Diwali lights up Budhwar Peth, brings together sex workers, police, ‘outsiders’

The view of the red light area in Budhwar Peth on Saturday evening was different from the usual one. Shehnai could be heard playing, rangolis were being drawn and Diwali lamps had lit up the alley otherwise crowded by commercial sex workers (CSWs) and their customers.

Arguably for the first time, the CSWs, police and citizens from 'outside' were celebrating Diwali together in Budhwar Peth. In an attempt to bridge the gap, Faraskhana Police, who have jurisdiction over the red light area, had invited over 3,500 CSWs to celebrate Diwali over 'faral' (refreshments).

A 50-year-old brothel keeper from Budhwar Peth said, "Some of us have no families, some have been ostracised by our kin. We do celebrate every year but we miss our families. It really feels great when someone from outside joins you in the celebrations. We come in contact with the police when there are raids or there is some crime. But this is different."

A 25-year-old CSW said, "I had drawn a rangoli last year in front of our building. But this is a different feeling. We know that society will never accept us back but such events come as a pleasant change."

Senior police inspector Bhanupratap Barge, whose initiative it was to organise the programme, said, "When I took charge at Faraskhana police station, I had called for a meeting of CSWs. I had asked them for three things - that they will not keep underage girls, that they will inform us about forced prostitution and that they will not stand on the roads outside Budhwar Peth. There has been commendable cooperation from them on all three fronts. We also wanted to take a step further to build their trust and reciprocate their support."

He added, "We decided to invite them for Faral. We also invited dignitaries from various walks of life so that there is interaction. It is our feeling that better communication leads to better policing."

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