A few months ago, I put a pair of six-inch black-and-blue heels up for sale on OLX, an online platform for local classified ads. I had bought them on impulse for Rs 7,800 and, after teetering around the house in them once, decided to sell them for Rs 6,000. To my surprise, within a couple of hours, I had more than 30 messages in my inbox. Surprise turned into bewilderment when I realised that the vast majority of the prospective buyers seemed to be men, who were all interested in knowing just how used my heels were. To initial queries, I responded that my heels were “worn once only,” had “no scratch or mark” and were “as good as new.” I never heard from those people again.
The initial rejections made it clear that these men were looking for significantly used footwear. Then the messages started becoming more explicit, and things began falling into place. Some used euphemisms: “I am a collector of worn footwear. If works out could pay for two pairs monthly.” Others were more on the nose: “I need that stink”—of feet. “Could you smell and confirm?” Finally, one of the interested buyers, who insisted that he was a “decent guy with a good upbringing,” spelt it out for me. “It seems you haven’t heard of foot or shoe fetish,” he wrote. “It might seem berserk to you but surprisingly, it is common.”
He was right. Foot fetish, a strong sexual interest in feet, is indeed very common. In the last few years, the advent of websites for sale of second-hand products in India has inadvertently provided a platform for the trade of used clothing and footwear for fetish purposes. The country’s obscenity laws and the threat of violence from social vigilantes make it impossible to carry out such trade openly, which is why it is impossible to determine the size of this market.