Millennium Post

Those forgotten corners of Grant Road

If statistics tell a story, it is a grim one.

In 2007, the ministry of women and child development (WCD) said there are over three million women sex workers in India, with over a third entering the trade before they turn 18.

According to estimates, around 1.5 lakh girls in Mumbai alone are victims of trafficking- mostly from other states but many from Nepal and Bangladesh, among other countries, as well.

Maharashtra recorded the highest number of child trafficking cases in the country between 2007 and 2010, followed by West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi, then minister of state for home Jitendra Singh informed the Rajya Sabha in March 2012.

According to National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data, a total of 2,12,318 child trafficking cases were registered across the country in those years.

According to a presentation on human trafficking made by Vandana Krishna, principal secretary, Maharashtra’s WCD department, Mumbai has the highest sex access points, with brothels in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai located mainly in ‘25 geographical areas’.

It also identified 103 ‘pick-up points’ near rail and road networks.

In contrast, there are only two women’s shelters in Mumbai’s suburbs, another two for destitute women and as many protective homes, where bar girls are sent after court orders. There are in all two such centres in Mumbai city.

In Greater Mumbai, a megapolis of over 1.8 crore people and with more person per square metre than anywhere else in India, these 25 ‘geographical areas’ trap hundreds of women and girls each year. That is where Madhavi and Smitha ended up not so long ago- while the former, though not strictly operating in a brothel, got into sex trade to feed her infant son after her husband left her, the latter was packed off to Kamathipura by an agent.

A resident of Andheri, a Mumbai suburb where the affluent and the unfortunate live in close proximity, Madhavi had married when she was barely 18. Her family cut off ties with her, and Madhavi’s cup of woes had just started filling. Soon, her husband dumped her and left for his village in Uttar Pradesh. Madhavi took a train with her children but got on a wrong interconnecting train. She eventually returned. Unable to go back to her parents, Madhavi was sent  with the railway police who  took her to Kasturba  women’s shelter in Chembur, where she got a job as a social worker.
She made some friends there but says she had to leave over a petty issue. Her daughter died after a brief illness when she was there. With ‘no money and debts to repay’, Madhavi took the job of a part-time household help at a home in Santacruz suburb.

Madhavi worked there for two months when she heard from another woman about sex services that apparently helped the latter make more money. ‘I had no money and had to take care of my children.  So I decided to go and meet this lady in Santacruz, who ran a brothel in her house. Every time I slept with a man, I earned between Rs 1,500 and Rs 3,000. I saved a decent Rs 60,000-Rs 70,000 of it,’ she says. She quit after a few months and went back to being a part-time maid for a monthly salary of Rs 3,000. But just over a year ago, she fell prey again, and got caught in a police raid. A year in detention at a woman’s shelter, the 23-year-old is now desperate for freedom- to be back with her son, who is looked after by her sister, and to pursue a course in nursing, for which she had undergone vocational training at the shelter.

Smitha, on the other hand, did not have to make any choices, for she had none to make. Separated from her mother at her village in Tamil Nadu at nine, she was left to work at a woman’s home in Chennai by a relative since the family was extremely poor. Beaten at the house regularly, she fled and was ‘helped’ by a stranger- ‘a woman’, she emphasises bitterly- who took Smitha to Grant Road, where Mumbai’s red light area is located, and left her with eunuchs. ‘They put make-up on my face, left me with a man who beat me and raped me when I cried and begged him to let me go. Every day, customers hit me, bruised me with their nails, bit me, burnt me with cigarette stubs. And they all raped me.’ Eventually rescued by social workers from a city NGO with police help, Smitha found protection at a children’s shelter in Deonar and, subsequently at St  Catherine’s home inAndheri. Turning 18, she checked out of the home and went to her village. Her mother, she learnt, had died of TB. Now 27, Smitha is a social worker and helps rescue other girls trapped in flesh trade.

While prostitution is often called the world’s oldest profession, in India it is not of the sort where a sex worker can leave with ease and, more importantly, be rehabilitated. Though both Madhavi and Smitha have left the profession, their journeys since have also been just as starkly different ever since: the former still in detention and the senior woman actively fighting to ensure others do not meet her fate.

According to Virochand Rawate, a member of the child welfare committee (CWC), Mumbai Suburban, most women- as also underaged girls- rescued go back to sex trade and are often re-rescued. He says a measly five per cent sex workers are rehabilitated.

Pravin Patkar of the NGO Prerana says, ‘archaic rehabilitation measures’ provided at shelters for rescued women- like making candles and agarbatti (incense sticks), or refilling phenyl bottles, filling chalk fodder in cask to dry out, etc- offer no long-term sustainability in the market. ‘The profit margins for low-income products being very low, he says such measures offer no rehabilitation,’ he says. Patkar’s NGO works on rehabilitation of sex workers through education and training, as well as emotional and physical recovery for women and rescue of minor girls. Advocate Manisha Tulpule, a former advisor to the statutory committee on the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act and member of CWC’s Raigarh district chapter, has been handling cases of sexual violence against women.

She says, ‘Sex trafficking is an organised crime which has the support of international mafia and politicians. Very often children of sex workers are kept in anganwadis (child shelters provided for by the government). When the girls are brought to rehabilitation centres after police raids, many have already been brainwashed by traffickers not to give statements against them to the police. So the rescued girls often state that they are working on their own volition, and that they want to go back to the same profession. ‘Their rehabilitation becomes difficult in such situations.’


‘There are no protection mechanisms available (for the rescued sex workers),’ says Patkar of the NGO Prerana. ‘The only thing that keeps you out of it is the protection mechanism. But the moment that fails, the girls fall into this trap (of getting back into sex trade)- whether a minor or an adult woman.’ ‘Barring certain token activities there was never a rehabilitation programme by the government or civil society anywhere. Any success story is only because there are private organisations working.

Many good organisations do not have licence because of lack of proper decisions by the state,’ he says.  Based on Prerana’s 1999 petition- filed after 99 rescued girls were lodged in police station since they had nowhere to stay- the Bombay high court sent the girls to shelter homes in Pune and Mumbai and also appointed a guidance and monitoring  committee to supervise their functioning.

By arrangement with Governance Now
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