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. 


An Exhibition of the project was shown at The Brunei Gallery for three months from the 13th July 2012. 

The masseurs live in a very closed and secretive world. Living in close proximity to each other often in very cramped living environments. Accommodation in Mumbai is prohibitively expensive and much of the city's transient work force live in multi-occupied single room dwellings. The residents of these dwellings tend to group together by occupation and it is not uncommon for larger rooms to have in excess of 35 people living in them. Normally the rooms house 10 to 12 people in a 100 square foot space. On average the masseurs pay 700 rupees a month each for their accommodation.

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RK (25) is single but has a girlfriend back in “the village”. He has been a masseur in Mumbai for 4 years, prior to which he worked in the fields as a farmer. His girlfriend is unaware of his real job in Mumbai, believing he works for a “company”. He has two regular clients but averages 15 clients, aged between 20 and 40 years old, a week. He charges never less than 250 rupees for his services and charges more if the client wants something other than a simple massage. The client must pay says RK – it depends on what they want – but I always use a condom. RK believes he has between 5 to 10 years more working as a masseur before he will be too old and will need to find something else to do.

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AK (23) has only been in Mumbai 3 years – he is from Mathura district where he has a girlfriend. He averages 50 massages a week, he picks up his clients at the bazaar, charging 300 rupees for a straight massage and 1-2,000 rupees for those that additionally include masturbation. He is still very much in demand because he is still young, attractive and relatively new to Mumbai. He expects to go back the village to live eventually but has no idea when that will be – the money will dictate when he can go back. His family know he is a masseur.

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SST (45) came to Mumbai 17 years ago to work as a masseur from Mathura district. He has been married for 22 years. He earns approximately 7,000 rupees a month as a masseur. He gives massages to 2-3 regular clients a day who contact him by mobile phone – his regular clients also recommend him to friends. His wife and family know he is a masseur – a proper one, he has not been involved in sex. He plans to leave Mumbai and his life as masseur in about 2 years time. He is aware of the possibility of violent attacks on masseurs – he helped a young masseur who had been attacked, they tracked down the client and “spoke to him” and also filed a report with the police who questioned the client “gave him a warning”

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All life exists in these living spaces and the rooms operate as tiny communities. Duties are divided such as cooking food, which is shared amongst the group.

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HL (20) working in the fields harvesting corn chaff for animal feed on the edge of his village in Mathura District. He went to Mumbai but will not say when but only stayed 6 weeks. Many boys from the villages go to Mumbai in the summer holidays from school to work. He took 1000 rupees to Mumbai but this soon ran out. He had to borrow money from other people from his village who were working in Mumbai, this lead to a debt of 3000 rupees. He had to pay the money back before he left but will not say how he earned the money. He felt very lonely whilst in Mumbai and is very upset with many of the people in his village over the experience and is not on speaking terms with many of them.

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RK (19) working in the cornfields in Mathura District.

He has been married for 1 year. At the age of 15 he was taken to Mumbai on the offer of a salaried job in a factory. When
he arrived in Mumbai people from his village who were there already said there was no work right now in the factory but they will take him there tomorrow. This continued for 2 to 3 days. In the meantime he was encouraged to do what he refers to as “This dirty Job” At first he refused and asked to return
to the village but they refused to give him the money to do
so. RK states “ that after lots of hesitation .......(refuses to comment further)” After one more week he managed to leave Mumbai but without any money or a ticket. When he arrived in Mathura he managed to get some money from people he knew to enable him to get back to his village. He says “ I know this dirty job pays good money but I never want to go back to Mumbai under any circumstances”. 

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LK (18) is currently studying for a BSc in Physics – Chemistry and Math’s. When he is not studying he works in the fields and does daily chores. His family are wealthy land owners

and livestock farmers. They have encouraged him to join the Army in a clerical role. When he was 14 years old he went to Mumbai he says for “No particular reason” and stayed in the slum area of Daravi with people from the Village who where already there. He only stayed for three weeks and when asked about his experience he answered “ Everyone knows what

is going on in Mumbai, what is there to talk about? There is nothing to discuss - we don’t talk about it in the village.'

