NELAMANGALA, India - Hot water: 10 rupees. Cold water: 8 rupees. Toilet: 5 rupees.
Sex: no price specified on the bathhouse wall, but, as the condom painted there suggests, safe.
Sangeetha Hamam, a bathhouse, sits on the national highway near
this gritty truck stop about nine miles north of Bangalore. Its
mistress is Ranjeetha, a 28-year-old eunuch who lives as a woman. Her
lipstick and black dress provide a touch of glamour in the small dark
Her clients are not only truckers, but also Bangalore
college students and other city residents. They know to look for sex at
highway establishments geared toward truckers. Her customers - as many
as 100 on Sundays for her and five other eunuchs - come for a "massage"
and the anal sex that follows, but also for the anonymity the location
Ranjeetha knows men will pay more for unprotected sex,
but she calculates that the extra money is not worth the risk to her
livelihood and life. She knows they can go elsewhere; there are some 45
bathhouses doubling as brothels near this truck stop. She also knows
several eunuchs who have died of AIDS.
has at least 5.1 million people living with H.I.V., the second highest
number after South Africa. It is, by all accounts, at a critical stage:
it can either prevent the further spread of infection, or watch a more
generalized epidemic take hold. Global experts worry that India is both underspending on AIDS and undercounting its H.I.V. cases.
Its national highways are a conduit for the virus,
passed by prostitutes and the truckers, migrants and locals who pay
them, and brought home to unsuspecting wives in towns or villages. In
its largest infrastructure project since independence, India is in the
process of widening and upgrading those highways into a true interstate
system. The effort will allow the roads to carry more traffic and
freight than ever before. But some things are better left uncarried.
national highways between New Delhi, Calcutta, Chennai, formerly
Madras, and Mumbai run through at least six districts where H.I.V.
prevalence is above 2.5 percent. Earlier this year, a New York Times
reporter and a photographer drove the route, which has been nicknamed
the Golden Quadrilateral. [read on...]