Police gear up for influx of sex workers during Games


New Delhi: With the Commonwealth Games less than three months away, authorities in New Delhi are gearing up for a spurt in cases of prostitution and trafficking in women.  A host of non-government organisations, tour operators and police department are coordinating to keep tabs on the expected influx of sex workers. The Indian Association of Tour Operators (IATO), an umbrella body of over 1,500 hotels, tour operators and lifestyle services providers, have asked the Tourism Ministry to keep a check on such activities.

IATO president Vijay Thakur said, “Prostitutes from different foreign nations masquerading as tourists would book short tours to India. As it is difficult to restrict their entry at our end, we have recently asked Tourism Ministry to keep a check on them.”  He disclosed that such sex workers come from countries like Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Chechnya and Kyrgyzstan besides others.

“There is a need to check such activities and hotel owners should be vigilant,” he added. Several NGOs too have warned the government that the Games, scheduled for October 3-14, may be seen as a big opportunity for prostitutes to make quick money.

“There is a huge possibility of trafficking in young girls from tribal areas in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka besides other states,” said Rishikant, Convenor of an anti-trafficking NGO Shakti Vahini. The NGO recently rescued young girls from Railway Stations and Inter State Bus Terminals (ISBTs). “These girls are sold to touts in different brothels of city’s infamous G B Road area,” said Rishi Kant.  According to latest Home Ministry data, about 3,600 cases related to immoral trafficking of women were registered by different state and Union Territory police forces in 2007.

To check entry of foreign sex workers, some NGOs have urged Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and External Affairs Minister S M Krishna to ensure that visas are given only after checking HIV status of tourists. It will help in checking prostitution and possible cases of STD (sexually-transmitted diseases),” said Khairati Lal Bhola, president, Bhartiya Patita Uddhar Sabha, an NGO working for the welfare of sex workers.


NACO’s condom ad comes of age, addresses premarital sex


Shopping at the mall, dinner, a long drive — a beautiful date, but nothing more. After all, condom nahin toh kuch nahin. For the first time, the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) has tried to address the growing concern of premarital sex with its latest advertisement campaign to promote condom usage.The new campaign, launched on January 28, has been produced by BBC World Service Trust. NACO has spent a whopping Rs 7 crore to book air time on radio and TV channels for a month. The advertisements will be on air till February 28.

The radio advertisement features a post-date conversation between two girls. While one girl tells the other about her date — shopping, dinner and long drive — the other asks her what happened afterwards. To which the first girl replies: “Kuch nahin. Condom nahin toh kuch nahin.”However, the TV advertisement, which will be aired at prime time, is more conventional, sticking to the marital sex formula.

In the past, NACO has always used advertisements which only refer to marital sex. “It is refreshing to see an advertisement which is minus the usual markers like mangalsutra or wedding ring or a sari-clad women. The advertisement is in keeping with the times, and encourages the youth to be careful. It is a bold move on NACO’s part. Premarital sex is a growing concern and needs to be highlighted, but the message is for the urban youth,” said Rishikant, an HIV/AIDS activist working for Shakti Vahini, an NGO focussing on promoting awareness amongst commercial sex workers.

But authorities at the Health Ministry maintained that the campaign does not refer to premarital sex. “We have been trying to normalise condom usage. Our key concerns are avoiding unwanted pregnancies and Sexually Transmitted Diseases among the high-risk population. There is no mention of premarital sex,” said Mayank Agarwal, Joint Director in charge of NACO’s condom promotion campaign.

“The campaign is based on research which points to low-risk perception among people, which is the leading cause of few people choosing to use condoms. The entire idea is to promote information about safe sex without getting dragged into a morality debate. The focus is on providing information so that people can choose to have safe sex,” said Priyanka Dutt, project manager, BBC World Service Trust.The advertisement marks the latest phase in the three-year mass media campaign to make condom use more socially acceptable. It was preceded by the internationally acclaimed “condom ring tone” campaign.


Study tour of Police initiatives in India


National police officers and National AIDS Programme heads from Cambodia, Maldives, Mongolia, Philippines, and Sri Lanka visited India last mnth to get a firsthand experience of law enforcement initiatives on interventions related to high risk populations.

Organised by the UNAIDS India office with support from the Regional Support Team of Asia-Pacific, the 16 participants visited and interacted with programme staff of police-initiated and supported projects in Kolkata and New Delhi. The purpose of the Study Tour was to learn the approaches of and lessons learned from law enforcement efforts for sex workers and injecting drug users and their vital role in creating a supportive environment for HIV interventions.

In Delhi, the participants visited Shakti Vahini, a non-governmental organization (NGO) working with sex workers on GB Road, one of Delhi’s oldest red light areas. Personal interactions with sex workers provided them with first-person stories of the realities of brothel-based sex work and the relationships the workers have built with the district police. The Tihar Prison, India’s largest prison, showcased the prison’s innovative and comprehensive programme for recovering injecting drug users, a model programme now being promoted in other prisons in India.

The Toll-free Hotline run by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) – which has a national workforce of a million workers – was of great interest to the group. With the assistance of software developed especially for the project, the Hotline takes calls from police personnel from all parts of India on HIV, sexually transmitted infections, drug and substance abuse and provides addresses of counselling centres and welfare schemes of CRPF. The Helpline has responded to thousands of calls for information and for referrals to counselling services.

In West Bengal, the group travelled from Kolkata to Asansol, a large industrial town with a settlement of sex workers. The project DISHA Jana Kalyan Kendra began its work in 1995 with a collaboration with the district police force with the aim of improving the health and socio-economic conditions of sex workers in the town. In addition to providing health services, vocational and job skills training, and pre-school education for children of sex workers, DISHA has worked with the police in reducing criminality in the community.

In Kolkata, the Study Tour participants visited the NGO Society for Community Intervention and Research (SCIR) to observe their work with people who inject drugs (IDUs). The NGO works in the community of Tiljala, the largest slum settlement in Kolkata. It offers educational programmes for children, livelihood training for IDUs as well as an oral substitution treatment programme.

The projects covered in the Study Tour gave a novel perspective on the role of the police sector not only as law enforcers but also as community enablers. Given the legal and judicial frameworks in the countries represented by the participants, these innovations gave rise to challenges on how they may be replicated in their countries. The Study Tour, as a South-South learning opportunity, demonstrated encouraging prospects of police leadership to break new ground.



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


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