How extensive is prostitution in Vrindavan? And are foreign women involved in it? Has the tourism industry in India grown to include sexual tourism also?
Allegations of prostitution in the midst of Vrindavan’s international devotee community surfaced yesterday on Facebook.
Rumors of prostitution activity have been making the rounds for some time, but since we have been getting more and more information on this issue from several sources, we have decided to report on it here on Vrindavan Today to the extent we are able to at present.
Videshidas [all names have been changed], a devotee from Belgium, wrote, “I got such a bad shock this time on visiting Vrindavan when I saw that prostitution is going on big time in the Dham!”
Devadatta Das, another devotee who has been living in the Dham for 18 years, said, “We were approached by the local milkman, who turns out to actually be a pimp. He asked us if we wanted a girl. For a Russian girl, the price was Rs. 3000, for an Indian Rs. 500.”
Videshidas further said that the women involved are not only Russian (though “mostly Russian”) and Indian, but includes American also.
It may come as a surprise that women professing to be devotees are engaged in prostitution in the holy land. Some say that the logic behind it is that these women are sincere and want to stay in the devotional atmosphere of the Dham, but have no source of income to stay there. But this does not explain why devotee men are amongst those who are using their services.
Other sources also allege that Indian men who are not necessarily from the devotee community, on hearing of the trend, are increasingly coming to Vrindavan lured by the prospect of having sex with Western women. The trade apparently takes place, at different apartments, guest house complexes, and even ashrams in the Raman Reti area.
According to statements made on his blog, Swami Balendu of Bindu Seva Sansthan in Vrindavan discusses reports in the newspapers from August of last year.
We have heard that prostitution in ashrams has been an ongoing business in Vrindavan since a while. Police raided one such ashram and found two prostitutes and their customers in the middle of intercourse. The pimp was also apprehended. The arrested women admitted in a statement that they had been using the rooms of ashrams in this neighborhood to meet clients and have sex since a year. They explained that they believed ashrams to be safe environments for their work.
According to an article from India Today prostitutes from the former Soviet Union countries are in growing demand in India.
Since the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, one prominent development has been the exporting of sex workers from the former communist block around the world. India may not be the most lucrative destination, but it has been clearly playing a big role in the phenomenon.
Regarding the Eastern European women, Videshidas said, “It was always a curiosity to me that unmarried girls would be able to wear such costly saris and stay in Dham and roam around in the temple. Now we had our answer.”
Another informant, a European woman who has been working in the health care field in Vrindavan for the last ten years, said that she herself was asked two years ago if she would like to make quick money by meeting a man.
Surprised and shocked at the proposition, she said the woman who invited her, a Russian, told her that a group of women had organized a system whereby they would be driven to Delhi for “collecting money on sankirtan.” There they would meet clients and pocket the money for themselves. The women were allegedly devotees connected to ISKCON and the main point of connecting with clients was in the strip of shops across from the Krishna Balaram Mandir.
This same informant also said that another large source of prostitution in the Vrindavan area came from newly married Indian girls who had been abandoned by their husbands. By working in the local community as a health care worker, she said she had had numerous opportunities to witness cases where girls were forced into prostitution by such circumstances.
The pattern, she explained, was one where a family would agree to take a girl for their son as bride, take the agreed upon dowry, and a few months after the marriage would leave the new bride on the streets to fend for herself. Since most of these girls were not able to return to their original homes, they were left with little option but to sell their bodies.
The traffic has been taking place, she said, in cheap guesthouses on the outskirts of Mathura and Vrindavan. She said the girls from Mathura bring their clients to Vrindavan so as not to be recognized by anyone; and the girls from Vrindavan go to Mathura for the same reason.
Local residents confirm these things. One Brajvasi said that many Indian men come from Delhi and other nearby towns to avail themselves of the opportunities being provided. Some devotees even report being approached by Russian girls in Loi Bazaar.
Even more troubling are reports of child prostitution. One person reported that at the gate of the Krishna Balaram Mandir on Chattikar Road, “small children approach devotee men and ask them if they want to do sex for money.” One European devotee confirms this, saying that he was approached by a 5-year-old who told him that he had a younger brother who was sick. The child was offering sex to get money for medicines and treatment!
Devotees who take ISKCON’s four regulative principles seriously (“No meat eating, no intoxication, no gambling and no illicit sex”) are extremely disturbed by the development. Videshidas says, “We were disgusted at what we saw with our own eyes! This is really happening and we should act against it, especially if these women pose as devotees in the Dham, but are actually polluting it badly and giving it and the devotional institutions there a bad name.”
“It is a hard fact to face, but we need to look the truth in the eyes by pretending to be trancendental to it all. We should not sweep this under the carpet again and again! ISKCON is now becoming famous for prostitution.”
A few years ago, as ISKCON’s temple project in Mayapur began to be a huge draw for tourists, a big prostitution problem arose there also. The hotels that sprung up around the nearby ferry ghat were all hotbeds of the sex trade. Mayapur got the reputation of being the number one spot for paid sex in West Bengal and prostitution became the second major source of tourism in the area. ISKCON finally woke up and realized that their reputation was being hurt by the association of such activities in their neighborhood and they acted to clean up the area by pressuring the police.
If ISKCON Vrindavan decides to act immediately and effectively as was done in Mayapur, and other institutions follow suit, the problem can be contained without further damage to the community. Just as animal slaughter and alcohol are prohibited in the confines of Vrindavan, the same goes for prostitution.