DARK TRADE: Mumbai Male Masseurs
India’s legal stance on homosexuality is still under debate. The 2009 ruling of the Delhi High Court stating that the colonial laws forbidding “carnal intercourse” was against the Indian Constitution was overruled by The Indian Supreme Court. Notwithstanding the legal position homosexuality is socially stigmatised.
This stigmatization has meant that historically bi-sexual and homosexual men have resorted to clandestine meetings and using the services of male sex workers masquerading as masseurs. Massage has been practiced for thousands of years in India creating a convenient veil for male-to-male contact.
The masseurs live in various slums across Mumbai, in small but closely knit communities.. They sleep together and eat together in these small cramped rooms during the day – going out to work the streets of Mumbai at night.
The Masseurs are predominantly heterosexual and many of them are married with children and view their job as an economic necessity. The pressure to send money home is a constant concern. The masseurs “Mumbai lives” are generally a secret from their families. However, it is not unknown for several generations of the same family to be working in Mumbai as masseurs. Older family members coerce younger family members to enter the trade to fulfill the demand for young men.
Estimates suggest 80% of Mumbai’s male masseurs come from rural Mathura in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Historically Mathura was a centre for “Akhadas”( wrestling schools). Male on male massage was used in the schools to relax muscle pain after strenuous wrestling practice desensitizing the wrestlers to male on male contact.