So apparently, last week amongst the brouhaha of US Prez visit, the strong-willed, obviously intelligent, and refined first lady of the developed world was denied entry into the largest Red Light District of Asia, in our very own Mumbai meri Jaan! Citing congestion as the reason, the Maharashtra government expressed unwillingness to comply. Really, congestion, actually that is true, in 10 square km of slum houses more than 100,000 sex workers.
These disenfranchised women, who are abused and raped as part of their work, with 95% reporting the deadly AIDS and HIV positive status and frequent experiences of sexual coercion, verbal threats, physical force, and forced unwanted sexual acts by not just the paying ‘johns’ but also by the police, pimps, and their own partners. They have a higher degree of substance abuse as they learn to cope with their difficult lifestyle. They have become a popular subject of study following HIV AIDS epidemic and funding for its prevention. A majority of these women are abducted, sold, runaways, or abandoned and that mostly by family members. They have no real choices…as they work hard to pay for their rent and the schooling for their children..and the pimps who are sometimes also women.
Sex work is legally not recognized in India so it is double whammy when these women are “caught”..they are made to sit in prison over weekends until they cough money for the cops to be let out. meanwhile, the cops think of them as freebies of their jobs. Actually not just Bombay, but other metros like Chennai and Kolkatta also share this glory!
The hope of this neighborhood is not the gentrification (that is making these women move away from their only source of livelihood move ) but an NGO called Prerna run by a Ms Patkar that provides the children from this neighborhood, a safe haven away from the “congestion and crime” and a possibility of a future free of similar abuse.
Should Michelle have graced it? ummm yes? maybe it would bring resources, and more NGOs, and some kind of accountability, and a way for the MDG’s of UN Women to become a reality….or maybe it would have been a reason to treat these women even worse by herding them away and not letting Michelle talk to them…maybe they would have been sanitizing the whole place and pretending …the erstwhile Britishers “comfort Zone” was now a “free condom ” zone!
oh well! opportunity lost Michelle! you and women in this neighborhood could have taught each other about resilience and determination! “One of the lessons that I grew up with was to always stay true to yourself and never let what somebody else says distract you from your goals. ”