The Longings of the Others

Bangladesh is one of the few predominantly Muslim countries in the world where prostitution inside registered brothels is legal. The Kandapara brothel in the district of Tangail is the oldest and second-largest in the country – it has existed for some 200 years. It was demolished in 2014, but has been established again with the help of local NGOs. Many of the women were born there, grew up there and didn’t know where else to go when it disappeared.

Supporters of the brothel believe that sex work is also work – and that these women don’t want to do something else. The women themselves demonstrated for their rights as workers, and so at the end of 2014, the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association convinced the High Court that the eviction of the sex workers was an illegal act. The sex workers quickly returned to their homes.

Today, the area’s “brothel district” is surrounded by a wall. In the narrow streets, there are food stalls, tea shops and street vendors. The brothel is a place with its own rules and hierarchies of power which are completely different from mainstream society. For example, inside the brothels, the women are weak but also powerful. The most vulnerable stage is when young women enter the brothel. Many come from poor families or got married as children and ran away from their husbands. They belong to a madam, have debts and are not allowed to go outside or keep their money. When they have paid all their debts, they become independent sex workers. Then, they can refuse customers and keep their own money. From the moment that a woman has paid her debts, she is free to leave the brothel. But these women are socially stigmatized outside their “homes” and thus often choose to stay and continue supporting their families with their earnings.

Pakhi, 15 years, and Mim, 19 years.
Women waiting for customers.
The Kandapara brothel in Tangail.
Used condoms outside the brothel.
Mim, 19 years, is having a shower in the brothel.
Dipa, 26 years, is crying. She is in the 2nd month pregnant from a customer in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail.
Bonna, 27, is laughing with a condom in the hand. She has two regularly customers. On average she earn 1500 Taka (19 $) per day.
Five days old twins lie on the bed. They have not yet a name. Jhinik, 20 years, a sexworker in the Kandapara brothel gave birth to them.
A customer in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail.
Bonna and the son of a sex worker hugging each other.
Roni and Saddam are dancing.
Papia, 18, in the Kandapara brothel. Her parents died when she was a child, she was married young. Her husband and she took heroin, she has been in jail because of this. She says that the jail was the best place she has ever been, because nobody beats her there. In the jail she got to know a woman who brought her later to the brothel.
Papia, 18, with two customers.
Students and regularly customers in the brothel.
Kajol with her 6 month old baby Mehedi and a customer on her bed.
Kajol with a customer.
A customer try to kiss Priya, 19, on the cheek. Since she is 17 she is working as a sexworker in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail.
Customers inside the Kandapara brothel in Tangail.
Priya and Kajol are looking for music in Priya's room.
Priya, 19, is teasing a friend and try to beat him.
Sumaiya with her boyfriend and former customer Titu in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail. He is from Dhaka and visits ger every month one week. They are often fighting, because Titu wants to marry her, but she doesn't want. She is afraid that after marriage he will take away all her money. He is jealous, because she has sex with many of his friends. Sumaiya is jealous because he has sex with other sexworkers in the brothel.
Sumaiya in front of her room.
Sumaiya with her boyfriend Titu.
Titu grabs Sumaiya by her arm.
Sumaiya was beaten by Titu.
Meghla, 23, with a customer in the Kandapara brothel in Tangail. She started working for a garment factory when she was 12 years old. There that she met a man who promised her a better job with more money and he sold her into a brothel.