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Lok Sabha elections: Prostitutes can vote, but no one is seeking it

Tuesday, 8 April 2014 - 7:55am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: dna

They truly are nobody's people even during elections when every vote counts. Nobody has come to ask the 2,500 sex workers in Delhi's red light area for their votes — not Congress' Kapil Sibal, not BJP's Harsh Vardhan and not Aam Aadmi Party's Ashutosh, all of whom contesting from Chandni Chowk.

All politicians have carefully skirted GB Road making sure that sex workers remain untouchables.

With just two days to go for polling, the city is abuzz with campaigning. But it is business as usual in the red light area. Sibal campaigned in the area last week but avoided their stretch of the road, say women.

"He did not visit our side, but visited the shop owners on the other side of GB Road," Munni Bai, a sex worker, told dna. She may be upset at the pariah status but says Sibal has her vote. The Congress, she explains, gave independence to the country and to women like her when Sibal ensured they got identity cards and voting rights in 2008.

"It was only because Sibal took the initiative that we have an identity," added her colleague Noor Begum.

The BJP does not appear to have too many takers and AAP is still an unknown commodity - heard of but not seen. "We have heard of the new party, but we have not seen them. Sibal has worked for us in the past and will work for us in future too," said Nikhat Begum.

Six years after having been given the right to vote, these workers still wait for recognition, and their rights. "The government gives pension to widows and senior citizens. Why are we not eligible for this pension," questioned a woman who has been in the business for 40 years.

Governments have come and gone, but they are still waiting to get noticed. Life continues to be tough. With escort services expanding, their work has taken a hit. "Till about 10 years ago, girls who were either brought from Nepal and North-East were in demand all over the city. But now they have very few takers," said Nareen Begum.

"If you are young, you might make Rs1,000 a day. But the earning has to be shared with the pimp, police and brothel owners, leaving the the worker with very little at her disposal," added Nikhat.

Some just manage to earn Rs250 to Rs300 per day, which too has to be shared.

The women have a charter of demands, which includes legalisation of their profession and a licence to practice so that middlemen are kept at bay. But that appears to be a distant dream for a community that has found no mention in any political party's manifesto.

It's not that they don't have a voice, it just has to be heard in unison. There are about 25 lakh sex workers in India, who have been demanding not just licences but also healthcare facilities and old-age pension.

There are about 4,500 sex workers in Delhi, according to the NGO, Bhartiya Patita Uddhar Sabha (BPUS). In Mumbai, their number is 4.5 lakh.

"Every year about three lakh new women enter the trade. We are talking about the rights of transgenders and homosexuals, but nobody wants to talk about sex workers," said KL Bhola of BPUS. Providing work permits to sex workers will ensure that their earning goes into their pockets, he said.

While the Congress and the Left parties have promised to pass a legislation in the favour of the LGBT community, sex workers have been completely ignored. "We had approached the Justice Verma Committee after the December 16 gang rape. We have been in touch with the political parties as well, but no one wants to talk on this subject," said Bhola.

If they won't talk, they won't hear the pleas for recognition either - and the sex workers will continue to live on the fringes of society.

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