PUNE’s OLDEST red light area -Budhwar Peth- is home to over 7,000 female sex workers. For many like 38-year-old Mary D’Souza, despite having given up sex work, she calls her life ‘a living hell’, constantly working to make ends meet and deal with HIV-related sickness.
“I have forgotten how many times I have been in and out of hospital. Main tang aa gayi hoon(I am really fed up of life),” she says. She earns Rs 7,500 per month at an NGO -Kaya Kalp- authorised by the Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society to provide targeted interventions to more than 1,000 female sex workers at Budhwar Peth.
“70 years since Independence, but for whom? Not for people like us,” she says. Her thought is corroborated by others.
“I have been in sex work since I was 14. My relative brought me from Goa and sold me to a brothel owner here. I soon got detected with HIV. My eldest daughter also got the virus. I adopted another girl who was orphaned but did not have HIV. Both are studying in Mumbai and staying at a hostel run by a charitable NGO. I had a son too but since I was severely ill in the hospital and doctors said there was no chance of survival, some friends told me to give him away. I must have been really sick and sure of dying but today, I regret giving my son away for Rs 2,000. The only comfort I have is that he has been adopted by a German couple. I long to meet him but he no does not know about me. Such is life,” cries Mary, who has to pay Rs 3,000 for a small room where she stays some 15 km away at Katraj.
“My eldest daughter and I were both unwell last year. While she recovered I had another severe bout of pneumonia. I have to keep taking drugs, sometime they are available, at times we are told to wait. There is no money and I cannot buy other drugs,” says Mary who now as a peer educator goes out into the community and talks about the need to prevent HIV.
There are various problems the sex workers face and even those who who give up sex work, hoping for a better life. The country needs to give us a second chance for a decent life and should kill discrimination, says Mary.
“Last two years have been so tough. Payment of salaries was delayed and it becomes difficult to purchase drugs from the private sector. I am on second line of treatment and at the government facility, most of the time they are out of stock,” she says.