” the 19-year-old said. “I have watched so many shows at the Fringe, something I have never seen in Mumbai. Theatre is healing us as it is helping us deal with our emotions.”
The girls will perform in Glasgow and Elgin next week. The trip was crowdfunded and they stayed in Airbnbs. “We managed to get an Airbnb in Edinburgh for £12 (Rs 1,000) for 20 days,” Chaurasiya said.