Though the decades-old sex trade continues on Garstin Bastion Road (GB Road) near New Delhi Railway Station, life for the women and girls here is not business as usual following the several arrests of brothel “managers” and “owners” in the past few months and a Supreme Court order to shut down two brothels. Barring “customers”, others are eyed with suspicion.
A volunteer with Shakti Vahini, an NGO that works for AIDS prevention among sex workers in the area, said, “Though there is enough trust between us and the brothels, even we are unwelcome now.”
The SC on Friday dismissed a plea by the women residing in two brothels, challenging the Delhi High Court’s direction for their eviction from the premises following their conviction under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act (ITPA).
Rishikant, a member of Shakti Vahini, said, “The irony is that the people fighting against the shutting down of brothels are equipped with top lawyers, while the victims who are rescued once in a while, have no one to back them. Who is paying the lawyers to fight in court? Certainly, it is not the girls who work at GB Road, but the people who run the brothels. Now that the court has issued an order, the SHO of the area can barge into the brothels and seal them. But have they done that?”
Swati Maliwal, chairperson, Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), said, “The court has said that if the authorities fail to clamp down on the brothels even now, there is no other way we can bring trafficking to an end.”
According to Shakti Vahini volunteers, there are around 3,500 sex workers in 93 brothels in the area. The number of sex workers varies from time to time. A volunteer said, “It is mostly during the winter season that the demand increases and the traffickers bring more sex workers here.”
Shilpi (name changed), a sex worker at GB Road who was trafficked from Nepal 12 years ago, said, “I was 16 when I came here. An uncle in my village told me that he’ll help me get into a good school in Delhi but I was brought here. I was devastated. They would beat us when we refused to cooperate, locking us up for days. Once you develop trust with the brothel owners, life becomes easier.”
Chandni (name changed), another sex worker, came to GB Road from Chennai some 22 years back. “Somebody told my mother about getting a job in Delhi. Arrangements were made and we arrived here. My mother did not know that she was being cheated. She died after some years working in the brothels and I was alone. At 11 I attended to a customer. Things are better now since the NGOs help us a lot,” she said. Though Chandni couldn’t escape, Subhra managed to keep her daughter away from the brothel. Subhra seemed reluctant to reveal who brought her here. “He told me that he’ll help me get a job in the city. My husband had died and there was no one left to support my family. I wanted to feed my two daughters and so I came here with him. But I did not know that I was being fooled into flesh trade. Life inside a brothel is hell. You can’t get out, once you arrive,” said Subhra, adding that if a worker here develops an illness, the brothel abandons her. Subhra’s daughter studies in a hostel and is supported by an NGO.
A Shakti Vahini volunteer said, “The health of sex workers has improved a lot now as they are practising safe sex methods. We also conduct blood tests of the workers every six months to check for STDs.”
Maliwal said, “We are aware of the various places in Delhi where trafficking is done. Girls from different states are brought first to the outskirts of South Delhi, where they are first raped. After the girls are ‘tamed’, they are distributed across the city. This is shameful. The DCW has started toask various local agencies to look into the ownership of GB Road brothels so that a legal discourse against the right person can be started. We want the clampdown on the overall trafficking racket, but it can only be achieved in steps. As for private escort services advertised in newspapers, I’ll ask my team to keep a record of such ads.”
All the sex workers The Sunday Guardian spoke to said they knew the person who cheated them into flesh trade, and that they would leave the “profession” if assured a secure future.
Rishikant said, “This is an organised industry that runs without any accountability. Nobody knows how many women die because of unnatural acts they are forced to perform. Nobody knows because nobody cares. We welcome the SC order and hope that illegal trafficking will be checked.”