Ganga Jamuna sex workers fight to stay, officials firm to sweep prostitution from Nagpur's red-light area
Two weeks after Nagpur Police Commissioner Amitesh Kumar cordoned off Ganga Jamuna, the red light area in the city, life has come to a standstill for sex workers who reside here. The police, Mayor and civic authorities want to rehabilitate the prostitutes. However, they haven't received much support. Asianet News tries to deep-dive into the problem.
Nagpur: The lanes inside Ganga Jamuna are dingy. As you step into these narrow lanes, an empty, barren feeling hits you in the gut. The red light area, which got its name from two dancers who were brought to the city many years ago, now wears a deserted look.
History reeks from every nook and corner of this rundown locality. The houses are clustered with small windows and enclosed balconies, stoned roads and pavements with stairs for easy access for customers. Nothing has changed in the place ever since Ganga Jamuna came into existence; it's gloomy and dark.
Once teeming with people (and customers), Ganga Jamuna has been cordoned off by Nagpur Police Commissioner Amitesh Kumar after residents filed complaints of illegal activities in the red light area. Section 144 has been imposed in the area, and prostitution is strictly prohibited. Police Commissioner wants to eliminate prostitution from the city completely to prevent minor girls from being pushed into flesh trade and life-long servitude.
The city police is now set to issue a fresh notification related to Ganga Jamuna under section 7 (1) (b) of the Immoral Trafficking (Prevention) Act (ITPA), 1956. This notification would declare Ganga Jamuna as a 'public place' within the radius of an educational institute, MSEDCL office, few religious structures, schools and hospitals. Hence, prostitution would be declared illegal under the law.
Barricades have been put at the narrow lanes that restrict customers' movement in the area, with cops standing guard at each stop. The Police Commissioner has allowed residents to continue with their lives without denying them essential services and facilities.
Sex workers lament the loss of livelihood
It has been more than two weeks since life came to a standstill for sex workers in the red-light area. With no other source of income, young girls and older women residing in the area are grappling with a grim future without an alternate source of livelihood.
Ganga Jamuna, a 200-year-old red light area, has been notorious for flesh trade activities for the past two decades. Today, silence grips the area. Police Commissioner Amitesh Kumar is firm on his decision to stop the flesh trade activities in the Ganga Jamuna. Speaking to Asianet Newsable, he expressed his full sympathy for the sex workers but reiterated that he will not put his guard down for minor girls who are still alleged to be trafficked in the stinky brothels.
"At no cost do we want illegal activities to surface in Nagpur. So as the first step, we have issued an order under section 144 c of CrPc, prohibiting people from entering the red light area for indulging in flesh trade," he said.
When asked why the barricades were put up, the officer said, "Barricades were not put up to restrict the freedom of people of that area. It was primarily to facilitate 'police bandobast' so that no one enters the area for flesh trade. We also issued an order under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, notifying a few establishments and public places, as, around a 200-meter radius of those structures, prostitution cannot be carried. It is basically to implement the law in the city. Hence Nagpur Police has taken specific steps."
Amitesh Kumar further said, "People were saying that minors were not found in that area. We have looked at the prime situation in that area in the last ten years. And minors have been forcefully thrown into prostitution by certain pimps or brothel owners. One must understand that running a brothel is illegal under the Act. There are innumerable brothels in the area. The owners of these brothels are the people who have been opposing this police drive. We have full sympathy for the sex workers. We have committed to having the sex workers rehabilitated along with the other departments of the government. We are also taking help from an NGO, and we are committed to ensuring rehabilitation of these poor sex workers."
'Who will take the responsibility?'
Apart from the local sex workers in the red light, social workers of Saheli Sangh from Pune have come to lend support to the prostitutes as they struggle to earn money. Vanita Mane (33), from Saheli Sangh NNSW Pune, said, "I have come from Pune, and I want the Ganga Jamuna to be opened soon as it is the only source of income that these sex workers have. They have kids; the family has to pay expenses now. Who will take responsibility for the same?"
Aruna Dhanawat, who is 26 years old, feels that the impromptu decision taken by Nagpur's police commissioner has taken a toll on her life. She wants to continue this business as that's been her livelihood. "Why were we not asked before the red light area was cordoned off? If we had to leave this place, we would have left before. We will not be accepted in the outside world as we have spent years living off our bodies. We will not be respected. We will not be able to live a dignified life."
However, Aruna wants police to take strict action against those to trade minor girls, "I want the police to thrash those who bring young girls into prostitution. They should be put behind bars, but we are older women. We have chosen this life for ourselves."
Manisha (34) feels that survival has become a question. Sex workers have stopped the education of their children as they have no money left to send them to school.
"The red light area should be opened. My life has turned upside down. I need money for medical treatment; from where will I bring the money now? They have always made fake promises, assuring better life for prostitutes, but nothing has ever changed. I do not want to leave this place at any cost," she said.
The premises within a distance of 200 meters from the above referred public places shall not be used for prostitution. At this moment, it is declared that violation of the notification will attract prosecution of such violator, under Section 7 (1-A), Section 7 (2) (a), 2 (b) and 2 (c) of PITA and relevant Sections of law, depending upon the nature of the violation.
Expressing her views about the same, another sex worker, Kiran, said, "Ganga Jamuna has been there since the time of Rajas in Nagpur. What came first? The area or the 200-meter law? We do not sell our bodies; we offer sex. And I want it to be looked like a profession."
Coronavirus had already taken a toll on the lives of these sex workers. A lot of their savings have gone into medical treatment, essential commodities, and they were looking forward to resuming their work.
Nagpur Mayor Dayashankar Tiwari feels that pulling sex workers out from that area to a better life will require a lot of hard work, followed by counselling. He further said that the women were very stubborn and did not want to leave the brothels.
"According to the police investigation, minor girls are still bought in the brothels. They are locked in rooms, tortured and pushed into prostitution. These activities also have the support of 'gunda element', which is degrading the environment of the city," the Mayor said.
"In 2012, we had sent a person from the Social Welfare Department there to make a Budget for those women so they can be brought into better professions. But we found no support from them. The psychology of sex workers has to be treated with better counselling so they can open wings for a better life," he added.
Apart from sex workers, there are children who are living in a terrible situation.
When asked about the education of these children, the Mayor said, "I run a school named Nityanand, where we have children of sex workers studying. Support will be granted to these children, and NMC will always be supportive of their future."
The officials think it is a long process to make the sex workers understand how to live a better life with better jobs. On the other hand, the women in brothel houses are stubborn and do not want to leave the area. However, the officials are firm on their stand too.