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I Visited Delhi’s Biggest Red Light Area And This Is The Harsh Reality I Saw

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By Anukriti Sharma:

Those dark alleys are smeared with foul-smelling blood… filled with gaudy lights radiating from huge, flashy billboards that brighten up the night. Millions of women and men are involved in the trade. Sex is cheap; love comes at a great price. Love is a lie. Sex is the only truth.

G.B. Road, Delhi, is flooded with men in the evening. A brief visit reveals the truth behind those skeletal windows… flashing faces of distorted women. The overbearing smell of rancid body fluids, semen and blood mixed with inexpensive perfume wafting through the air. Used and unused latex can be seen soiled in mud in veiled areas… unknown, unloved faces try to hide in the dark alley of reality. Dilapidated walls with naked patchwork of fading paint adorn the brothels. “Brothel”, “whore house” – that is what they call this place. Sex workers confined in a four-by-six room live in this red light district.

Most of the women who work in these so called “houses of ill-repute” do not enter the trade out of choice. They mostly come from Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Nepal and are sold for money. They are lured into the grandeur of big cities and brought to places like Delhi, Calcutta, and Mumbai in the name of getting a job. They are then sold to a naayika, a senior sex worker, for a heavy sum of money.

As soon as a girl enters this profession, the naayika levies a loan on her. For example, if a woman is sold to a naayika for two lakh rupees, the amount has to be reimbursed by the woman herself . That is not the end of her woes, as an additional 10% monthly tax is levied in the name of subsistence. If she tries to run away, her parents and society reject her and treat her like an outcast. The girl is thus trapped, where she has no choice but to give into the demands of her naayika.

The brothels follow a chain of command. The naayika functions as the head. Young girls in the trade, as suggested, are hardly given money. The naayika holds the reins of five or six younger girls who not only work for her but also bring in money for pimps, managers, police and various minor characters. Every woman attends to at least 10-20 clients a day, and more than 20,000 condoms are used every month.

HIV and venereal diseases are commonplace. An ailing or infected sex worker is left to fend for herself in her small, dingy, claustrophobic room. She might die out of suffering and ignorance but since she is an invalid, and thus valueless, she is hardly cared for.

As dusk dawns upon Gaston Bastion Road, a strange heaviness fills my heart. Memories of people known and unknown flash before my eyes, grotesque pictures soak my heart. I see people involved in nothing but duplicity, deceit, treachery, betrayal and infidelity. All they want to do is use another, for gratification and pleasure. But what kind of contentment can one get by hurting another? By doing nothing but inflicting pain?

I feel sore, broken. A sense of pain fills my eyes with a cascade of tears. I imagine the world… bereft of love, bereft of emotions. Everywhere around me people hurt each other — lie — lie about their emotions, lie about their feelings, and lie about love… Sex becomes the only means of satisfying a soul. I do not say that sex is not important, but is it the only truth? Is it the only thing that matters? The concept of soulmates is but a lie!

Love is slowly losing its innocence. It peeps through darkness like a scared, scarred child – apprehensive and timid, afraid to show its face to the world of experience, afraid to be tarnished by the flawed concepts of the world. Isn’t it time we erase the blemishes that scar the face of love?

People are dying all around – out of hatred, abhorrence, abomination. Isn’t it time we realised the importance of love? Isn’t it time we held that beautiful sensation close to our spirit and tried feeling its life-breath? Love is a lie we tell to console ourselves… but isn’t that lie sweeter than the bitter truths of life?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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