There is an unwritten code of conduct among the sex workers at the Swami Shradhanand Marg, the city’s age-old red light area, where business has slowly resumed. Only regular clients are entertained; they need to wash their body with sanitisers and they should wear masks and gloves.
Sitting on a narrow stairway are Guddi and Kajal. Their lipstick and kohl are markedly visible, as is a mask around their neck. They are ready, but the business is grim. “For the last few weeks, we have been getting ready but there is hardly any guest. One in a day or two; that too, not a regular occurrence,” complained Guddi, as Kajal went to the window facing the main road. “ Abhi kuch din se hi khade hona shuru kiya hai [We’ve started standing at the window only a few days ago]”, she chimes in.
At this moment, a lean youth wearing mask and spotting jeans, a blue check shirt and sport shoes climbs up. The women check him thoroughly. He is then splashed with sanitiser from shoulder to toe and then taken inside.
“This is the only way to at least feel safe. They are sanitised completely. Also, we mostly don’t entertain new guests,” said Guddi.
In another brothel, the women revealed that several of their colleagues have left for their hometowns.
Rupa, who arrived here from Bengaluru 15 years ago, held her one-and-a-half-year-old son Rohit as she sat on the stairs. She was unkempt and without make-up. “No one has been coming, so what is the point in getting ready? There are hardly any girls left also. Men only come when there are more girls. Let’s see when the situation gets better,” she said.
So has been the case at a ‘posh’ brothel, which offers ‘mujra’ every night. The cook and caretaker, who identified himself as Inderjeet, said that many women have left for their villages. And those living in Delhi return to their residence every morning and return late evening. “Ours is a very selective clientele. These days, they call and inform in advance if they are coming. Those we don’t recognise are not allowed to come upstairs,” he said, standing in a huge room on the second floor of the building. The “selected and old clients” also take care of the needs of the brothels, he added.
Surviving, not thriving
“Everything touched by the client is sanitised, including the doorknobs and edges, chairs and sofas. In fact, there are some clients who have been associated with us for years and take care of our essential needs,” he said.
Talking about essential needs, all the women The Hindu spoke to said that they’ve had no hassles in managing the food. Every 15 days, they are provided with ration, which they can collect from government schools. “Everything, including sugar and tea leaves, is provided. None-essential expenditure is taken care by some means or the other,” said Kajal.
Inderjeet, however, said that while business has come down significantly, the area lights up after sunset and “hasn’t lost its glory”.