Clad in a printed pink synthetic sari, Meena stands listlessly at the entrance of Lane 10 in Kamathipura, mixing tobacco and slaked lime in one hand, observing a couple of drug addicts arguing close by. A pinch of the well-mixed tobacco goes into her mouth. Of indeterminate age, her face may have been an asset a long time ago. A commercial sex worker, Meena was sold to one of the brothels several decades ago. Since then, she has lived in the lanes of Kamathipura, soliciting clients every day. Until last year, she had owned a kholi, but was forced to sell it after a developer forged documents and demanded that she leave.
With no permanent room in the area, she has a tie-up with a lodge owner—a room on a daily rent of Rs 50 per client. Meena does not price herself too high, and earns Rs 150-200 per client. Sometimes, the lodge owner demands free sex. Her story finds an echo across Kamathipura. “They are kicking out all the sex workers from Kamathipura. Anyone who gives us rooms is being harassed by the police. Raids are regularly conducted on the lodges, and cases registered. It is difficult to get kholis here anymore,” says Meena, spitting the tobacco at an already spit-choked corner. Commercial sex workers like Meena are fast becoming casualties of the Maharashtra government’s ambitious redevelopment plan for the area.