“It’s difficult to even earn Rs. 200 in a day,” laments Deepa* during my recent visit to GB Road.“Some days I don’t even get that.”
Covid-19’s radical jolt on everyone worldwide has indeed impacted the women in GB Road. During lockdowns, they experienced dramatic financial loss. With no customers, their source of income was gone. Many women returned to their villages, but for those who remained, things were very difficult. They were left to survive on their savings (earnings usually set aside to send to their families) and on the help of NGOs and police who provided rations. For a long time, the brothels were running with a fraction of the normal number of women, and only recently have some ladies started to return from their villages.
Walking down the street on this hot day, we have bumped into Deepa sitting with a group of women outside their brothel, using old Styrofoam boxes for stools. They offer us a box and we sit to join them. Comments about the 40-degree heat turn into complaints about lack of business.
Deepa’s face changes, though, when asked about her family. She shows photos of her little granddaughter dressed up in a fairy outfit, and her eyes light up. It used to be that women in GB Road would tell me about their children, but many women—with wide smiles—are proudly announcing that they are now grandmothers.
The same happens at our next stop. We climb narrow stairs, squeezing close to the grimy wall as customers walk down, our eyes adjusting to the darkness. It’s cooler inside, up off the street. The women sitting in the dimly lit hall invite us in and we sit down on the concrete benches. The only decoration is a clock, a large mirror, and pictures of various deities. Buckets of water are stored under the benches, while around the room sit neatly arranged piles of pots, plates, cups, a mug with toiletry items, and small gas burners. Some women are lying on the floor, trying to catch up on sleep, one woman is chopping vegetables, while others are sitting around chatting.
Asha,* recently returned from the village, fills this room with stories of her own grandchildren: how they love to dance, how they talk with her, and how they easily convince her to buy them the clothing they want. Asha speaks as if she is shocked about her 3-year-old granddaughter’s brazen demands, but it is clear she enjoys being ordered around by this child who has won her heart.
Of course, some things don’t change—Covid or no Covid—and as has happened many times before, the main topic of conversation turns to questions of when will I marry and have children? This curiosity about my marital state always seems a little ironic, considering the horrific ways many women have been treated, not only by the customers but by their own husbands and families. Yet despite this, most women I meet on GB Road can’t understand why, at my age, I am not yet married. I leave today’s visit inundated with renewed offers to help me find a husband and to look after my future children!
As I begin the journey home, I gaze back at the long row of brothels and think of the women inside whom I personally know—mothers and grandmothers, each trying to make her way in this ailing world that longs for love.
*Names changed to protect identity.
NGT’s Atulya GB Road project seeks to come alongside sex workers and transgenders, offering listening ears and loving hearts that give practical help with medical, emotional, and social needs.
To support this effort donate HERE.