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Friday, April 30, 1999 Published at 09:57 GMT 10:57 UK

World: South Asia

Eunuchs turn prejudice into cash

Embarrassed shop keepers and traders pay up quickly

A small business in India's commercial capital, Bombay, is using local prejudice against eunuchs as a way of recovering money from its debtors.

Nikki Albon reports on debt-collecting, Bombay-style
The debt collection scheme has been so succesful that more than $12,000 has been recovered in the first year of the project.

Businessman B Raguram Shetty sends the eunuchs to collect money owed by shopkeepers and traders, who are often so embarrassed they pay up immediately.

The venture has worked so well that the credit agency he runs, Unique Recoveries, has now been hired as an official debt collector for a bank.

[ image: B Raguram Shetty:'Collectors have recovered thousands of dollars']
B Raguram Shetty:'Collectors have recovered thousands of dollars'
B Raguram Shetty says he has no doubt why the collection scheme has worked so well.

"Whenever the eunuchs go to recover money, I get a phone call saying: 'Please don't send them, we'll pay what we owe'.

"They say: 'Why have you sent the eunuch to our house, or to our office'. Most of the parties agree and pay up quickly."

The eunuchs are usually gay men, who for many people in India are associated with prostitution and sexual deviance.

[ image: Meena Venkatesh:'Debt collecting earns us respect']
Meena Venkatesh:'Debt collecting earns us respect'
They frequently find it difficult to secure work, so for a few of them the debt collection agency is a useful way to earn money, and some respect.

Meena Venkatesh says: "There was no respect before. When we walked on the road, people sneered at us and called us names.

"Now when we do our work, they say: 'Meena, how are you? Are you well?' When we visit these big offices they ask us to have tea or a cold drink and offer us a lot of respect. So now it is much better."

Although the project is limited to only a few eunuchs in one city, it seems a unique way to use social prejudice to return at least some pride to the minority who are its victims.

And of course for B Raguram Shetty it is a succesful commercial venture as well.

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