GB ROAD GETS THE HEALING TOUCH

For the 4,000-odd sex workers in Delhis red light area, a Drop-In Centre has become a place of rehabilitation

AMBIKA PANDIT IN TIMES OF INDIA

Sex workers line the steep flight of stairs leading to what used to be brothel number 5207. Like the 108 other brothels on Swami Shradhanand Marg more commonly called G B Road, the capitals largest red light area there was a time when exploitation and police raids hounded 5207.

Then, in 2001, the Delhi High Court stepped in to seal the space. And what used to be a brothel, is today a place of healing.

A Drop-In Centre and a health centre for the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases , which opened in April this year, allow sex workers to step out of their brothels. Theyre now turning 5207 into a space that is becoming their own. They play, sing, dance, watch television, and share their pain with one another.

G B Road is home to about 4,000 sex workers.

One of them, 50-year-old Lalima, glows as she conducts a session on sexually transmitted diseases at the centre. Brought from Kolkata by a relative when she was 12, she was forced into the trade. She grew old, got tuberculosis and was thrown out. But she did not give up. She did odd jobs like grocery shopping for sex workers to be able to scrounge together two square meals a day.

Lalima is well now. Healthy. And she is now a peer educator at the centre, acting as a bridge between counsellors, doctors and sex workers. Lalima says she wants to fight for the rights of women like her who were forced into a life they had no wish to be part of. Lalima lives on the footpath, but tries to save a little from the Rs 1,500 she earns every month for her daughter who lives in a hostel and knows nothing about her mothers life.

Sex workers in bright makeup peer out of the small windows of the brothels across the road, while those at the Drop-In Centre look a very different lot. It is difficult to imagine that when they leave the centre after an hour, they will go back to their daily lives.

Nagma and Aarti are engrossed in a game of carrom, but turn around long enough to say they find peace at the centre. To them, freedom means one hour at the centre, one time a week.

The Drop-In Centre and the health centre have been set up by the NGOs Shakti Vahini and Indian Medicine Development Trust and is supported by Delhi State Aids Control Society (DSACS).

Most of these women are from poor homes, and were either forced into the trade by circumstance or tricked into it. Later, they were driven into the brothels by pimps and madams who lead the nexus, says Rishikant of Shakti Vahini.

Under the Targeted Interventions Programme put together by DSACS and NGOs we felt educating sex workers about HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease was not enough. So, the sex workers who looked keen to stand up for their rights, we turned them into peer educators, says Rishikant. He adds that there are as many as 34 peer educators at the centre now.

Taking Stock

GB Road, officially called Shradhanand Marg, is the capitals red light area Over 4,000 sex workers live in 108 brothels housed in 24 buildings The sex workers are mostly natives of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Orissa, UP and Bihar. At least 30% of them are from Nepal 32 of 536 women surveyed tested positive for HIV in 2008-09 About 25 lakh condoms were distributed in 2008-09 Only 30% of sex workers were provided presumptive treatment for sexually transmitted diseases

Source: Shakti Vahini

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