NEW DELHI: Garstin Bastion Road or GB road as it is popularly known is ‘home’ to approximately 90 brothels and 5000 sex workers. Contradictory to the portrayal of brothels there are no kaleidoscopic windows, neon flights or colourful rooms full of cheerful women giggling in unison.

This seemingly normal road in Delhi has shops on the ground floor and living quarters on the first floors. Three of us mustered the courage to walk past the judgemental stares and climb the staircase that led to allegedly the most popular ‘kotha’.

Kotha no 64 as it turns out wasn’t the vibrant heaven it was portrayed to be. Instead it was a lifeless place and as we climbed up a narrow staircase with paan stains we could hear women quoting prices and hurling abuses at men. This gave us the idea that perhaps women here ironically have a right over their bodies and decide who their customers will be.

That bubble was popped in five minutes as we talked to the first lady who finally agreed to talk to us. Her name was Shalu and I can never forget the conversation I had with her. She was 32 and she was clad in a nightgown. The place was full of desperate men and Shalu and other girls in the room made sure that none of them came close to us. For the first time that morning I felt safe.

Shalu had been there for 15 years. We asked her how she ended up at GB road and her smile faded away. She was abducted by a ‘rikshawallah’ from Bihar who promised to marry her. The cold glint in her eyes sent a shiver down my spine. On being asked whether she would change her profession if she could she said she wouldn’t. “ I have been here for 15 years. This is my house now and my work is the only thing I know. I am not educated and I can’t even speak in English. Who would give me a job? ”

Shalu picked up the sympathy in our voices and told us that, “ We aren’t corrupt like others outside our world and we don’t fit in outside. Even if we leave we will be forced to come back to this work because that’s how the society is.I wanted to run away when I was young but not anymore.This is my identity now and I cant run away from it. ”

The room was full of women in fancy clothes and lots of makeup. Many of them were smoking cigarettes and had that same gloomy, blank face that narrated so many stories.

Our second stop was Kotha no. 21, and another narrow staircase and countless judgemental stares later we met Sunaina. A woman who was about 40 years old. She had wrinkles and was wearing a loose suit. Those who shared the room with her were young girls between the age group of 16-25. The youngest girl was 19 but she looked way younger yet older at the same time. Their clothes were fancy, what some people would even call revealing but there wasn’t much that they revealed through their words.

Sunaina spoke to us for around 20 minutes and not even once did a man have the courage to even glance at us in a way that would be called inappropriate. She stood between us and every man who passed by, hurled abuses at drunk and strange men and even sent one of her customers away. Sunaina was a mother of two daughters forced into prostitution after she lost her husband and her in laws disowned her and her daughter. She was educated but as she put it with two innocent daughters and just enough money to run away from Rajasthan she couldn’t have done anything else. Her daughters like many other children of sex workers live away from home. One of her daughters is studying English honours at a reputed college in Delhi university.

A teary eyed Sunaina told us she wouldn’t ever let her daughters come near this place. “I have made sure they know how to speak in English and I have made sure they have nothing to do with my work. My in laws didn’t want to bear the burden of a widow and two daughters but my kids are my strength. I will soon move away from this place once my daughters start earning for themselves. I have been here for 13 years and I couldn’t run away but what I did was a sacrifice I don’t regret.”

It wasn’t just these two women who had a different yet similar story. There are about 5000 others who probably wanted to be rescued at one point or the other.

The surprising part was when we asked a sex worker about the role of police she told us, “ What would they do for us? They take half our money and they themselves come as customers and never pay. Who can blame them anymore? Who can we blame anymore?”

The police officers when approached for a comment told us to leave as soon as possible as the area wasn’t safe for dignified women. And nobody, according to them could stop what happens at GB road.

The role of politics was limited to changing the name of GB road to Swami Shraddhanand marg as the sex workers didn’t want to vote because of the stigma their address brought with it.

According to shopkeepers, the police conducts regular patrolling in the area but nobody gets rescued because the young ones are hidden away and the old ones don’t want to leave anymore. And the police earns so ‘kisko aur kaise rokogey madame?’

White lips, pale face
Breathing in snowflakes
Burnt lungs, sour taste.
Light’s gone, day’s end
Struggling to pay rent
Long nights, strange men.