Gangubai Kothewali

Gangubai Harjeevandas
Gangubai Harjeevandas.jpg
Ganga Harjeevandas

Kathiawar, British India
(present-day Gujarat, India)
Died(1977-09-08)8 September 1977[1]
Other namesGangubai Kothewali
Gangubai Kathiawadi

Gangubai Harjeevandas,[a] better known as Gangubai Kothewali[b] or Gangubai Kathiyawadi,[c] was an Indian social activist, prostitute and madam of a brothel in the Kamathipura area of Mumbai during the 1960s. Gangubai did a lot of work for sex-workers and for the well-being of orphans.[4] She gradually ended up operating her own brothel and is known to also have lobbied for the rights of commercial sex workers.[5]


She was sold into prostitution at an early age by her suitor, Ramnik Lal, after running away from home to Bombay. She came to be known as the Madam of Kamathipura for being an influential pimp in the city with underworld connections, peddling drugs. Later in life (presumably between 1947–64), she met Jawaharlal Nehru to discuss the plight of sex workers and improve their living conditions.[6][7]

Mafia Queens of Mumbai (2011) by Hussain Zaidi contains information on the lives of thirteen women who influenced Mumbai. In it, Zaidi also gives information about Gangubai. According to this, Gangubai was from a highly educated family and was obsessed with working in films and was a fan of Dev Anand. Gangubai, 16, and her husband Ramnik Lal, 28, fled to Mumbai and got married. Within a few days of the marriage, her husband sold her in a kuntankhana (brothel) for ₹1,000. Reluctantly, Gangubai started working as a prostitute. In a short time, Gangubai became the head of some kuntankhanas. A goon named Shaukat Khan Pathan started exploiting her financially and physically. Gangubai went to the then underworld don Karim Lala to complain about Pathan. Lala assured her of help and was tied a rakhi in return. After this, Shaukat Khan was warned and roughed-up by Lala.

Since then, Gangubai's repute as Karim Lala's supposed sister grew during the 1960s. St. Anthony's Girls' High School, which was established in Kamathipura in 1922, started a campaign to clean up the area of bad influence. This led to an order to move the brothel. Gangubai vehemently opposed this and effectively presented her case to the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and as a result, the brothel was not moved.[citation needed]

During this time Gangubai was also working for various issues of orphans and women in the prostitution business. Gangubai counseled and sent back many young women, who had fled their homes for working in films and got stuck in prostitution. For this reason, everyone used to respectfully call Gangubai Ganga Maa (mother). After her death, her photographs and statues were erected in brothels of the area.[citation needed]

In popular culture

Her life was documented in the 2011 book, Mafia Queens of Mumbai, by writer and journalist Hussain Zaidi.

Gangubai Kathiawadi an Indian Hindi-language biographical crime film is based on a chapter of Zaidi's book, and directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali.[8][9]


  1. ^ The honorific suffix bai, lit.'lady', is often added to the names of women in India.[2] The name here itself being Gangu or Ganga.
  2. ^ Kothewali literally means a prostitute. From kotha (brothel) and wali, which showcases her status as the madam of a brothel.[3]
  3. ^ Indicating her origin from Kathiawar (Saurashtra) in western India.


  1. ^ "Gangubai's daughter speaks to outlook". YouTube. Outlook. 3 March 2022. Retrieved 31 March 2022. See 0:22 onwards
  2. ^ McGregor, R. S. (1993). The Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary. DSAL. Oxford University Press. p. 719.
  3. ^ McGregor, R. S. (1993). The Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary. DSAL. Oxford University Press. p. 216.
  4. ^ Taneja, Parina (16 January 2020). "Who is Gangubai Kathiawadi, whose husband sold her at a brothel for Rs 500?". India TV News. Retrieved 4 April 2022.
  5. ^ Shaikh, Zeeshan (23 February 2022). "Explained: Who was Gangubai Kathiawadi? Why is Alia Bhatt's film on her facing legal troubles?". The Indian Express. Retrieved 4 April 2022.
  6. ^ "Know Gangubai Kothewali, The Legendary Brothel Madam Alia Bhatt Will Be Playing In SLB's Next". Desimartini. 22 September 2019. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  7. ^ "गंगूबाई कोठेवाली-पति ने ₹500 में बेचा था,भंसाली उनपर फिल्म बनाएंगे". Quint Hindi (in Hindi). 25 September 2019. Retrieved 21 January 2020.
  8. ^ "Alia Bhatt begins shooting for Gangubai Kathiawadi, shares pic of her trailer:'Look what Santa gave me this year'". Hindustan Times. 27 December 2019. Retrieved 27 December 2019.
  9. ^ "Who was Gangubai Kathiawadi: The real woman behind Alia Bhatt's latest character". Vogue India. 15 January 2020. Retrieved 21 January 2020.


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