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Delhi shines, but red light area in darkness (IANS Special)

New Delhi, July 5 (Calcutta Tube) An old Bollywood song, ‘Parde mein rehne do, parda na uthao’ rings the air as you walk past the brothels of G.B. Road. The veil of neglect and apathy is yet to be lifted in the city’s oldest red light area even as work is on to beautify Delhi ahead of the Commonwealth Games.

The area, now known as Swami Shradhanand Marg near the bustling Kamla Nagar wholesale market, wears a dingy look – with its inhabitants saying nothing has changed for them and they are used to being ignored.

‘What development? We are an ignored lot. Look at the condition of the roads, our houses and us,’ Shehnaz (name changed), a sex worker who came here 16 years ago from Bangalore, told IANS. She is among the nearly 4,500 sex workers who live in the G.B. Road area.

Hidden behind hardware shops on the groundfloor, entry to the brothels is through dark, dingy, beetle-stained stairways. Inside, the story is the same — of dejection and rejection.

They say though they are looking forward to the Commonwealth Games in October, development is yet to reach them.

‘The authorities are not doing anything for us. When we have to fight to survive every day how will we prepare for the Commonwealth Games? We know it could offer us good business,’ added Poonam (name changed) in her early 30s. ‘We were hoping for some change in the area.’

Like the brothels, the narrow and cluttered roads, are in a bad state. They are usually packed with curious onlookers, looking up at dolled-up sex workers – some young and some not-so-young – who stand on the balconies.

According to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), they have no renovation plans for the area. ‘There are no plans for renovating the G.B. Road area for the Commonwealth Games. No work is going on there,’ said its spokesperson.

Some sex workers have taken the initiative themselves.

Out of the 116 brothels in the area, seven brothels have been renovated – some housing even fancy lights, air-conditioned rooms, tiled walls and granite staircase. Obviously that’s one reason they attract more clientele.

A look at the ‘few famous’ done-up brothels proves the point. The climb up the stairway of one brothel reveals beautiful green-and-white tiles and leads to a packed house.

‘We renovated our brothel not just as a preparation for the Commonwealth Games. We get good clients and this place should come up to their expectation. Otherwise, they will not visit us,’ Ritu (name changed) told IANS.

She said she had heard that some sex workers are being taught basic English to greet customers.

‘A few NGOs and even journalists tell us how to greet in English. Words like hello, sorry, please come inside, welcome,’ she added.

Iqbal Ahmed, working with the NGO Bhartiya Patita Uddhar Sabha, said: ‘The streetlights don’t work at night, the drinking water is not clean and the garbage is often not picked up, forcing us to hire sweepers on our own.’

While owners of the the newly renovated brothels are doing well, others find it difficult to eke out a living.

‘I have two children. Every day it’s a struggle. If our surroundings had been given a makeover or we had some money to do it like some have, we would have benefited. But I don’t have much hope,’ said Saira (name changed), who came 10 years ago from Bihar.

But she said: ‘Foreigners are curious about us. Maybe, they would like us…’

(Sugandha Pathak can be contacted at sugandha.p@ians.in )

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