Mumbai: Migrant workers in the city may soon have to start looking beyond Kamathipura to satisfy their carnal desires.
The prime property in Grant Road (East) home to one of the world's largest red light areas is well on its way to becoming a residential hub for the city's wealthy.
While talk of the area being redeveloped has been doing the rounds, activists say they have witnessed a surge in cases of landlords evicting their commercial sex worker tenants to sell their property to developers.
In one such incident last week, dozens of sex workers were asked to vacate a building for repairs only to be greeted by a big padlock when they returned. The landlord told them they could not stay there anymore.
Real estate experts say builders are eyeing Kamathipura because of its central location and proximity to south Mumbai. "The current rate in and around Kamathipura is in the bracket of Rs 20,000-25,000 per sq ft.
Redevelop-ment is cheaper here because builders do not have to buy land. However, to attract buyers to Kamathipura, builders may have to price their projects slightly lower than the high-end ones," said Pankaj Kapoor, MD, Liases Foras, a real estate rating firm.
"A name change, however, is not a big issue and sale can be achieved by proper advertising and marketing. Builders have been successful with Lower Parel, which was branded as Upper Worli and Bhandup, which is now being called Lower Powai according to advertisements."
The Kamathipura area was set up by the British for their troops, which acted as their official 'comfort zone'. Kamathipura boasted of the most exotic consorts and, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a large number of women and girls from continental Europe and Japan were trafficked into the area.
2,000 sex workers are active in the dingy chawls and bylanes of Kamathipura.
While the current situation is a win-win one for landlords and builders, it is the sex workers who are suffering. Even as the landlords mint money because they own the property, sex workers lose everything including their homes and livelihood because they are merely floating tenants.
"The population of sex workers in the area has dwindled to 2,000. We are being harassed by our landlords, wanting to evict us so that they can sell out to builders. We don't even blame the landlords, because what we hear is that builders are offering them double the market price.
If I was in their place, even I would sell my flat, building or badi and move out from this hell," said a sex worker. Activists say even the government redevelopment will overlook the sex workers as, again, only the landlord is eligible to re-possess the redeveloped flat, and not floating tenants.
Sanjay Shinde, a social activist, who is heading the Kamathipura Bachao Samiti, said, "Landlords stand to make vast amounts of money by selling out to private builders or for government redevelopment. The sex workers occupying these buildings, however, will not get anything despite having lived here for the most part of their lives."
"We do not have ration cards or any proof to show that we have been staying here for years. The builders and the landlords can simply throw us out and leave us to fend for ourselves. That has actually begun already," said a sex worker from 14 galli.
"Nobody likes selling their body, but with no education and large families to feed, we are left with no other option.
We have been staying here for decades and the government should give us some thought too. We will gladly quit this profession if the government gives us jobs or at least a place to stay somewhere else in the city."
Sachin Ahir, state housing minister, said, "We have already acquired 120 small and big structures and will soon carry out redevelopment of the area.
We will hand over some buildings to the landlords and have a saleable component, which will be sold to the common man via lottery."
However, when he was asked about the sex workers, he said, "We will hand over the property to the landlords as they alone are eligible and not the sex workers, as they are floating tenants."
Some famous red-light districts across the globe:
Amsterdam: The Amsterdam Red Light District covers a large area of the oldest part of the city. As darkness descends on the city, the glow of the fluorescent red lights above the many windows in the area becomes more and more visible. The district is full of sex shops, brothels, gay bars, cinemas, hotels and various museums.
Geylang, Singapore: Thousands of Asian prostitutes from countries like Thailand, Indonesia, China and Malaysia work in Geylang, and visitors and locals alike flock to the area each evening and stay till morning. The district is home to hundreds of brothels. Some are regulated, while others operate illegally behind the scenes.
Patpong, Bangkok: Most Patpong go-go bars feature women dancing on a stage. The dancers (and even occasionally the serving staff) are generally available to customers willing to pay a bar fine to take them out of the bar. The fees for sexual services are negotiated separately. Some establishments advertising massages are, in fact, brothels in disguise.
Reeperbahn, Hamburg, Germany: The Reeperbahn is the most famous street in Hamburg. It is home to many great bars, restaurants, theatres, and clubs along with sex shops, sex museums, erotic theatres and strip clubs.