Stretching for more than a kilometre from Ajmeri Gate to Lahori Gate, the Garstin Bastion Road, infamously known as GB Road, one of India’s biggest red-light areas, wears a deserted look these days.
Out of around 4,000 sex workers, only 25 to 30 per cent are holed up in the shabby floors of nearly 100 ‘kothas’ (brothels), braving the fifth week of lockdown only to stare at an uncertain future.
In fact, the daily footfalls during the night at kothas had begun shrinking since the spread of dreaded coronavirus hit the headlines in early March. By March 23, when India opted for the ‘Janata Curfew’, the brothels at GB Road had almost silenced.
“Most of the sex workers are from far off states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Assam. Apprehending trouble, they left for their native place by the time lockdown was enforced (on March 25),” said Rajkumar, a 29-year-old pimp who works for a brothel owner at GB Road.
GB Road has a score of two and three-story buildings which have shops on the ground floor and brothels running on the first and second floor. At Kotha number 54, around 15-16 sex workers, mostly from Nepal and West Bengal, have opted to stay back.
“We are living here from last 25 years…and have no place to go,” a 54-year-old sex worker Sangeeta (name changed) told a news agency adding: “No one visits this place anymore. We are left with no money. I do not even have money to buy a shampoo pouch”.
When asked how they continue to survive, she said that government workers come every alternate day to provide ration.
“We got 2kg of wheat flour, 2kg of rice and half litre of edible oil in the morning. Similarly, few NGO workers also visit us. They have provided soap, mask. Sometimes they also provide vegetables and other stuff,” she said.
Story of Geeta (name changed) is no different from what Sangeeta has revealed. In Geeta’s case, the problem is more about her children who have stopped going to a nearby school run by an NGO.
“I am worried about their schooling. Besides, I have no money left, to buy them milk,” said Geeta who looks after young girls, lodged on the second floor.
These girls perform ‘Mujra’ (a traditional kotha dance) and are also involved in flesh trade. Two to three girls are still staying at Kotha number 54.
“They are staying here because they could not decide to leave before the lockdown. So they are stuck,” said Geeta.
While Delhi’s elite call girls have mostly switched to payphone services on private chat lines in the season of social distancing, the sex workers at GB road are usually victims of human trafficking and come from remote areas.
“Even during lockdown, a few of them desperately search for customers to make ends meet. But the entire area is shut. Moreover, the roads are barricaded by us. We do not allow any movement here,” a local sub-inspector said on the condition of anonymity.
However the sole reason for a complete shutdown of the brothels is not just the lockdown.
“Customers are scared because this (coronavirus) is an infectious disease. Tell me who would like to take a risk?…do gaz kee doori ne sahab, hume maar daala. (The norm of two yards of physical distancing has devastated our livelihood). Now it’s uncertain whether customers would flock to us after lockdown ends…I hardly see any hope,” said Rajkumar, who has yet to earn a penny since lockdown.