Past her prime, G B Road is still home for this sex worker

I do not regret anything because this is my destiny, says Ruhi

Ruhi believes it is sheer luck that she is still alive after being thrown out of her kotha almost 15 years ago. “I was around 30 years old and there were no takers. Customers prefer young girls over ageing women. I live on streets now by surviving on the money I get for doing small errands like fetching cigarette packs.”

G B Road is still home, though. She sleeps on its pavements, close to the brothels that provided her a home and a living some time back. Ruhi, 45, has tried to find work as housemaid or garbage collector in localities nearby. People refuse to give her any kind of work once they get to know she was one of the 6,000 sex workers in the 1980s at G B Road.

"But I do not regret anything because this is my destiny," she says. The city was lit with happy faces and bright lights when she came to Delhi with her aunt. "I was only five years old when my aunt told my mother she was taking me to Dilli to educate me.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to open a single book. She kept me in one of kothas saying my need would arise when I am 12. There were no parks or playgrounds but only women touching my body parts to check if I was ready.''

During the 1980s, G B Road prostitutes charged barely Rs 10-15 per client and it was difficult to count the number of customer per day. “We had more clients then than the ones I see now on these streets. I used to save a lot of money then because some clients were generous. We used to get our nail polish and lipstick from the petiwalas (vendors). They used to come up to our rooms,” she says.

Getting ready and admiring her beauty in front of a mirror was Ruhi’s favourite part.  “I had more clients and other girls used to be jealous. I am from Calcutta and my loyal customers used to say I resembled a heroine from Bengal. I always received the best compliments,” recalls Ruhi, flashing a big smile. But the smile fades away after remembering those days when she was forced to apply more make-up to hide her bruises.

One of the regular clients refused to use protection which led to the birth of two children, she reveals. “I have two beautiful girls. The elder, 18, is pursuing B A, and the younger one, 12, is studying in the 8th standard. I have kept them in a hostel since they were two years old. Why should I drag them into this unfortunate profession when I can protect them!”

Revealing the truth to her elder daughter was the most difficult part of her life. She believes her daughter has been kind by not abandoning her. “She said, ‘Ma I respect you more for being honest’. I am blessed to have a child who says she will earn and build a house for me even after hearing the truth.”

Ruhi had to get her uterus removed after she turned 30, as she was suffering from fibroid tumour, a common disease among sex workers. She thought she wouldn't survive because she didn't have the money for the treatment.

“I told Shakuntala madam (an anganwadi teacher and a women rights activist) to leave my children in an orphanage so that their future is not ruined like mine. But she was very kind and got my operation done. She spent Rs 6 lakh on my operation. She even got my children admitted in schools and has taken full responsibility for them now,” says Ruhi with tears in her eyes.

Names have been changed in these stories

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