When did Bombay change its name? In 1995, actually––it was a change meant to reflect India’s roots in Hinduism, and shed one of the last vestiges of British imperial reign. Mumbai is in many important ways a modern city, though with centuries of heritage. Mumbai is a city that forces you to bring into focus a different version of India, to realize that India can no longer be relegated to a place of pity. This is no longer the India of Rudyard Kipling. This isn’t even the India of Mother Theresa any more. And it was arguably never the India of Slumdog Millionaire. India is home to more than a few billionaires, not surprising for a country that jumped 51% in the number of millionaires in 2008 when the rest of the world was in a recession. It is a land of giants, and Mumbai is one of its capitals.
Mumbai is the fourth largest city in the world, a major industrial hub in one of the worlds fastest developing BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China). In these rapidly expanding economies, business––commerce, industry, technology, education––is booming. With each new high rise that cuts into the Mumbai skyline, labors by the drones are drawn to this city. Migrant workers provide a steady stream of labor––and sex buyers.
Forming the western edge of the bay at the mouth of the Ulhas River is Kamathipura, a district whose name means “work” and which is famous for a particular kind of work: Kamathipura, Mumbai’s redlight district, happens to be the largest red-light district in the world. Kamathipura, a unified cluster of islands on the southern tip of Mumbai has been called India’s “HIV timebomb.” Since prostitution is illegal in India, brothels are owned and run by mobsters. HIV screening is nonexistent, and mixed with a largely uneducated clientele who do not make the connection between condoms and transmission of STDs, Kamathipura is an epidemic waiting to happen.
Poverty is the problem here, generations deep. Women raise their daughters in the brothels, owned by madams and pimps before they even come of age to be sold (somewhere between 11 and 13). Other girls were abducted outright, or sold for a pittance by their parents. What they don’t know is that, if their lives turn out like the thousands of others whose lives began as theirs, they will one day get used to servicing a long list of clients that will gradually get shorter as theirs lives get longer; they will get used to the beatings, the pregnancies, the abortions, the births, and (eventually) getting very, very sick. They will likely become so complicit with their own condition that they will one day lure, seduce, and coerce other girls into this horrendous lifestyle.
But none of that makes this a choice. When a women is reduced to a sexual object against her will day in and day out thousands of times over, when she one day ceases to hope that she will ever be anything more, and when every one of her dreams is effaced beyond recognition and she becomes only a fixture in the tableau of the “largest red light district in the world,” this is by no means free will. Slavery breaks the slave.
There is no such thing as a rescue for a problem of this magnitude. What is called for here is a massive, sustained, and prolonged labor on behalf of the church to shift the entire tide of a culture.
Jesus said, “Lift up your eyes and see; the fields are already white for the harvest.” What we learn in Kamathipura is that a ripe harvest looks like broken humanity. Laws may change, and democratic freedoms may come, but it is not likely that either of those enacted would bring to bear any real change for the impoverished thousands of woman and girls being sold for sex here.
This is how you an pray for Mumbai, India:
1. Pray for laborers to be sent into the harvest of broken souls living in Karathipura, and being sold daily.
2. Pray for the church to be emboldened with light and truth to serve the least of these.
3. Pray for righteousness to be exalted in Mumbai through just laws and police forces.