Business shrinking, Budhwar Peth sex workers turn to part-time jobs

Sasikala recalls the Budhwar Peth she was brought to nearly 30 years ago a huge crowd of clientele and less number of sex workers, who, unlike now, didn't have to stand on the roadside in skimpy clothes to "market" themselves. "Thanks to the overcrowding of sex workers and a deep decline in footfalls, the sheen of this red light area has been lost," feels Sasikala, 52, who has stopped doing sex work recently to work as a paramedical staff with an NGO.

"Over the years, the number of people visiting brothels has come down drastically and this year, it was the lowest. Unlike now, clients used to treat us with respect then. We had sufficient money in hand and life was much better," she says. Pune's red light area in Budhwar Peth is said to be the third largest in the country and home to 5,000-plus commercial sex workers.

Like Sasikala, some of the sex workers have either switched to other jobs or do part-time jobs to meet ends. "We don't get enough customers now. The rates too have come down. I have two daughters to take care of. Also, I am not in good health," says Geeta, 34, who has switched to laundry work.

Seema Waghmode, director, Kayakalpa, an NGO working with sex workers in the area, says many approach her seeking part-time jobs. "The amount they get at the end of the month is not even enough to return the money they owe their brothel owner."

Blame it on the economic slowdown or frequent raids, several shop owners in the area, whose main source of income are the "customers" of these brothels, also feel that the volume of crowd has declined drastically. "Any time of the day, there used to be a huge crowd here. But over the past few years, the crowd has thinned and this year it was the lowest. Our business is mainly depended on those who visit here and needless to say that we too are affected," says Kabir, who is running a tea shop in the area for the past 15 years. According to Kabir, the missing sort mainly includes professionals, politicians and policemen.

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