NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Zeba, a 23-year-old model and actress says she’s found the perfect job. The money is great, she rubs shoulders with the super rich and her working hours are convenient.
Zeba is one of thousands of high-price call girls servicing India’s nouveau riche and the throng of foreign businessmen drawn to a booming economy.
“If you have a modelling assignment, you have to work hard,” Zeba, who declined to give her full name in order to protect her identity, said in American-accented English.
“But over here, it’s just one hour. You talk to the person for half-an-hour and then the other half-an-hour in bed. You make a lot of money and it’s easy,” added Zeba, who charges 200,000 Indian rupees (2,500 pounds) for an hour’s encounter, of which the escort agency keeps half.
Prostitution is illegal in India. Yet voluntary groups estimate there to be two million sex workers, most of them forced into the trade by crushing poverty. Many suffer from HIV in a country with the world’s third highest HIV caseload.
Call girls such as Zeba live in a world far removed from New Delhi’s infamous G.B. Road, its main red-light district, and work as prostitutes as a matter of choice, plying their trade in five star hotels rather than on the streets or in brothels.
Many high-price escorts such as Zeba are educated women from middle-class families who see prostitution as a lucrative and even glamorous profession.
“Only two to three percent of India’s prostitutes enter the profession willingly. These are the high-class girls, and it is them exercising their democratic rights,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Centre for Social Research in New Delhi.
“These high-class escorts are definitely an outcome of globalised India,” added Kumari.
The growth of high-end prostitution in India underscores not only the affluence among the upper-classes who have the money to hire such prostitutes, but also the changing role of women in a deeply conservative society.
Even today, Indian women are expected to cover up in public and conform to strict societal norms. Premarital sex is taboo and Bollywood movies tease but generally stop short of kissing.
Yet the country’s newfound economic affluence and expanding middle-class has also brought an insatiable appetite for the good things in life from designer clothes, to fast cars, to champagne dinners.
“With the changes in the economy and increased consumerism, the Indian woman is under pressure to conform to a highly capitalistic image which requires a lot of money to upkeep,” said Anuja Agrawal, a sociologist at the University of Delhi.
“If Indian society were to really allow their women to be free, they won’t be forced to conform to such a rigid behaviour.”
Most high-end sex workers in India charge anywhere from 10,000 rupees to 50,000 rupees for an hour, but some charge many times more.
“I accommodate the rich, multi-millionaires and business entrepreneurs. Obviously it’s a very big industry and in India it is especially fast-growing,” said Sameer Chamadi, who runs an escort agency in India that has branches in Dubai and London.
“If the guys have money, they can have my escorts,” added Chamadi. His business is one of many online escort agencies sprouting on the Internet in India.
Police in India say they try to enforce anti-prostitution laws by checking classified advertisements and the Internet for those soliciting sex. But they admit it is difficult to clamp down on high-class prostitutes and clients whose liaisons are usually arranged and conducted in private.
Chamadi and other escort agency owners insist their call girls are worth every cent and can do anything for their clients, from stimulating conversation to bondage fetishes.
“It’s a major, major, class difference, and with us it’s not just ‘slam, bang, thank you Ma’am’. You can actually sit and have a proper conversation with us,” said Zeba.
Starting out in Mumbai as a model, Zeba, a college graduate, got her break in movies through a client who was influential in Bollywood. She has no regrets about her chosen profession.
“I really hate people who put on an act about not liking something when they actually do. I mean sex is not just what men want, we women want it also,” she said.