Wednesday, July 2, 2014

‘Achhe din yahan kabhi nahi aayenge’

Two months ago, in the sultry humid heat of Mumbai’s Kamathipura lanes—infamous for its ‘red light’ area—I stood on a rickety narrow lane waiting for the campaign rally of former Congress MP Milind Deora to arrive. Election fever was high, and amid the fast building ‘Modi fever’, candidates from all parties were thrusting in a little extra effort to win voters’ heart before the polling day hit.
Anticipation was bubbling in my blood, I was curious to see how politicians interacted with sex workers. The lane on which I stood had dim yellow Chinese lights adorning 100 by 100 square feet rooms stacked like tiny matchboxes on either side of the road.
Just then, a woman, in her mid-thirties, stepped out of her door. With a ragged deep-blue lose nightgown, she looked anything unlike a sex worker. Thwarting the common notion of sex workers wearing bright red lipstick, gajra in their hair and vibrant sequin laced saris, she simply stood with her thick wavy hair tied up in a bun looking evidently desperate for a man to step into her room in exchange of a few hundred rupees.
She looked at me with calculating eyes. With laptop bag hanging on my right shoulder, a notepad in my hand and anxious stares pressing in from all around, she knew I was in a foreign land.
“This is not a place safe enough to stand for long, people will think wrong about you. What are you doing here?” she asked me. “I am here to cover the election rally, I am a journalist” I replied, to which she loudly laughed and said, “Madam, politicians don’t come to this part of Kamathipura. They will visit the residential areas. They don’t have the balls to stop and talk to us.”
Intrigued, I decided to talk more to her—Manisha, was her name. Her husband had kicked the bucket several years ago after which she shifted to Mumbai from Delhi to sustain her young boy. With no money in hand, distant relatives not interested in supporting her, and no source of employment (she was uneducated), entering the sex trade was the only option left for her.
“I am in this business for over eight years now. It’s not really that tough, Men enter our room for ten minutes and I earn my bread and butter. My boy can go to a school to study,” she explained the logic quite simply. While she earned in thousands few years back when their business was booming, she confided that with policemen doing far too many rounds now, truck drivers and waiters (her usual clients) are scared to enter the lanes. Her income has shrunk to a few hundred now.
I glanced at her room. Through a few inches gap between the curtains, I could make out three other women sitting inside. They take turns to occupy the room, Manisha explained. Whichever woman a man chooses to sleep with gets to take over the room for the required time during which the others wait outside. “Cost of renting a room is very high,” said Manisha, who, despite the hardships and frequent shame she is subjected to by the cops, looked steel faced and self dependent.
The world here was different. Unlike other assembly pockets where politicians could touch topics of water, shelter or inflation, these lanes had a realm of issues which were uncomfortably out of a politician’s gambit to probe into. The women here wanted a fair share of respect for them and their kids, no politician could buy that for them.
To top it all, the red light area in Kamathipura is majorly a population comprising migratory crowd. Women from the north have shifted here in search of employment. Therefore with no voter’s card, they hold no importance for several politicians. Their number is insignificant to create a dent in the votes.
A week was left before the polling day and not even a single politician had stopped by to interact with these women. “They don’t care whether we live or die. And we don’t care who wins or loses,” said Salma, another sex worker who joined us shortly afterwards. She was close to fourties, and I knew she had only handful years left before she would hit menopause and lose her clientele. “We have several issues but we don’t depend on politicians to solve them. We find our own way out,” she said.
On ground, these women don’t have a government for their well-being and despite all this they don’t criticize like we do. “Roads are horrible, the food prices are soaring, there is no cap on inflation….blah blah,” is what I hear everywhere. Over here, there is just one issue-- “We don’t have money to survive”—to which they have found a solution on their own.
Sex work is something they have accepted gracefully.
“I know neither BJP nor Congress will do anything for us. We have to earn on our own. In the last so many years, no politician has stopped by and talked to us. Even if they enter this lane during their rally, they purposely keep their heads straight, smile and walk away,” said Manisha. I was surprised to know that these women had never heard of the struggling Aam Aadmi Party, let alone knowing who its candidate from South Mumbai was.
The cops show no mercy either. Every alternate day, they round up men and women and demand Rs 2,000 from each. While sex workers in Kamathipura earn Rs 800 per day on an average, shelling off Rs 2,000 is beyond their capacity.
I decided to come back again and check on them post elections.

Now, a month after BJP has strongly taken over the center, I called up Manisha. As confident as ever, she said, “I told you nothing will change for us even if the government changes. Achhe din yahan kabhi nahi aayenge.
And I knew she was right. This job-less sect has been conveniently forgotten and left to fend on its own.
(Pictures courtesy: Prashant Nadkar, The Indian Express)


onlymittal said...

What solution do you think of to tackle this problem? How can we help these people?

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