It’s barely noon but Rekha aka Shantivati, 17, a sex worker on GB Road, is worried. She needs to service six clients by the end of the night, to make enough money for her fix of drug.
The footfalls in New Delhi’s red-light district, GB Road have drastically decreased, or so it seems to the commercial sex workers (CSWs) who occupy the various 50-odd kothis. When the clients do come, they bargain hard. “Amma (her brothel owner) could ask for Rs 800 for me because I’m young and beautiful but now every customer who comes will bargain and bring the price down to Rs 500. On bad days we do business for even Rs 200,” she says. Rekha also reveals that instances of violence have gone up in the last six months. “We have to deal with all kinds of clients. Some of them beat us up and now if we complain, even our pimp beats us up.”
For those who operate along the highway, hitching a ride with highway travellers and servicing them for a meagre Rs 100 or Rs 200, survival is difficult. Babita, 40, who works off Najafgarh village says fewer people stop by for sex now. “Earlier we used to get lots of men. Now, even on the highway, we don’t get so many ‘passengers’.”
NGO Apne Aap Women Worldwide that encourages these women to send their children to school confirms the plight of these sex workers. “They are dependent on alcohol and lie about a lot of things, but as you can see it’s hard for them to eke out a living.”
But for Babita, the scarier thing is to fall off the map. “Sometimes some girls never come back home. I hope they have gone to another village to start another life and it’s not what I fear the worst — death.”
Shonali (named changed), a high-class call girl, at the other end of the spectrum is hit hard as well. “Lets get one thing clear, I’m only doing this for the money. So if I am not getting what I want, I might as well just take a break and do something else,” says Shonali, who’s been in the industry for five years now.
At 5 feet 10 inches, Shonali is every inch the model that she claims to be, and the money she makes by being a call girl sustains her lifestyle. She says she has serviced up to three men in a day and pocketed a cool Rs 90,000, but now things have really become difficult for her. “I now barely get four clients a week and that too if bhaisaab (her pimp) is in a good mood. Earlier, I could choose,” she says, adding that she sometimes thinks that if she’s only earning Rs 40,000 a week, she might as well get a regular paying job. “At least that will mean sustained regular income.”
But the one worst hit is the pimp Ahmed, aka Sunil. His phone does not ring even once during our two-hour conversation. “Earlier, customers would call every five minutes asking for this or that type of girl. Ab dekho, I get only about 20 calls a day,” says the pimp who has been operating for a decade.
The pimp who supplied over 40 call girls a day to rich clients, Ahmed’s income has taken a beating. Ahmed used to charge a minimum of Rs 20,000 to a maximum of Rs 1.5 lakh. Today all he can demand is roughly Rs 35,000 for his most beautiful girls and if he’s lucky he’ll be paid Rs 10,000.