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‘I Don’t Get To Keep A Single Paisa’: The Women Of Delhi’s Red Light District

Delhi’s red light area, GB Road, is like a cemetery, where the silent ones dance to the tune of lust. Peeping through the windows of more than 100-year-old crypt-like brothels, women try to find a customer in every man crossing by. Many of these women can neither tell me their real names nor show their faces.

No one is sure just how many lives are within these black, broken tunnels and chambers, just to fulfill the basic need of bread and shelter. For a meagre amount, these young women sell their fates. Apart from poverty, the other reason women are stuck in this quagmire is deception. Often, some anti–social elements lure them in, and use ‘love’ to trap them.

No matter how deep or how many scars are there on their bodies, they can be counted. But how can one count the wounds of the heart? There is no place for desire. Dreams are restricted. In fact, many trafficked women aren’t even given an opportunity to realise this. Their only right, it seems, is to eventually b buried in the ground, quietly.

The choice is a cruel one. They will sell their bodies, rather than seeing their children crying out of hunger. Poverty, dishonesty, famine, and many other reasons are enough to drive a woman from her home and end up in a brothel.

Brothel

It is not their choice. It never is! Most of them come from rural areas of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. Some of them are widows, and no longer accepted by their communities and families. Bachelors usually don’t want to marry widows. Some of them suffer from extremely bad economical conditions, some have grown up in families that suffered from starvation. Their eyes flash with hope for better days, and they decide to inquire about work. They are then introduced to ta man who represents the first link of a long and evil chain. Until they reach Delhi, or another metropolitan city, they are passed over from one “middleman” to the next. They are brought here and they are told “OK, this is what you are going to do, this is your work.” Soon, they find out what will really happen to them. Even if they tried to leave, they would have to go through the same chain of people that brought them here. And because of that, they are not allowed to go back. Their owners tell them that they have invested money in bringing them here and that if they want to go back, they have to pay them cash.

All that they have in the name of possessions are their old sarees and their wrist bangles. With nothing to their name, they are held captive inside humid rooms and not allowed to go anywhere for the next few weeks until they get used to it.

I spoke to a number of women and customers who gave us a glimpse of a complete day in GB Road.

Mala

My name is Mala. I have been here for 10 or 12 years. I am 35 years old. I want to go back to my home but these people (Malikin, or owners) do not allow me to go out of here. They have kept me here as a prisoner. My husband left me. I have a father, brothers, and sisters in villages. My mother has expired. My one daughter has also expired in the village. I have one son living in the village.

I was told by a man that I would be given necklace, gold earrings, a car, and would be married to him. But I was not given anything and was sold in the market. By this false promise of someone, I came to Delhi. I always hope to go back to my home but these people never allow me to go out of this house. That’s why I am crying. I do not have any freedom.

My rates had been ₹6. After sometime, it rose to ₹12 and then ₹20 per person. And now it is ₹25. But whatever the money I earn from the customers, the Malikin snatches it from me. Sometimes customers come but sometimes no customers come. Usually, two to four customers come in a day. Sometimes we charge up to ₹100 or ₹125. But I do not get even a single paisa.

Usually we use condoms to prevent pregnancy but still if we become pregnant, we will go to the hospital and have the abortion.

Shanno

It was a constraint for me. My father died. I came to this profession when I was pretty young. No one feeds you when you are alone and weak. It is happening in the family so what happened to me is not indifferent.

Zeenat

What do I do? I am forced to be in this profession. I have small brothers and sisters to take care. If somebody comes in my life and gets me things for livelihood them I will never be here. I will immediately leave this brothel.

Mumtaz

My name is Mumtaz. I am 30 years old. I came here by myself. I was married and then divorced. My husband did not want a divorce but I myself wanted it. I have delivered one daughter here. But her father is not known. I got married at the age of 12. I like to do this prostitution work. In a day two, three, or four customers come. I charge between ₹50 to ₹150. It depends upon how much the customers can pay. Rich, poor, middle-class—all types of customers come here. Now the police do not cause a lot of troubles.

If customers ask, we give them condoms to use. My daughter is studying at Dehradun. I take pills not to have a baby. If I become pregnant, and if I like, I will keep the baby. Otherwise, I will have the abortion. Till now I have never had an abortion.

I came here for my own interest. I belong to Bangalore. My relatives or parents do not know what I do. My mother is old and I do not know even whether she is alive or not. I have never returned home and even never tried to do. I keep on sending the money for the education of my daughter.

After I work for six or seven months, I will go to see my daughter. I will stay for four or five days at the hotel and spend my full time with my child. I will take my child for a picnic. Then I will come back here. I live here for my own interest and happiness.

Whatever the income may be that I get here from the customers, I spend it on myself and save for the future. I do not give anything to the owner of this floor. I sometimes sing and dance. I do not have a license. I have an interest in money. So for me, any type of a customer is welcome. I do not select the customers. I attend to everyone. If a customer is poor, he gives me ₹20. At least I can save these twenty rupees. Whatever money a customer gives me, I always accept it with happiness.

We are afraid of sexual diseases. If we have some problems, we take medicine. We go to the hospital for a check-up. It is better to deliver a child than the abortion. Those who dare the abortion, even in their old age, they realise their faults for doing the abortion.

I will work for one or two more years. As long as I am healthy and alive, I shall take care of my child and her education. I know many people. I have also saved the money and I will try to increase this money. So I do not worry about myself when getting old. If I spend a lot of money on my food today, then how can I save the money? I sometimes eat a chapatti with only sauce and chilli.

I am illiterate. I had an interest in the dance. But nowadays I am short of breath when I perform the dance. There was the time when people used to give me ₹1000 or ₹2000 for my dance performances.

In my life, there has been no one I am interested in. When the customer says ‘I like you. I love you’, I never believe these words. If this work is banned (stopped) by the government, I will feel happy.

In my room, there are around 20 girls who live for their own interest and happiness. All the girls here wear good clothes and eat well. Here both Hindu and Muslim girls are mixed. Even if my heart says ‘yes’, I don’t want you to take a photograph of me.

Image Source: Majority World/UIG via Getty Images.

Mumtaz’s Customer

I am a student and doing a diploma in electronics. I come here to meet Mumtaz. I bring my friends here to have sex with these girls.

A Second Customer

We come here for the entertainment. I spend more than ₹5000 every month to present gifts to the girls or pay for sex. I have an auto parts business. I have one friend whom I love here. I will marry her even if my parents do not allow me to.

Rupali

Girls are in this line/profession because they are sold by someone. Sometimes parents sell them. Some come due to constraints. Husbands sell them. It tends them 10-20 thousand bucks.”

After collecting these stories, there was one other aspect of their lives that I noticed. Many of these women have children. They bring up their children by themselves in very unhealthy circumstances. They worry about their children’s futures. They said to me, “If our children are brought up in these circumstances, our daughters will be prostitutes and our sons will be pimps.” They only want to give their children a good education.

Featured image for representation only.
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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.

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