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Historically Mathura has been a centre for “Akhadas” ( wrestling schools) although the numbers have slowly dwindled over the years due to lack of interest in the sport. Male on male massage is used in the schools to relax muscle pain after strenuous wrestling practice, and is often conducted while the men are only wearing the traditional “Langot” (Loin cloth) and “Janghia” (over shorts) wrestling outfit desensitizing the wrestlers to male on male contact. Many barbers who used to give massages to wrestlers to relax their muscles later migrated to Mumbai. Many schools have since closed but the tradition continues. The Samabhavana Society believes that this desensitization has left a legacy that has been passed on through generations creating an acceptance within Mathura’s male community of male on male contact. Thus explaining why around 80% of Mumbai’s male masseurs come from Mathura. The cultural legacy of male on male massage that was once reserved for the wrestling schools has now become an economic reality creating this unique transient workforce.

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Historically Mathura has been a centre for “Akhadas” ( wrestling schools) although the numbers have slowly dwindled over the years due to lack of interest in the sport. Male on male massage is used in the schools to relax muscle pain after strenuous wrestling practice, and is often conducted while the men are only wearing the traditional “Langot” (Loin cloth) and “Janghia” (over shorts) wrestling outfit desensitizing the wrestlers to male on male contact. Many barbers who used to give massages to wrestlers to relax their muscles later migrated to Mumbai. Many schools have since closed but the tradition continues. The Samabhavana Society believes that this desensitization has left a legacy that has been passed on through generations creating an acceptance within Mathura’s male community of male on male contact. Thus explaining why around 80% of Mumbai’s male masseurs come from Mathura. The cultural legacy of male on male massage that was once reserved for the wrestling schools has now become an economic reality creating this unique transient workforce.

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RS (Age Undisclosed ) is from Mathura district and has been coming to Mumbai in the school holidays since he was 12 years of age to work as a masseur. He was brought to Mumbai by an older member of the extended family. It is not uncommon for older masseurs who are no longer desirable for sex or no longer wish to engage in sex work to bring a younger member of the family from the countryside to fill the gap and keep the money flowing into the family unit. He currently does between 3 and 4 massages a day and averages 3 to 4 sex jobs a week.

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NK (20) is from Mathura district and has been in Mumbai for 4 years. His uncle brought him to Mumbai where he now works as a masseur. He works on the streets but also has some clients who take him home or to hotels. He claims to massage 10 to 15 people a night charging between 200 and 250 rupees a time. His customers are aged between 20 and 60 years old. Like many of the younger masseurs he is vulnerable to theft of earnings from local criminals and clients refusing to pay for massages.

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DS (23) is educated to the 9th grade and comes from Mathura district. He has been in Mumbai for 6 years. He works from 6am to 12pm and then again from 5 pm till midnight. He works on the streets and the beach areas of Mumbai. He averages 4 to 5 clients a day charging a minimum of 150 to 200 rupees with his customers ranging from 25 to 80 years old. He has a bank account and saves some of his earnings.

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RK (24) is from Mathura District. He comes from a farming family and is only educated to 5th grade. Arriving in Mumbai 8 years ago he now works as a masseur. He works the streets and does home visits. He massages 4 to 5 clients a night charging them no less than 100 rupees each. His clients are aged in the range 25 years to 60 years.

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DK (20) is from Aligarh district which boarders Mathura district. Around 4 months ago his other older brother who works as a masseur brought him to Mumbai so that DK could try and get a job working as a tailor. This was unsuccessful so DK followed his brother into the trade. He works at night attracting customers by clinking glass bottles together from 10pm till 4am – He gives his mobile phone number to clients for future use and does home visits to regular clients. His customers vary in ages anywhere from 20 years old to 60 years of age – he earns no less than 200 rupees a night. He has not yet engaged in any sex work but has been asked by clients to do so on numerous occasions.

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MK (20) comes from Aligarh district which boarders Mathura district and arrived in Mumbai a month ago with a friend from the village. His family did not want him to come to Mumbai. Despite his family’s concerns he ignored them and come to Mumbai with a group of friends from the village. He average 4 to 5 massages a day earning an average of 200 to 250 rupees a night. His brother is a masseur and they save money together. He has not engaged in any sex work but is often asked to do so by the clients. His work is predominantly roadside massage. He attracts customers by clinking glass bottles together to identify himself as a masseur.

