Vicious circle of exploitation

Hard life: Poverty drives women to G B Road where they find more misery and suffering

As the city celebrated New Year’s eve, it was business as usual in Delhi’s red light district. Women peered down their balconies with no hopes for a better beginning.

The history of G B Road, or Garstin Bastion Road, dates back to the Mughal era when mujras were performed there. 

According to police officials, women on G B Road still have permission for that. But there is little dance now and mostly prostitution flourishing on the infamous road.

Earning daily bread
By late afternoon workers begin getting ready in the cramped rooms for the busy evenings.

They say there is no escape from the cruel reality of prostitution as there are no alternate means of earning their daily bread.

“It is difficult to survive here but we do not have any other means of livelihood. The kotha is my only home but I will be allowed to stay here till I bring business to my naika (pimp),” said Vibhuti, a sex worker in G B Road.

G B Road has around 20 buildings with over 150 operational kothas. Many have been shut and re-opened after several raids.

The steep steps lead to shady rooms where these women are subjected to lead a life of misery. Poverty and vulnerability are the key reasons behind their unfortunate fate. Most of them were either trafficked from Bengal, South India and Nepal or forced to become a part of this ruthless profession for money. Naikas are also sex workers who have grown old but do not have a choice apart from residing in these brothels.

A recent study by the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) on commercial sex workers in this area has disclosed some revealing facts. More than 41 per cent sex workers enter the profession because of sheer poverty and 39 per cent of their own free will.

The study was conducted on 400 commercial sex workers from G B Road and inputs were also taken from the rescued women in government homes. “The main aim was to assess the primary issues of Delhi’s sex workers and their children, and also to draw a demographic and health profile of the neglected community,” said a DCW officer.

Financial constraint
The primary issue in this community is financial constraint. “The pimps do not pay us for two to three years to recover the amount spent on bringing us here from our hometown. Even after repaying the debts, my naika takes away half of what I earn as her commission. I do not save anything for myself,” says 23-year-old Reshma.

Unlike Reshma, other workers say they do not have any other option but to save to send money home or for their child’s education.  The night rates are higher costing around Rs 500 per hour and during the day the rates are comparatively lower, Rs 120 per hour. Around 70 per cent of the existing sex workers on G B Road earn between Rs 3,000 and Rs 5,000, and 20 per cent earn more than Rs 5,000 on a monthly basis.

Client abuse
Moreover, client abuse has become more rampant over the years. Clients come from various backgrounds ranging from rickshaw pullers to traders from various city markets. “Some of them are abusive when drunk and beat us up because we say no to sex without protection,” said Promela, another sex worker.

There are several clients who call these women outside where they say there is one client but three to four men forcefully have sex in turns. The sex worker is further exploited by getting paid for only one client. There have been several cases where a regular client has stolen jewellery from workers. “They mix something in our drink. When we wake up we realise our expensive items are gone,” said Reshma.

Health issues
The DCW report further states only 50 per cent of the sex workers use condoms, as they agree to not using protection for more money. The social welfare department says despite efforts, health and hygiene standards cannot be improved beyond occasional checks by mobile vans as the law does not recognise their existence.

The brothels are dirty and dimly lit which aggravates health issues. Every sex worker within the age group of 17-25 years deals with 20 clients a day. “There are close to 10,000 clients on Sundays and holidays like Independence day, Republic day or days when rallies are held in the city,” said Promela.

No respite from police
There is no respite from Police either. The workers and NGOs allege police take bribes from pimps to keep their business running.
 
“The pimps set aside money for each girl which goes to the policemen at G B Road police station. Plus they ask for money whenever girls are brought out on bail in case of raids,” said Anita, a councilor for sex workers. At the time of a raid, if a complaint has been filed against one girl police take  away five of them and ask for hefty cash to release them.

Mental trauma
Many sex workers admit they turn to smoking, alcohol, chewing tobacco, heroin and marijuana to overcome the mental trauma of being exploited every day. “Mouth ulcers and tuberculosis are some common diseases among these women because of addiction to chewing and smoking tobacco,” said Dr Nagma, who works towards spreading health awareness among sex workers.

Identity crisis
Identity crisis is another major issue which leads to denial of basic rights among these women. According to the DCW report, more than 85 per cent of these women do not have an identity proof like a voter ID card, ration card, Aadhar card, bank account and others. “Most of these girls belong to backward communities like OBCs, STs and SCs but they do not get any benefits because of identity crisis,” Rishi Kant, a human rights activist.

Workers complain health services in nearby hospitals, where doctors claim they have a special quota for treatment of sex workers, is inappropriate. “I have been to the hospitals several times but there are no doctors to attend us. So, we wait for Nagma didi to examine us,” said Vibhuti.

There are close to 3,000 sex workers who are provided with health treatment at Shakti Vahini’s health centre. Despite health issues, the naikas do not allow workers who come under their jurisdiction to get medical tests done for HIV or any other disease. “They deny any help when we send our doctors even for regular check-ups,” said Tamanna.

Many women in prostitution say they wish to escape but they are afraid of more exploitation meted outside their community. “It is easy for NGOs to come and say they will help us. But will they provide us with a roof and a dignified job? I doubt,” said Parvati, a sex worker. However, some are hopeful with the February 2011 Supreme Court order of mandatory rehabilitation for women of commercial sexual exploitation will help in providing justice and an escape route to girls who raise their voices against exploitation.

Constant trauma
* Sex workers say there is no escape from the prostitution as there are no alternate means of livelihood

* Workers allege police take bribes from pimps to keep their business running

* More than 85 per cent of sex workers do not have an ID proof like a voter card, ration card, Aadhar card and bank account

* Client abuse has become more rampant over the years

* Pimps takes away half of what sex workers earn

* The brothels are dirty and dimly lit which aggravates health issues

Some facts

* G B Road has around 20 buildings with over 150 operational kothas.
 
* More than 41 per cent of sex workers enter the profession because of poverty and 39 per cent of their own free will
 
* Only 50 per cent of the sex workers use condoms

* Every sex worker within the age group of 17-25 years deals with 20 clients a day
 
* Around 3,000 sex workers are provided with health treatment at Shakti Vahini’s health centre

DH Newsletter Privacy Policy Get the top news in your inbox
GET IT
Comments (+)