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Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency: In Delhi's GB Road, democracy fails to light up dark lives of sex workers

In a season when the voter is the king and political leaders of all hues go door-to-door asking for votes — with many undertaking this exercise only at this time — the electorate of Delhi’s infamous red light area, GB Road, is all but forgotten.

None of the three main candidates contesting from the Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency of Delhi, of which the GB Road is a part, has paid the sex workers a visit. These candidates are – BJP’s sitting MP and Union minister, Harsh Vardhan, Congress’ old-guard JP Agarwal and AAP’s backroom strategist and IT professional, Pankaj Gupta. Polling will be held here on 12 May.

There is no change in the lives of nearly 1,850 sex workers of Garstin Bastion (GB) Road – renamed as Swami Shraddhanand Marg – part of Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency, one of the seven constituencies of Delhi.

The women of these brothels haven’t even received voter’s slip, so they might not be able to cast their vote.

 Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency: In Delhis GB Road, democracy fails to light up dark lives of sex workers

Exterior of a brothel on GB Road. Debobrat Ghose/Firstpost

The inmates of brothels living in cramped rooms in the claustrophobic kothas that can aptly be described as pigeon holes see no ray of hope in elections. It’s like the kothas they stay, where no sunlight ever enters.

Narrow corridors flanked by ‘pan’-stained walls after a flight of dark, dingy and steep stairs lead one to these kothas on the first and second floors of old buildings constructed during the British Raj on one side of a kilometre long stretch of the congested GB Road.

Though aware of BJP, AAP and Congress, and about their leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, most of the sex workers are ignorant about the candidates contesting the Lok Sabha election this time.

Of the 10 Assembly segments in this constituency, the red light area on GB Road is a part of Matia Mahal and Ballimaran seats. The over-crowded Shradhhanand Marg that has the largest wholesale market for tools and equipment, is a witness to anarchy due to unruly traffic, lawlessness, hooliganism in broad daylight, overflowing drains, open gutters and lack of parking facility. A passerby can anytime be intimidated by pimps, pickpockets and hooligans, though there are two police posts, including a Mahila Thana at the two ends of the road.

“Nothing has improved in this area in the last several years. There have been multi-fold times rise in goondagardi (hooliganism) and all sorts of criminal activities in this area, which has made GB Road area very unsafe. There are cases of looting and stabbing in broad daylight. Resultantly, the business in these brothels has drastically declined. We’ve been suffering year after year due to poor civic amenities, but no government has helped in redressing these issues,” said Nazreen, a brothel owner, who now voluntarily works for BPUS for the welfare of sex workers of the area.

Sex workers sitting on a pavement on GB Road. Debobrat Ghose/Firstpost

Sex workers sitting on a pavement on GB Road. Debobrat Ghose/Firstpost

The last political leader to have visited the area was former Union minister and Congress candidate Kapil Sibal, who ranked third in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, while Harsh Vardhan defeated AAP’s journalist-turned-politician Ashutosh by over one lakh votes.

“It was during 2014 elections that Kapil Sibal had visited this area and interacted with us including many sex workers. But after that, no one visited, not even Kejriwal, who had made tall promises before elections. In the past, a few politicians used to visit like Congress leader and minister in Sheila Dikshit’s government, Haroon Yusuf. Nothing will change for sex workers, no matter who comes to power,” Iqbal Ahmed, secretary (Delhi unit) of Bhartiya Patita Uddhar Sabha (BPUS) told Firstpost.

BPUS is an NGO founded by activist-president Khairati Lal Bhola (91) that works for the welfare of sex workers. One of the major works done by the organisation was to get voting right for sex workers. Bhola has been demanding legalisation of prostitution or sex trade for years, so that it would free sex workers from the exploitation by brothel owners and pimps, extortion by the police and from the clutches of moneylenders. But, it hasn’t materialised yet.

Till 1947, sex workers were given license to operate, and after 1956, renewal of licenses was discontinued. The sex workers, who are mostly below poverty line, don’t have ration cards.

“Despite trying hard for years, we failed to get ration cards for these sex workers. However, in the face of severe resistance from brothel owners and pimps, we managed to get voter IDs for 1,500 odd sex workers. Though these women cast votes, they don’t get basic facilities like other citizens. AAP government publicised so much about Mohalla Clinics, but there is none here. One has to visit government hospitals or private clinics,” said Ahmed (61), who have been residing in this area almost for four decades and joined BPUS after coming in contact with Bhola.

Sex workers with their faces covered in the GB Road area of Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency. Debobrat Ghose/Firstpost

Sex workers with their faces covered in the GB Road area of Chandni Chowk Lok Sabha constituency. Debobrat Ghose/Firstpost

Issues plaguing GB Road red light area

  • Lack of basic medical facilities. No Mohalla Clinic in the area.
  • No free distribution of condoms. There are no condom dispensation machines. Under the Central government’s AIDS prevention programme, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) distributes free condoms.
  • Most of the time, street lights are dysfunctional, which has made GB Road a safe haven for criminals. From snatching, robbing, drug peddling to intimidation by touts and pimps, and murder – every form of crime takes place even in broad daylight.
  • Lack of parking facility, traffic congestion and overflowing drains.
  • According to residents, the municipal corporation doesn’t bother to take preventive measures during monsoons against vector-borne diseases by spraying DDT and other insecticides.
  • Any address mentioning GB Road on any document itself is a problem for the children of sex workers during school admission.
  • The hooliganism and the unsafe atmosphere in the area have badly affected the business of tools and equipment. The General Machinery and Merchant Association has given several memoranda to the government and district administration for safety and security, but to no effect.

Sahab humey rajneeti samaj nahi aati (Sir, we don’t understand politics). But every time an election takes place and a new government is formed, we pray that they would do something for the unfortunates like us. Instead, we have faced harassment by Mahila Aayog (Delhi Commission for Women) on the pretext of raids,” lamented Rani (name changed) a sex worker who has been a resident of GB Road for the last 18 years.

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Updated Date: May 09, 2019 10:43:01 IST