Varanasi, considered one of India's holiest cities, has a history of also being the home of courtesans. But this past now stands cruelly distorted as it acquires the status of being a hub for human trafficking.

The video above by Youtube Channel Blush shows this side of the city, with the focus on the NGO Guria, which has been rescuing victims while fighting the forces that have kept the practice alive for the past 14 years. Along with testimonies of victims, the founders of Guria, Ajeet Singh and his wife Manju Singh, point fingers at the involvement of the police.

Harvard scholar Siddharth Kara describes the pivotal position of Varanasi – infamous for its Shivdaspur red light district – in India’s human trafficking industry in his book Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery.

I learned just how much corruption teems under the surface of one of India’s holiest cities when I visited Ranjana Gaur, director of the Social Action Research Centre (SARC) in Varanasi.

Ms Gaur spent the day describing Varanasi’s role in India’s illicit sex trade… Nepalese women regularly arrived in Varanasi, where they were passed to local dalals who distributed them to Mumbai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, and other major Indian cities. More recently, trafficking victims spent an initiation period in Shivdas Pur because Mumbai brothels owners expressed a preference for girls who had already been broken. Dalals could charge up to 20 percent more for such girls. The initiation period was thus a cold business decision. Break the girls first; enjoy greater profits later.

“Shivdas Pur was not nearly as large as Falkland Road or Kamathipura. It consisted of pinjara-style brothels on a road no more than a quarter mile long. Typically, there might be around 2,000 prostitutes at Shivdas Pur, but the day before my arrival, they were thrown in jail by the local police for unknown reasons. Ms Gaur informed me that during police raids in Varanasi, the brothel owners and customers were never arrested, only the prostitutes. After a few bribes, most prostitutes were returned to their owners. It was a regular racket.

— "Sex Trafficking: Inside the Business of Modern Slavery", Siddharth Kara

A news report from 2014 points to the political apathy towards this part of the city. Varanasi – which is Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Lok Sabha constituency – was central to the general elections in 2014, but no political leader has visited or even acknowledged this part of the city.


In this earlier video by the Youtube Channel 101 India, Guria's Manju Singh here details the threats she and her family face for their work.