//Maggots of the flesh trade

Maggots of the flesh trade

CHARUDUTTA JENA, Sunday, July 02, 2006 TIMES NEWS NETWORK

Organised flesh trade raises its ugly head as sex workers swell in numbers in the city.

At midnight, when the crossroads of Punjagutta wear a deserted look and the cacophony of the day is substituted by silence, Rajni bides her time in an auto. She is 28 and wears a matter-offact look with her gaudy clothes and make-up.

She is waiting for someone, not to drop her home, safely, but to take her where they can be alone. Somehow, she has convinced her conscience that there is no problem with spending the night with a man for a livelihood.

It's her way to earn easy money to survive in the city. She isn't alone. More than 1,800 sex workers in the city share Rajni's story. Their number is swelling everyday and cluttering the red-light map of the city.

While some turn to sex trade for the money and lack of awareness of alternate vocations, other educated ones take it up to earn a fast buck to support a lavish lifestyle.

The population of sex workers has increased in the last couple of years, with women from coastal districts of AP – Rajamundhry, Kakinada, West Godavari and East Godavari – coming to the city in search of employment after the tsunami rendered them destitute.

 Police Commissioner AK Mohanty says, "Sex workers are rampantly soliciting people at public places."

Hotspots for sex workers aren't limited to Secunderabad station or Somajiguda; even Banjara Hills and Necklace Road are emerging as pick up points frequented by 'customers' who can pay well.

The money involved in these areas is attracting the attention of pimps who are luring, and sometimes coercing, young girls into sex trade. "Pimps pick up poor girls coming into the city and offer them good food and clothing for a couple of weeks.

Later, they stop supporting the girls and ask them to take to sex trade to continue the same lifestyle," says sex worker Rosey Fathima. "We come across all sorts of people – from army men to students, and from businessmen to software professionals.

Even married people come to us sometimes when their wives deny them sex," says Jayamma, president of a sex workers' committee, Chaitanya Mahila Mandali (CMM).

But the brokers aren't the only ones benefiting from these varied customers; they have a nexus with auto drivers, who can bring in prospective clients, hotels and bars where the 'customers' stay.

 Even some policemen who agree to turn a blind eye to the whole affair for a bribe are involved. It's not surprising then that sex workers operate openly, opposite the Punjagutta police station every night.

"Policemen usually catch customers and threaten them to take bribes. Some cops ask us to feign fright and run away when they patrol with senior officials," says Priya Sudha, a sex worker.

However inspector at the Punjagutta police station, Jestadi Anyonya, says, "I haven't come across any sex worker at Punjagutta yet, but they operate at over 80 per cent of the bus stops."

The police believe that there are two types of sex workers in the city – those who operate on the streets and others who have their base in rented apartments.

The latter always keep shifting base to avoid getting recognised by people. "The city doesn't have a red light area because the police cracks down on any such settlement," says Mohanty.

But it isn't the police alone that is threatening the existence of sex workers; they also constantly run the danger of contracting HIV. "This means trouble for both sex workers and their customers," says Jayamma.

 The CMM is being assisted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in its work. "We have tested 1,500 sex workers untill now and five out of every 100 are HIV-positive," adds Jayamma.

The modus operandi…

Most sex workers standing at bus stops disguise themselves as working women and solicit men who they think are on the lookout for them

Their most common hangouts are at bus stops at Jubilee Hills, Ameerpet and Lakdi Ka Pul

Pimps pay a monthly 'salary' of Rs 10,000 to 50,000 to girls, depending on their age and looks. The rates they charge vary from Rs 1,000 to 5,000 and their 'customers' come from different backgrounds