Masud alam Liton – 2010 SPA Recipient


    For a human being, freedom is always a relative term. We all have the freedom to think as we please, but can we always express what we think? We are free to fly through air using planes and dive in the oceans using underwater equipment but we can never take off on our wings like birds or breath underwater like the fish.

    For the sex workers of Douladia Ghat, Rajbari, Bangladesh, freedom is a dichotomy. Their profession has freed the sex workers from the ordeals of poverty by demanding they give up freedom over their bodies. They are condemned to be free from average norms and restrictions because sex workers are not free to live in conventional society.

    This dichotomy pervades every corner of the lives of the sex workers: They feel independent because they are earning money. But they have to turn the money over to the madam or the ‘husband’. They feel happy because they have made new relationships, new sisters, and new families. But they are stuck inside their adopted community. Within the boundary of their community, they are free to dress and behave as they please. But if they should step outside, they have to cover their hair. They are free to love and marry whom they want. But they feel betrayed by the husbands who marry them for their earnings. They are free to strive to reach the top rank of their profession, a madam ruling over her own house. But their self-determination can take them only so far: they are always subject to the licensing powers and the corrupt practices of the police. They are a devout community, free to perform their religious rituals. But they are denied the right to be buried in a proper graveyard. In short, their lives encompass the heights of paradise and the depths of hell.

    Yet they have one freedom remaining to them that asks no price: they are free to dream. They dream they are birds that go wherever their imagination takes them. They dream they are living the lives of their fantasies. Their dreams are requiems for true freedom.

    This photo essay shows the lives of Bangladeshi women who are part of the commercial industry of their country and yet remain outside the mainstream life of their country. The ironies of their existence extend to their place in society. They exist ‘in the flesh’ and yet they do not exist in the ‘mind of society.’ Unless we are aware of their place among us, their lives among ours, how can we help them? That is my journalistic goal: to show society that they are more than ‘just flesh’. They are human beings, regular teen-age girls, hopeful wives and mothers with rose-colored dreams just like any other woman.