Don’t judge a book by its cover. Garstin Bastion Road, better known as, GB Road, looks like any other market in the older parts of Delhi. But still, you meet people asking you not to wander because it’s unsafe. 

One man told me,

Don’t go right now. Come in the morning. There are drunkards walking around looking for their pick. They might confuse you to be one. 

For those of you who don’t know what GB Road essentially is… it’s home to Delhi’s largest red-light area. I felt highly uncomfortable around men who were ‘worried’ about my well-being. 

They were playing cards when my photographer struck a conversation with them. When he went a little ahead, the man hit my arm and repeated,

There are men who could do that to you right now. Don’t go. Come early tomorrow. 

We met a sex-worker on the road, crushing gutka on her palms before she put it in her mouth to chew. We told her how unhealthy a habit it is and she said,

You just get used to some things… get addicted. Like I am addicted to my work. It has been 10 years since I have been working. I like it now. 

I spoke to some who told me they are looking for a way out of this business. But there’s no way of earning, if not like through prostitution. One sex-worker I met, told me that even when they go out to find work, when people get to know that they are from GB Road, their attitude changes. She said,

Those who hire us want us to have sex with them, for free, when they find out that we worked at G B Road earlier. It’s really embarrassing.

I think this was when she felt I was being ‘sympathetic’ towards her, it irked her perhaps and she refused to talk any further. She walked back to the entrance of the brothel to get back to work.

There were all sorts of men walking up to me to ask me my rate, trying to get handsy. I guess, the men I met at the beginning, weren’t wrong after all. I was scared, I felt defenseless, I kept questioning my decision of going to GB Road after dark and I couldn’t wait to leave. 

But there were times when I felt safe – times when I was with the sex-workers. They paid extra attention to not let the men say or do something to me. They saved me from the prying eyes of the men hanging around. The company of a man, my partner, didn’t stop the men from making me feel uncomfortable, but they didn’t dare come too close when I was standing with these women. 

And suddenly I thought maybe they run the place, getting customers of their choice and enjoying the ownership of their body. However, they brought me out of my daydreams,

We live like shit. Even when customers misbehave with us, the police beats us up because they think we have no rights because we are filthy. Ganda kaam karrte hain. There are girls who have customers, who they think are their boyfriends, because they pay the madam in lumpsum for her and earn her body. Mostly these men do it because they don’t want ‘their women’ to sleep with others. Kahaan kuch karr sakte hain hum aise mein?

While there is no doubt that these women suffer, the men on the road had a different story to tell. They told us that the police don’t ever listen to ‘these prostitutes’ (should have seen the disgust one his face), because they deserve it. One of these men said,

They would steal everything on you if you go there and are scared. Half the men don’t even go to police station as they think the police will make fun of them. Which man wants to admit being mugged by women, by prostitutes?

I can’t be a judge of who was right and who wasn’t, but from what they told me, I know that they are denied basic rights cause of their address and their implied profession. Because of the negativity associated with G B Road, the women living there were not able to open bank accounts, get ration cards or Aadhar cards. 

A Supreme Court panel was formed in 2011, to look into the status of sex workers in the country. Last year, they recommended that sex work should be given legal recognition in India to emancipate the women living a life of perennial indignity. 

The recommendations included issuance of ration cards and voter IDs, admission to the children of sex workers government schools, rehabilitation be made a right for those who seek it. The panel also recommended that a scheme should be made to protect, rehabilitate, provide livelihood alternatives, and prevent re-trafficking of sex workers.

In 2014, the Election Commission decided to change the address on the voter ID cards of the residents of G B Road – that until then read just GB Road – to it’s official name, Swami Shraddhanand Marg. The women, however, feel this change hasn’t helped much. One sex-worker told us,

No one comes to ask us for votes. No one wants to make us any promises at all- fake or real. We have voter ID cards and thanks to EC, we can cast our votes now, but what’s the point, really?

The women know their line of work will never be accepted by the society, the way the society perceives it will remain the way it is. But they hope the government helps them enjoy their basic rights, as human being and Indian citizens. 

All photographs were clicked by Ahmed Kamal for ScoopWhoop.

Source for the feature.