Life is stronger than death

Date: January 1, 1970
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Escaping the scars of incest, commercial sex work and drugs has been a long and arduous journey for Clara* who told her story to Loga Virahswamy.

Escaping the scars of incest, commercial sex work and drugs has been a long and arduous journey for Clara* who told her story to Loga Virahswamy.

I was doomed the day I was born.

I come from a very poor family. Not only poor in money, but also poor in love. I have never known what physical, emotional or psychological love meant, let alone having enough food and clothes for my survival.

My father went to prison when I was seven months old and my mother had to work very hard to raise my sister, my two brothers and myself. When my father returned home after nearly 10 years of absence, we thought he would catch up with lost time and give us the basic necessity for our survival. We were longing for his love and badly needed his affection after all this time. This did not happen. Instead he raped me and my sister was next in line.

Being raped at the age of 10 and living in an abusive sexual relationship with one’s father, left me with no choice than to leave the only shelter I had known since I was born. I left the house at 12 to start a living on my own.

School? I do not know what this means. I have never been to this place.

At the age of 15, I started working in Grand Baie (the most popular sand, sun, sea and sex resort of Mauritius). I worked at night, slept during the day and got enough money to pay for my rent and clothes. But behind all this were cruelties and miseries. The clients were sometimes merciless and treated me like dirt. I cannot count the number of times I was beaten up by clients. Because of this power and money relationship, I had to obey orders and was forced to do the most unimaginable and disgusting sexual acts. I was treated like an animal and I had to obey.

The situation was even worse when I had clients through pimps. I was under the control of both client and pimp. I got only half of my earnings. I was the one selling my body to strangers, yet another person that did not care about my sufferings took half of my money. This was very unfair and difficult to digest, but what could I do? There were days when I could not get a client by myself and had to count on pimps.

For a “short” I could take up to three clients in a night and for a “long” I could take only one. But it was up to the client’s and the amount he was prepared to pay. The work was even more difficult when clients stayed with me until the early morning.

One day my friends told me that if I take drugs, I would not so feel tired and would be able to take several clients at a time. I believed them and it was disastrous. Nobody came to my rescue when my friends were pushing me faster into this bottomless pit. All my money was used to buy drugs for the whole group. I did not even know that sharing needles could be fatal.

Look at me! I am only 24-years-old and I am HIV positive. I learnt about my HIV status in prison. I was jailed twice. I could not believe it when the doctor gave me the bad news. I took all my precautions with clients and urged them to use condoms, so how could I be HIV positive? It was only then that the reality struck me right in the face. Sex is not the only way of contracting the virus.

I found myself in jail, because I needed money to buy drugs for myself and my friends. I had no other alternative but to steal.

Life was tough in prison especially when as I was HIV positive. I was segregated. I started reflecting on my life and said to myself “had I not been on drugs I would never have been behind bars”. Nobody came to my rescue. All my friends suddenly vanished.

When I was released, I looked at myself in the mirror and could not understand how I could have let so many men use my young and fragile body. I was only 17. I was repulsed. I turned away from the mirror, took a gallon of gasoline and poured it all over my body before lighting a match. I screamed with pain and walked in the street like a living torch. Not a single friend came to my rescue. My mother who lived not too far from me had to struggle to extinguish the fire. She wrapped me in a blanket and took me to hospital.

After six months on a hospital bed, I got my senses back and the doctor told me I was resurrected as he had never seen anybody so badly burnt live. I told my mother that I did not want to live. I wanted to die. Why should the doctor be proud of this resurrection?

But when I came out of hospital, I met the most wonderful man who said he loved me. I could not believe him especially with my mutilated body and the scars on my face. He said: “I love you for what you are and not for your body.” I told him my story and as in a fairy tale, we immediately got married.

We lived and still live in a drug nest. After three years of a happy relationship, my husband was trapped in the underworld of drugs. He got a three-year jail sentence. During these three years, I had no friends and nobody to turn to. My mother, an honest woman earning a decent living by cleaning, washing, cooking and caring for other people had the most-cruel ending. She contracted HIV. She died in hospital in 2000 while I was back in the streets and on drugs.

In February 2004, my life took a turn. My husband came out of prison and we both decided to wean off drugs. He is a manual worker earning a decent living. My in-laws are good to me and I am pregnant.

We are all looking forward to see this baby in November. Although I am getting stronger each day as I am following my treatment properly, I am terrified knowing that by giving life I can also give death. This little person moving inside me is innocent. She or he should not pay for my mistakes.

I would not like my child to know my previous life. This is all the promise I have asked my in-laws and my husband to keep after my death.

*not her real name

Loga Virahsawmy is the President of Media Watch Organisation. This article is part of a special series of articles produced for the Sixteen Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign.

This article is part of the GEM Opinion and Commentary Service that provides views and perspectives on current events. for more information.

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