The inner life of GB Road

Wed, Jul 23 01:25 AM

To many in the city, life is an array of difficult choices. A recent survey by the Delhi Commission for Women on 400 sex workers of Garstin Bastion Road revealed just that.

More than 41 per cent entered the trade out of poverty; 39 per cent of them of their own will. Over 57 per cent confessed to substance abuse and only 50 per cent use condoms.

However, statistics are impersonal. I wanted to hear the stories of the sex workers from their own mouth.

One evening, I went to GB Road, climbed the stairs, knocked at the door and walked into a kotha - and into a living room. There were around half a dozen women.

None showed disappointment when I confessed that I had no money and that I only wanted to chat. We all gathered together and started talking.

Soon I was drawn into a world which seemed heartrending and repulsive from outside but appeared almost 'normal' in this living room (clean curtains, paintings of Mecca and Ganesha, chai cups, children scampering around). The sex workers, I discovered, live a pretty bourgeois life.

They have children who go to MCD schools and old parents who await money orders back home. They booze, catch new releases at Golcha, hang out in Central Park, and buy vegetables at Seetaram bazaar.

They, too, have problems with the ration shop (the kerosene oil is always diluted) and cops (prostitution being illegal, harassment is a constant threat). According to the survey, most of the sex workers in GB Road were from Andhra Pradesh - 28.7 per cent.

Incidentally, the lady, let's call her Yasmeen, who was the chattiest with me came from a desperately poor village near Bangalore. She came here around 15 years ago to support her family.

Now she has two sons. One wants to be a lawyer; the other a maulana.

Besides being enrolled at the MCD school, a tuition master comes in the evening to teach them English and Maths. But business is not good and Yasmeen earns only around Rs 5,000 each month (Rs 1,500 goes for children, Rs 2,500 for make-up; Rs 500 for rent; Rs 1,500 for the family).

Worse, she is getting older and that would mean less income. Nowadays, they get most customers only on special occasions - like Republic Day, Independence Day, or during political rallies when rural men come visiting the city for a day or two.

It is the immediate future that Yasmeen is really worried about. However, she says that she does not need any sympathy and that she is grateful to Allah for all the happiness that she has been able to snatch from the hands of destiny.

Let her be.

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