Sex workers from quake-hit Nepal are stuck in Delhi’s brothels
Anasuya Basu | March 12, 2016
Beware of pickpockets’ is written in white against a dirty betel-leaf-stained wall as you walk up the dark, dank staircase of brothel number 64 on Garstin Bastion Road or GB Road, Delhi’s famous red light area. This fourstorey brothel with 25-odd cabins is the haunt of about 400 sex workers from Nepal who, after the devastating earthquake last year, have lost hope of going back home as nearly one million Nepalis are reported to have been pushed below the poverty line.
With the increased pressure of sending money to the villages to reconstruct and rebuild homes and lives, Nepalese sex workers here have little option but to continue to work from these badlylit pigeonholes and are often bullied by their pimps to get younger girls from home that now stands ravaged by the earthquake. Parvati, a feisty 16-year-old, loudly argues with her customer, shaking him by the arm and demanding more money for the services rendered. “You paid for half an hour and carried on for an hour. Why will you not pay extra?” she fumes. Parvati’s father died in the earthquake and her mother does odd jobs to support her three siblings. She needs to send money home every few days and will not cut a bad deal. Hema worked as a bar dancer in Thamel, Nepal’s tourist hub with a number of dance bars and massage parlours. Her dream of working as a telephone operator in Delhi quickly turned into a nightmare when her boyfriend sold her to brothel number 64. “I have spent five years in this hell. I have to entertain anything between 12 and 15 men a day and only get '350 per customer. I wanted to go back, and somehow would have paid for my freedom but there is nothing left of my home in Thamel. What do I go
back for?” asks Hema hopelessly as she dresses up for the night.
Kamla, a 20-year-old girl, was brought from the hill district of Salyan in Nepal by a distant relative with the promise of a job as a sales girl in Delhi. She is mother of a two-year-old girl but is not sure who the father is. “Men don’t like to wear condoms when they come here. Some want to use condoms but most don’t. They say they have paid to have sex for pleasure. I don’t take customers if they are not willing to use protection,” says Kamla. She insists that she is HIV-free and so is her daughter. Would she like to go back home? Kamla shakes her head.
“I will send my daughter to my mother and pay for her upkeep and education but I cannot go back. Who will give me a job in Nepal?” Kamla asks as she gets up to greet a regular client.
The hall has about 30 girls heavily made up, wearing tight-fitting clothes and sarees, waiting to do business.
Some are absent-mindedly watching the flickering images on TV fixed at a height on the wall. It is 8 pm. Customers are sauntering in, negotiating rates and the regulars here seem to know their girls and disappear into small cage-like rooms without wasting time in small talk.
According to Tamanna Khan of Delhi State Aids Control Society, girls from Nepal earn good money, attract wealthy and somewhat educated clients, are eager to know about sexually transmitted diseases and HIVAIDS, and look after each other. “We provide free condoms to all brothels in GB Road. We distribute about 60,000 condoms per month to the girls from Nepal. They have access to doctors and gynaecologists regularly. It’s a relationship based on trust and we don’t raise any contentious issues with them,” says Tamanna.
Rakesh Senger of the NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan says that cases of human trafficking in Nepal have increased by 50 percent after the
April 25 earthquake as per a Nepal police report released in June. Security personnel on both sides of the Indo-Nepal border have increased vigilance to intercept and apprehend suspiciouslooking men accompanied by groups of women or girls trying to cross the border
“We have credible information from our contacts across the border and also local contacts that traffickers will increase their activity and make a dash into India avoiding the normal trade routes,” says VH Deshmukh, inspector general, Sashastra Seema Bal,
a paramilitary force guarding the border.
Uttar Pradesh shares a 619-km long porous border with Nepal making it difficult to check traffickers. The UP government took the lead in sounding an alert, as early as May 1, to all stakeholders to increase vigil in the aftermath of the quake and ordered combined monthly meetings between SSB personnel, UP police, NGOs and other stakeholders as well as Nepalese security personnel and NGO Maiti
Nepal to share intelligence. Other measures to bolster anti-trafficking efforts include putting up large hoardings at all checkpoints with helpline numbers, installation of CCTV cameras at all checkpoints, upgradation of shelter homes for victims and making digital records of traffickers with iris identification.
Rishi Kant, co-founder of NGO Shakti Vahini that works for rescue and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking, says, “Our trained personnel in Delhi regularly check buses and trains coming from certain areas of West Bengal, Bihar and UP as traffickers constantly invent new tricks to evade detection. No matter how many girls we rescue, traffickers find new ways to bring girls into brothels, dance bars and use them
for making pornographic videos all over the country. Every day we win some battles and lose some.”
As the night comes down on GB Road, the chatter of customers and girls of brothel 64 fill up the hallway where deals are negotiated. For many, going back to Nepal is a distant dream and for some, Delhi is their new home.
(The story appears in the March 1-15, 2016 issue)
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