New Delhi, Apr 6 (PTI) The streets outside are empty and desolate, the quarters above crowded and claustrophobic as women sex workers wait out the 21-day lockdown with no money, no milk for their children and no medicines for ailing elders.
The one-kilometre stretch from north Delhi’s Ajmeri Gate to Lahori Gate -- once known as Garstin Bastion Road, or more famously G B Road, and now renamed Swami Shradhanand Marg -- is home to 1,500 women packed into about 100 brothels located above street level shops.
The situation is getting desperate, said the women of one of India’s largest red light districts. The threat of COVID-19 had already led to clients dwindling and the lockdown, which began on March 24, has rung the bell of doom, pushing them further into the easily forgotten fringes of mainstream society.
“We were already living in hell and the coronavirus has made our lives even more miserable. No rations, no income and now our health is at stake due to this pandemic,” said one of the women on the condition of anonymity.
A flight of stairs, dank with corners stained a faded red from years of people spitting out ‘paan’, leads to her cramped, cabinet sized room in which she lives out the long days.
In some some of the brothels, about eight to 10 women share a 20 ft by 40 ft room, making social distancing, an imperative to ward off COVID-19, a joke in such a confined space, said many of the women, conscious that they are vulnerable to contracting the infection.
They have no food, no milk for infants and no medicines for their elders ones, they said. Besides, there has been no sanitisation. Nobody has come either to make them aware of the dangers of the infection, some of the women added.
Shalu, who came from Darjeeling after the death of her husband, said she has run through all the money she saved in the last one year in the first week of the lockdown itself and is worried about how she will manage in the days to come.
“Nobody came to help us in the first week. I had a few savings but it is all spent now. Police or some NGOs sometimes come to distribute food at the road but it’s not always edible,” Shalu, who wanted to be named, told PTI.
“People had stopped visiting here when they heard about the corona outbreak. Women here have had no income for almost a month now. The most worrying thing is authorities are least concerned about their health also,” added Nasreen Begum, who is from Bengaluru and has been living in G B Road for about two decades.
A medical mobile van that would come to the area twice a week with medicines has stopped. Many elderly sex workers who are suffering from problems such as blood pressure, diabetes or heart ailments don’t have money to buy even the most basic medicines, she said.
The Delhi Commission for Women last week sought a response from Delhi Police on the inhuman conditions prevailing in the brothels of G B Road.
Iqbal Ahmed , secretary of the Delhi unit of the Bhartiya Patita Udhar Sabha, said the women are unable to avail the benefits of any government scheme as most don’t have ration cards, Aadhaar cards or bank accounts.
“Nobody came to give them any guidelines to them on how to deal with the coronavirus. The area is not sanitised. They are following whatever they got to know from TVs and mobiles. Some of them managed to buy masks and sanitisers but not all have money.” he said.
Taking a potshot at NGOs, he said many had come to the area but only for photo ops.
“Many NGOs come here with full of promises but they take photos, distribute things to a few of them and do not come again. Some are genuine also but they are unable to reach each of them. Now we are getting raw rations from few organizations but the problem is how to cook. They do not have gas or kerosene,” he added.
According to the Sabha’s estimates, women below the age of 30 earn Rs 10,000 to Rs 30,000 per month. Of this, they get about 40 per cent. The rest of the money goes to brothel owners who provide them with accommodation, security, water and electricity.
Women over 35 years manage to barely Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000 a month. Most of the women in G B Road right now are in the 35-plus age bracket. Many of them have children.
The problem is not of sex workers in Delhi alone. The situation is the same in other cities in the country, said Khairati Lal Bhola, president of the Bhartiya Patita Udhar Sabha, who has been receiving calls from over a dozen centres across the country.
“I have been receiving calls from Mumbai, Surat, Chennai, Hyderabad, Varanasi etc. There are more than 1,100 red light areas in India and around 30 lakh sex workers live there. Their problems have increased manifold due to the coronavirus and the lockdown,” he said.
He said he had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Health Minister Harsh Vardhan in February itself, anticipating the situation.
“The health concerns of these sex workers should be addressed properly. They should get health cards so they don''t face problems in hospitals due to their infamous addresses,” he added. PTI MJ MIN MIN MIN
Disclaimer :- This story has not been edited by Outlook staff and is auto-generated from news agency feeds. Source: PTI