Brothels get a facelift ahead of Commonwealth Games

While the civic agencies are busy sprucing up the city ahead of the sporting carnival, the NGOs and owners of the brothels in Delhi's oldest red light area on GB road have taken it upon themselves to improve the living conditions as their repeated requests to officials have fallen on deaf ears.

Their joint effort appears to have paid off in many of the 84 brothels. While fancy tiles now decorate what were once stained walls, split air-conditioners, refrigerators and LCD TVs have appeared as the latest additions in these brothels which too hope to benefit from the Games extravaganza when thousands of tourists are expected to flock the capital.

While the 'maliks' (owners) themselves provide most of the money, funds have also come from National Network for Sex Workers which, in turn, is funded by the Ford Foundation.

Apart from renovating the brothels, non-voluntary organisations are also focusing on health and hygiene of the workers here. "During the Commonwealth Games there is bound to be a surge in the clients (largely tourists) in the brothels.

"To ensure the safety of sex workers, we have been conducting a series of medical tests to identify those who are HIV positive and are in the process of providing counselling to them," says Anand Sharma of Savera Voluntary Organisation that works for the cause of the sex workers in the capital.

He adds, "Although these are tests that are conducted every once in a while, it has been strengthened and upgraded in view of the upcoming Games." In addition to routine medical tests, the organisation also supplies medicines to sex workers free of cost and preventive treatment is given special emphasis.

Another NGO, Bhartiya Patita Udhar Samiti recently sent a letter to the External Affairs Minister S M Krishna and Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad asking them to instruct Indian embassies abroad not to issue visa to any foreigner without a complete medical check-up to prove the visitor is HIV negative.

Khairathi Lal Bhola who heads BPUS believes that tourists bring "alien diseases to the country and the government must adopt measures to check it." He says that tourists must be barred from entering GB Road in particular to ensure the safety of sex workers and to stop spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

"During the Asian Games in 1982 there was a rise in STD cases. It is to prevent the same during the Commonwealth Games that such strict precautionary measures must be taken," Khairathi says.

However, this effort has not gone down well with the sex workers who believe they are capable enough to safeguard themselves and that they should not be barred from benefiting during the period.

"This is ridiculous!," says Ratna, 34, a sex worker from Andhra who resides in the locality. "While there are many organisations that are helping us, there are some who are going all out to sabotage the efforts which will only put us out of business," she says.

Asserting that women can take care of themselves, she says: "No condom, no sex, as simple as that".

"Even if they pay more we don't want to risk the contraction of STDs. As for abusive customers, they would be deftly handled by the naikas (bouncers)," she says.

So, why would tourists prefer GB Road to other red light areas? "This locality is one of the oldest and the biggest red light areas in the city. Why wouldn't they come here? It is no less historic compared to other places," says 29-year-old Shilpa.

Many of the brothels have even started teaching basic English to sex workers.

"Every morning we have one hour session where we are taught simple English. We learn words like 'Hello,' 'How are you?' and 'Please use condoms,'" Shilpa says.

Many workers in the brothels are, however, concerned that the bad state of roads would turn away the tourists.

"We have approached the MCD many times requesting them to remove the garbage on our roads and to improve conditions of the roads. That's the least they can do for us. When all other localities are getting a face-lift, why not ours?" asks a brothel owner, who did not wish to be named.

MCD officials admit that they have no plans on the anvil for GB Road. Sex workers are also concerned that their clients might be harassed by police and touts.
"Police sometimes threaten clients, especially tourists, to earn some quick money. To appease them, we are forced to offer small 'gifts'," says the owner.

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