The Alabaster Jar

Published on September 15, 2008

The Alabaster Jar

By Sanjeevini Badigar and Hoineilhing Sitlhou


My name is Serah.  I live together with a group of girls who had come from varied places. Our related strategies of survival compel us to stay together. We are not popular with the society in the light of the day. The daytime glorifies prestige, honour, virtues and chastity of women – all the qualities that are hypothetically not in us. We are jeered at wherever we go.


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  Hoineilhing Sitlhou and Sanjeevini Badigar (right)

Nevertheless, at night, far from the spectators of the larger crowd are scenarios quite different. Yes, you must have guessed our profession by now, we are prostitutes and our home is the brothel, a house of ill repute.


I started my line of work as a pimp, supplying jobless women to a client. They were mostly women who were the victims of circumstances, traumatic experiences or poverty. Later, I myself joined the network in the true sense of the term.


The events that led me to the brothel are still crystal clear in my mind. It always comes back to haunt me in my thoughts and dreams. Now, I dread staying alone by myself, alone with my thoughts because they are all self-accusatory and filled with regrets of a path wrongly chosen. 


My family had been heavily indebted and my parents and siblings were sick from lack of nutrition. At this juncture, I turned to a distant cousin for help. She was running an institution that seemed to be running profitably. I was too naïve or troubled to realize the character of her establishment. In time, I was deeply into it.


As I got more and more involved with my work, little did I realize the social order around me distancing from me. For them, I had fulfilled all the characteristics that would qualify me as a deviant and thus, an embarrassment for company. One fine day, my youngest brother had come to visit me. My joy knew no bounds; it was a long time since any member of my family had come to visit me. I was also happy to see him dressed civilly. My sacrifice had paid off. My family was relieved of its debt. I thought, ‘there’s nothing in the world, I wouldn’t do for my family.


I love them so much. The common room in where we met was packed with people. Strangely, the people were mostly those I had acquaintance with before-friends, classmates, relatives and some strangers. We were discussing about issues in our family when I noticed my brother sitting at some distance. He never looked at me in the eye for reason unknown. Perhaps, to make it seem to the onlookers that we were just passive acquaintance. I brushed the thought from my mind and held back my tears.


A family member stood up and remarked that I must be carrying HIV/AIDS and that I deserve it. I stood up and answered defensively that if educated people like him have such a bias view on the disease and its carriers, what will be the state of mind of others. Nevertheless, deep down inside I was broken and terrified, of people, of their attitude, of life and death.


I realised that day that there was no more hope for me. The society I had grown up in was not prepared to accept me back even if I were to reform. Where was all this talk about love and mercy that comprises every religious teaching? Was it not possible to find it in pragmatic form? Was it just a utopia, like a belief in fairy tale or something which you hyped about often, perhaps as escapism from the hard-core realities of life; but something, you should not be so imprudent as to expect to really exist?


The most precious possession of a woman is her self-esteem and the love and support of her loved ones. Of God’s creation, what marks us out is that, unlike men, a woman bases her identity in terms of her relationship with others. Her happiness is drawn from the people who surround her. If she has lost all these and has no assurance of getting it back, then she has no sense of optimism or anticipation for the future, in short, she is already half dead.


I woke up and realised that it was all a dream, a nightmare for me but a reality for many. Still baffled and half-asleep, I pondered over the possible implications of my dream. What was it that made me different from them – chances, choices or grace, that is beyond me to comprehend? However, I do know that if this statement had come from someone like Serah, It would have sounded like a justification for her present state of affairs.


Her voices and arguments may be confined within the boundaries of her brothel or worse still it would be restricted in her mind only to satiate her guilt or self-accusation. I am in a much better position to speak out for her, to tell others that it is not entirely her fault, and that God loves her as much and that she deserves a second thought before I label her with stereotypes in order to get along with others. When God does not discriminate (either people or diseases), why should I?


The gospel records three women that Christ engaged with who had ‘histories’ and ‘reputations’; the women caught in adultery (John 8: 1-11), the women who anoints Jesus found in all the gospels and the Samaritan woman at the well found in John’s gospel. In narrations like this, we find that Jesus challenges and breaks open boundaries and norms of society: chosen people in comparison with rejected people.


Jesus treats each woman as a full human being, worthy to receive God’s grace. Perhaps, these stories are a call to us as a community of Christ to stop shaping life according to society’s definitions of who is acceptable; show some openness to those who are different and even abhorrent and lastly, to cross boundaries instead of constructing them. Maybe this is what the Bible meant when it says “…speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves.”


From the glass alabaster, she poured out the depths of her soul

O foot of Christ, would you wait if her harlotries known?

 Falls a tear to darken the dirt

 Of humblest offerings to forgive the hurt

She is strong enough to stand in your love.

 I can hear her say…I’m weak, I’ m poor, I’m broken Lord but I’m yours…Hold me now, hold me now.

Let Him without sin cast the first stone if you will

 To say that my bride isn’t worth half the blood that I’ve spilled

 Point your finger and laugh if you choose

To say my beloved is borrowed and used (Jennifer Knapp)


Sanjeevini Badigar and Hoineilhing Sitlhou are doctoral candidates in Political Studies and Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University, India.

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