A dip in the number of brothel-based commercial sex workers (CSWs) in the red-light area of Budhwar Peth should have been a positive sign. But according to social organisations and NGOs who work for their welfare this is not in any way an end to the exploitation of hapless women.
Though the number has come down from 4,000 to 1,900 in the last one decade,these organisations believe that the flesh trade has scattered from one centralised place to other parts of the city and its outskirts.
Meena Kurlekar,director of Vanchit Vikas,an NGO,said prostitution from Budhwar Peth had been gradually shifting to city outskirts and along highways besides certain pockets of slums. She did not discount the fact that some of the CSWs have moved out of the flesh trade thanks to sustained rehabilitation measures carried out by them.
Many CSWs from brothels in Budhwar Peth have moved to areas like Yerawada,Bhosari and Bundgarden areas, she said. They live in rented rooms and the flesh trade is carried from their dwellings or from hotels and lodges.
Several dhabas along highways like Pune-Mumbai Expressway and those near picnic spots like Sinhgad Fort serve as hotbeds of flesh trade, she said. Activists attribute this change to the stigma associated with the red-light area and also a greater acceptance to prostitution in society.
The red-light area in Budhwar Peth,being in the heart of the city,is difficult to access and customers find it unsafe due to societal fear. There was an outbreak of HIV-AIDS worldwide a few years ago. The fear also gripped the minds of customers visiting Budhwar Peth. The hygiene and cleanliness in this area has always been an issue, said Meenakshi Navle,an activist with Vanchit Vikas.
Flesh trade,meanwhile,too is witnessing a sea change. NGOs say though women from lower-middle class are aplenty in this business,many educated,socially aware women too have joined in the last few years.
In the past,we used to encounter many victims of Devadasi system who became prostitutes for a living. The tradition,which forces girls to worship and service Lord for all her life after attaining puberty,is almost extinct. Therefore,there now exists girls and women who have been into prostitution mainly due to poor financial background, said Vanchit Vikass founder trustee Vilas Chaphekar.
Thrown into flesh trade for want of money,these CSWs have developed some acceptance within the trade and consider it as short-term job. This kind of CSWs who are a little bit educated and socially aware dont prefer to stay in Budhwar Peth. They are bold and want to run the business in their own style. They opt for rented room or small house and serve as call-girls at hotels,lodges and rave parties, Chaphekar said.
Even if the flesh trade has scattered across the city,there is no dip in customers. It has risen in proportion to the rise in population. However,what these CSWs earn has not gone up thanks to the middlemen in this business.
A middleman is a necessary evil in the flesh-trade. At brothels,mid-aged and old women,who were prostitutes in their younger age,are mediators. To carry out independent business CSWs also require middlemen to contact the customer. These mediators end up taking a major portion of their earnings, said Prakash Yadav,chairman,Akhil Budhwar Peth Devdasi Sanstha,another NGO working in local red light area.
Activists that a scattered flesh trade has led to entry of minor girls. In brothels we could easily detect presence of any minor and then undertake her rehabilitation measures. In flesh trade being run from hotels,lodges and dhabas,we cannot locate minors, Yadav said.