Pune: What’s the point of voting, ask sex workers in Budhwar Peth

Anuradha Mascarenhas
“We have been able to help at least 1,022 women get relevant documents so that they can open bank accounts and also get voter identity cards,” said Lashkare, adding that over 300 women had left the area, fearing more police raids.

Many sex workers in Budhwar Peth area say they have no intention of voting in the forthcoming Assembly elections, as they are fed up of increasing police raids and alleged intimidation by police personnel.

Tejaswi Sevekari, in charge of sex workers’ collective Saheli, said fearing more police raids, many sex workers had left the area. They have started working in other areas at lower rates, she said.

Some sex workers told The Indian Express that they were unable to stay in Budhwar Peth anymore. “The rent of a tiny room here is Rs 8,000 and I can get another larger room at the same rate in other areas. Plus, there are no facilities... I come here only to conduct my business while my children are away in a hostel,” said one of them.

She added, “Due to various reasons, we have been thrown in this profession and now it is difficult to get out of it. No one will give me a job and the brothel owner demands a huge amount for me to stay here”. She said she had lived in Budhwar Peth for 10 years before leaving it recently.

“I am in no mood to vote. What is the use? Nobody does anything for us,” she added. Sevekari said sometimes, even valid identity proofs were rejected.

According to Sarika Lashkare, a project manager at Kayakalp NGO, an organisation approved by the Maharashtra State AIDS Control Society to conduct awareness and targeted interventions, there were nearly 2,500 sex workers in Pune.

“We have been able to help at least 1,022 women get relevant documents so that they can open bank accounts and also get voter identity cards,” said Lashkare, adding that over 300 women had left the area, fearing more police raids.

Kayakalp and John Paul Slum Development Project jointly provide targeted interventions in the high-risk group of sex workers to prevent HIV and other diseases.

Several women’s organisations have urged that sex work be decriminalised so that sex workers don’t have to face arbitrary police action.

Pune City Police officials, however, said at least 150 women have been rescued from sex trafficking by the police’s Social Security Cell since January this year.