In an interview, a sex worker living in the Ganga-Jamuna area of Nagpur, Maharashtra, expressed her concerns about the recent sealing of the red-light area. She said that she was not only worried for herself but also for her children. “We don’t have money to pay fees for our children. With an earning of 10,000 to 15,000 rupees per month, how can one run the family? There are over 25 people in one family. How do we eat? We have not eaten for the last five days. We have been sitting hungry and have even fallen sick.”
On 11th August 2021, the police commissioner of Nagpur, Amitesh Kumar ordered the city’s red light area Ganga-Jamuna to be sealed off from the public. 15 out of the 16 access points were shut and Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was promulgated in the area. However, this situation has left the workers of Ganga- Jamuna without any means or ways to earn a living.
The 250-year-old district has now become a prison for the residents. Due to the implementation of Section 144, the residents of the area are not allowed to step outside of their homes. Moreover, nobody from outside is permitted to enter the area. The Indian Express reported that the area has been barricaded due to complaints filed by nearby residents, citing that sex workers lure minors from different parts of the country.
Thus, the Nagpur police intervened, quoting the The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act of 1956 and has registered 355 offences in the district out of which 16 include minors. The police has also reported that 109 children have been saved from the area.
To protest against this arbitrary implementation, the sex workers of Ganga- Jamuna took to the streets. Headed by Jwala Dhote, they protested against the lockdown in dissent to the stoppage of their means to livelihood. They demand further investigation into the child trafficking allegation. One of them says, “If underage children are being brought for sex work, please investigate. But the older people should be allowed to continue their work.”
However, as mentioned before, the residents living in nearby areas filed a complaint against the sex workers. Abha Pande an NCP corporator is heading an action committee which has demanded to put an end to the activities taking place in the Ganga- Jamuna area. Pande remarked, “We will not let anyone do flesh trade here. The court has already ordered closure of the brothel and our demand is that it must be implemented. They can live here peacefully by doing something else for a living, but they can’t run a brothel.”
According to Amitesh Kumar, the main reason for closing down the area was with a view to also to rehabilitate the sex workers into society. He believes that since the women weren’t taking him seriously, he had to resort to drastic measures to showcase his point of view. He says, “I will not allow illegal sex work and trafficking of young women and children into the flesh trade.”
In response to the rehabilitation of sex workers, Jwala Dhote said, “We have a right over these houses. We have the registry. We pay the tax. So the question of rehabilitation doesn’t arise. Before this injustice, if they asked us to understand nicely about rehabilitation we have might have even gone. But now the question of rehabilitation doesn’t arise.”
In this context, it is pertinent to note that the concept of rehabilitation itself is extremely problematic. By closing their brothels and stopping their economic activities all of a sudden, they are being forced to come out of their routine livelihood and amalgamate into a whole new society.
But for them to rehabilitate, an effort has to be made from both sides. The concept and the process of rehabilitation falls apart because the society holds on to its prejudice and views sex workers with a moralistic eye. For them to effectively be rehabilitated, we as a society have to let go of our stereotypical attitude and stop discriminating against them in social spheres once they are absorbed into other avenues of employment.
Otherwise, not only would we have rendered them jobless but would have alienated them more by destabilising their finance, social standing and mental health. Speaking on very similar lines, Jwala Dhote said, “No woman should be forced to do anything like prostitution to eke out a living but unless they are provided an alternative, they should be allowed to sustain themselves.”
This unfortunate incident has brought to light the plight of sex workers in our country. They are the victims of a hypocritical society which frowns upon them in broad daylight but exploits them by the night. The “norms” of our society have alienated, ridiculed, and pushed them to the edge.
Closing down brothels without phased out, clear plans of social, financial and cultural rehabilitation will not only snatch their right to earn and maintain a livelihood, but also create counter productive repercussions.
Featured Image Source: The Free Media