Gangubai Kathiawadi is often only known as a sex worker and the madam of a brothel in the Kamathipura area of Mumbai, India, active in the 1960s, but the truth is that she was much more. In her crisp sarees and a traditional big bindi, she was dubbed the Queen of Kamathipura for also being a part of the underworld, making her one of the most dreaded yet awe-inspiring women in the nation. So now that her story has been depicted on the big screen through a biographical crime drama titled after her name, let’s find out more about her life and death, shall we?
Who Was Gangubai Kathiawadi?
Born as Gangubai Harjivandas to a family of attorneys as well as teachers with links to the local royalty in Kathiawar, Gujrat, Gangubai Kathiawadi/Kothewali was like no other. She was just a young girl when she ran away with her father’s accountant to her dream city, Mumbai (then-Bombay), to start a new life and pursue a career in the Indian entertainment industry — Bollywood. However, Gangubai’s lover soon betrayed her by selling her to a red-light district for ₹500 (now nearly ₹41,000 (or $545) with inflation), driving her to decide that she’d never go back home.
Instead of turning into a victim of circumstance, though, Gangubai took up the opportunities that came her way to become one of the most covetable commercial sex workers in Kamathipura. One of the prime examples of her early resilience is the fact that she approached mafia don Karim Lala herself after one of his hirelings brutally assaulted her, only to be deemed the boss’ “sister” and then avenged. That’s how she found herself in the world of gangsters, through which she created contacts with countless officials and people of power alike, gradually rising to the top.
With that said, the most crucial aspect, which many fail to mention, is that the madame never used her own position to exploit other females or force them into prostitution. In fact, although she advocated for the need of her line of work in society at woman empowerment summits and to then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, she did so while allegedly working to support causes related to the same. From sparking actions for the betterment of orphans to counseling and sending back several women stuck in the profession, the affectionately called “Maa” (mother) did it all.
How Did Gangubai Kathiawadi Die?
In 2008, after around five decades since Gangubai Kathiawadi first came to Mumbai, she reportedly died from a cardiac arrest inside her Kamathipura home. She was 68 or 69 at the time, following which statues were erected in the area in the form of respect towards her and the work she had done despite being a brothel madam. She left behind four adopted children. There have been several severe allegations against the Queen of Kamathipura over the years, yet as none of them have been proven, all we can say is that she was both terrifying and impressive at the same time.
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