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The Masseurs use a string of hotels in Mumbai which offer a reduced “room by the hour rate”. The cost of the room, which is a standard 500 rupees, is charged to the client. The rooms are used as discreet locations for sex work. The hotels are located close to the masseurs working areas.

 

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The Masseurs use a string of hotels in Mumbai which offer a reduced “room by the hour rate”. The cost of the room, which is a standard 500 rupees, is charged to the client. The rooms are used as discreet locations for sex work. The hotels are located close to the masseurs working areas.

 

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DS (25) is from Rajasthan province. He is educated to BA Degree standard. He comes from a wealthy family. His father lent him 200,000 rupees to set up a dairy business. The business failed – but he cannot tell his father, a former Army man, as he will loose his respect. He is married and has an 18-month-old son. He has been a masseur for three years. All his massage encounters involve sex – but he always uses a condom – most of his client meetings are in hotel rooms but he also has some regular clients in the wealthy middle class suburbs of Mumbai, which he will visit anytime that they call. He is aware that some workers are attacked by their client but he is a “big strong guy” so does not worry about this. He has the added insurance that one of his roommates is a police informer so has no hassle from the police. He charges a minimum of 500 rupees a session, currently earning about 10/12,000 rupees a month from the 2/3 clients a night he services. He sends 2/3,000 rupees home to his family and spends the rest. His family does not know about his work as a masseur.

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RS (Age Undisclosed) is from Mathura district and is educated to 10th grade. He speaks and understands a little English. His main job in Mumbai is as a security guard at one of Mumbai’s prominent hotels. Whilst this job is well paid he also works as a masseur and sex worker for extra cash. He was encouraged by a friend 10 years ago to come to Mumbai. He works both on the street and has existing regular clients. He averages 2 to 3 customers a night charging a minimum of 500 rupees per massage and has 2 to 3 sex clients a week which he charges considerably more. His family do not know about his work as a masseur only his job as a security guard.

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RS (Age Undisclosed ) is from Mathura district and has been coming to Mumbai in the school holidays since he was 12 years of age to work as a masseur. He was brought to Mumbai by an older member of the extended family. It is not uncommon for older masseurs who are no longer desirable for sex or no longer wish to engage in sex work to bring a younger member of the family from the countryside to fill the gap and keep the money flowing into the family unit. He currently does between 3 and 4 massages a day and averages 3 to 4 sex jobs a week.

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RK (Age undisclosed) has a BA in Hindi and comes from Rajasthan. Whilst he used to be a masseur he now mainly acts as an agent for the younger sex workers and engages in nightly sex work himself. He usually works in hotels visiting regular clients and charging more than 1,000 rupees a session. If he does do a massage he charges 500 rupees. RK averages 3 to 4 clients a night. He speaks good English.His family are unaware of this real job.

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BB (22) is from Mathura district. He has been coming to Mumbai in the school Holidays since he was 12 years old. The first trip to Mumbai was arranged by an older man from the village who said he had work for BB in a TV shop. After a short while in Mumbai BB realised there was no job and with no money he started to work as a masseur. Initially a few of the customers harassed him forcing him to give free massages and free sex. Now he is older and the financial rewards have increased he has chosen to stay in Mumbai. He accesses his customers by private contact only. He does 4 to 5 massages and 1 or 2 sex jobs a night –The majority of these customers are met in hotels.

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Despite many of the masseurs having regular clients who contact them via mobile phone the traditional method of attracting new clients involves the masseur walking the red light areas of Mumbai, clinking a glass bottle in a repetitive rhythmic pattern which uniquely identifies their trade. This traditional method is the calling card of the masseur. However a client looking for sex will approach a masseur as male sex workers use the veil of massage to cloak their activities.

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The majority of massuers work at night time sleeping during the day. Some masseurs have regular clients who contact them via mobile phone. If the money is right the masseur will work at anytime of the day.

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Crowd Funding video for Mumbai Male Masseurs

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