Mumbai, Aug 29 : Residents of a south Mumbai colony wedged in a red-light district have raised a banner of revolt against the sex buyers who haunt the brothels situated there practically 24x7.
Several social and non-political groups have launched a poster campaign in the tainted streets, bordellos and even the Ganesh pandals, cautioning people against the spread of coronavirus and discouraging sex-hungry men from visiting the houses of ill-repute.
Members of the Kamathipura Vyapari and Rahivasi Ekta Committee, Sainath Mitra Mandal Rukesh Girolla, and social workers like Sandeep Sable and Suresh Pabba, supported by the youth in the area, have virtually painted the red light district of Kamathipura by sticking over 250 large posters as part of the campaign.
In Grant Road East, Kamathipura is also home to one of the earliest red-light districts in the country, going back to the late 1700s, which never sleeps. It allegedly functioned on the sly even during the pandemic lockdown during the past six months.
"We have written to Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, our local MP Arvind Sawant (Shiv Sena), Municipal Commissioner I.S. Chahal and other dignitaries about our problems. But so far there is no response," Girolla told IANS.
As the unlockdown phase continues, the upper middle-class residents are now worried that the world's oldest profession may again flourish openly as the brothels officially 'unlock' to welcome their depraved customers.
"We are trying to ensure this doesn't happen as we don't want our vicinity to turn into a Corona hotspot. We, the people, are united in this resolve, but need help from the government, civic bodies and the police," said Girolla.
Pabba said that in Kamathipura -- spread over 42 acres, with a population of over 40,000 people -- there are around 1,500-odd commercial sex workers (CSWs).
"There have been 203 Covid-19 cases in this small area so far. All common services are shared with them like shops, vegetable vendors, milk suppliers etc. We have come out of it with immense efforts and don't want any more infection in the area," Pabba said.
"The CSWs are spread in specific buildings in the 48 gullies (lanes). Then there are the pimps, drug-peddlers and liquor vendors. Before lockdown, they were frequented by an average of 6000-8000 customers daily, but during lockdown the figures dropped by nearly 50 per cent," said Girolla, whose four generations have lived here for over 150 years.
Playing the lead role to keep the area Corona-free, Raj Mudra Pratisthan's Sable warned that its not possible to keep the virus at bay with masks, sanitisers, gloves or condoms alone, since 'physical distancing' becomes a joke in sex-trade.
"It's a dark reality since outsiders visiting these brothels can easily infect the red-light area and then the entire local community. If schools and colleges can remain closed, why should sex buyers be permitted to roam around freely? It is hardly an essential service, and must shut completely," Sable urged.
Girolla rued that since over two centuries, the locals have borne the stigma of the address with names like Grant Road, Kamathipura, Shuklaji Street, Pila House etc., which raise red-flags in the minds of people and ruin the job and marital prospects of the locals. "Our girls and women cannot move out without being leered at or solicited," he said.
"Once in Dubai, I was shocked to learn that the local Arabs had also heard of Kamathipura. We are used to strange looks from people when we give our address. But the area has transformed, there are highly-educated, middle and upper-middle class respectable citizens, among them many doctors, engineers, professionals, businessmen -- and we want the area to remain uninfected also," he declared.
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