Havisha Khurana, a summer intern at PFP from St. Stephen’s College, visited Kat Katha at GB Road, an organization that works with the sex worker community there. While the visit was part of an ongoing project, Pratiti, her experience and reflections are much more diverse.
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“I want to go to GB Road”, a plea I have narrated ample number of times to different individuals, who have always turned me down for different reasons. When I asked my best friend at school (who had already visited GB Road once) he said that it wasn’t a suitable place for girls and I might be considered as a sex worker, thus, he won’t take me along. Then, another male friend of mine responded similarly, however, he promised that he would take me when he has his own car, because it’s fearful to walk there. On entering college, I asked my girlfriends the same and they all went pale and freaked out; telling me that it’s too shady to visit and they were all scared.
Why didn’t I go on my own? There were two reasons. One, I didn’t know the location and was stupid enough to not use technology to support me. Two, I didn’t know how brothels operate? I mean, I have only seen one in movies, according to which everything happens on the street. The clients and the workers both interact there. I was clueless as to what will happen if I go there. Will the clients think of me as another option and the workers as a new competitor, or will I find a pimp out there, or blah blah blah, a lot of imaginary stuff. Thus, I always wanted to go in a group because I felt safer. No, I wasn’t scared of anyone individually, but the ambiance that existed in my head panics me.
Recently Aditya took a group of his interns (at PfP) to GB Road, and I was among them. Well, I never rely on destiny but I surely believe in it. How was the place? It felt like another zone. We got down at New Delhi metro station and took the Ajmeri Gate exit, the road was 5 minutes walk from there. It looked like any hardware wholesale market (we went in broad daylight), however there were long narrow staircases adjacent to these shops, painted in dark colors and above the shops were dull-colored houses where the clothes were hanging. So this was it, the brothels were right there. In most brothels, there was a shady-looking-uncle with a cigarette standing at the gate, must be for security reasons I thought to myself.
As I passed by I peeped in at all the stair-cases, just in case I see someone. And in some weird-lame sense I was lucky. In one of the brothels, I saw a man coming down and two women, one behind the door so I could only see her face and the other adjusting her green petticoat and brown blouse, smiling flirtatiously at the man. My breath stopped there for a second. I came in terms with my imaginations, which no longer were in my head but in front of my eyes. In another such brothel, I could only see legs of girls sitting there and chitchatting. Well it wasn’t a just-for-wandering trip; we went there to mobilize about our new program, Pratiti. We went to a NGO, called Kat Katha which worked with sex-workers and kids in the red light district of Delhi. It was located on the third floor and the narrow long stairs suggested that maybe a brothel operated there as well. Or possibly, that was the architecture of all the houses there.
The NGO felt like someone’s home who loved to paint and decoration. The kids there colored flowers on the walls. There were two rooms in total, one much bigger than the other. There was a ‘wish wall’ in one of the rooms, where anyone who wants can pen down their desires. The kids were very enthusiastic to see us (or maybe they are otherwise also); running all over the place, taking coloring books and were so keen to learn. Everyone present sat on the floor and introduced themselves, following which we told them about our project, Pratiti. I addressed two people during my time there. We discussed about each other’s lives and what all we do apart from talking about the program. And I could see something in their eyes, which reminded me of someone I once knew; there was pain and the longing to be accepted.
One of them was gay and kept asking me if it was even possible for someone like to acclaim his identity. Fear filled him as he shared how he couldn’t talk to his parents about it and how lonely he felt. Moreover, he said that he can’t be a part of the project because he had no money for the travel expenditures and was not prepared to call himself what he thought he was. The other lady I met was constantly looking at me, as if trying to find her youth in me, figuring out where and how it went and telling herself it has gone far from her approach. Didi told me how she enjoyed their trip to Ahmadabad and that she can’t focus on her work anymore. Initially, she was reluctant to go there because of the fear of her family, but after she came back she wanted to go and touch the outside world more often. I then asked her why she doesn’t go out often. She said that it wasn’t easy for them, they don’t have ample money and their families don’t know about their work so she has to be extra-cautious that no one sees her in the area. She then asked me if my family knew I was here, to which I said yes and told her that they support me. Well, I said this to raise her spirits and hope. As far as my family is concerned, they never asked and I never told. Somehow, I could see both the expressions of sadness and amusement on her face, it made me silent.
It was six by the time we left. We were there for almost three hours. Aditya told me that it was time for their work to begin. I asked him if we could stay longer, and he told me that it is a very normal trade, where the purchaser goes and asks for the commodity and gets it. It’s a market of a kind. Hearing his reply, I knew he misunderstood. Like everyone else, he must have thought that I was amused to be in such a place and see how it functions, not his fault though I never came openly about my intentions.
It all started a few years back, I was a normal prostitute-phobic girl till the day I myself was called a ‘slut’ by someone I refused to go on a date with. I kind of ignored his comment, because it didn’t mean anything to me. However, things worsened when he started to spread it, he frightened to take pictures of me with my then boyfriend and show it to my parents. What I did? Ignored him, I wasn’t scared by his empty threats. But he took a different path, instead of telling my parents he spread it in my school, and then I heard a lot of people calling me a slut on my back. I couldn’t figure out why I was being called such a name. Not only this, one of my juniors asked my best friend why he wasn’t using me for hs physical desired as I was such a slut. It did impact me for a short duration of time, and then I understood how ignorant and mindless the society around me is. That boy, my schoolmates and my junior didn’t know what they said, and probably said that because no one ever told them what it meant, they just thought it was ‘cool’ to give a girl such names, and I pity them(seriously). But this incident made me empathize with prostitutes and I noticed how they were captured in the vicious cycle of hypocrisy.
It was then I decided to know them better and understand what it meant to be called a ‘whore’. So that day, when I was walking down the lanes of GB Road, all these memories crossed my mind, and I felt an urge to meet them, to tell them to not hear what others say and that ‘I respect them more than I respect anyone else’. I wanted to hold their hands and talk to them like old friends, sharing all the happiness and sorrows. But, will that ever happen, will they ever open up to me, trust me to hear. I am not sure, seriously not. And I was reminded of the plan I made long ago; someday when I am old enough to not answer anyone for my deeds, I will go to one such red-light area and become a worker there and communicate with these beautiful ladies. I think it might sound stupid, but for some reasons I believe I will do it. When we head back for our home, I got down at Rajeev chowk and everyone else went ahead on the yellow line. I stood there for some time and thought if I should go back again. I didn’t. I wasn’t scared but aware of the fact that I wasn’t yet independent and didn’t want to bother someone for my choices. “One day, I will”, I promised myself hence shutting all those memories within me, yet again.