Mumbai’s Red-light Areas See Surge Of Visitors Amid Covid-19

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Activists in Kamathipura are worried about the revival in the sex trade

Activists in Kamathipura are worried about the revival in the sex trade following the easing of travel restrictions, which is drawing in thousands of men from different parts of the city and even outside

Ashok Kumar | Clarion India

MUMBAI – Despite a rise in Covid infections in recent days, the easing of travel restrictions has seen a surge of people moving around in Mumbai including those visiting red-light areas such as Kamathipura.

Located in south Mumbai, Kamathipura and a few other areas in the neighbourhood are among the oldest and largest red-light districts in India, home to thousands of prostitutes, and attracting tens of thousands of visitors daily. The number of visitors to the red-light pockets had fallen sharply after the onset of the Covid-19 calamity in mid-March, but with the gradual relaxation in the movement of people, there’s been a steady rise in recent days.

“But this is a dangerous trend and has to be stopped immediately,” says Rukesh Girolla, a longtime resident of the area and a social activist. “There could be a surge in Covid-19 cases, with so many people visiting Kamathipura from all over Mumbai and even other cities.”

Speaking to Clarion India on Sunday, Girolla said there are more than 200 positive cases in the locality and about 20 people have succumbed to Covid so far. “But if the number of visitors keeps rising, it can result in a surge in the spread of Covid-19,” he warns.

Girolla and a group of social workers and NGOs have started urging them to refrain from such activities and have put up posters warning the prostitutes of the dangers of engaging in the trade at this juncture.

According to the activist, there are about 800 prostitutes living in Kamthipura, but more than 1,500 descend on it every day from their homes elsewhere in Mumbai. “Thousands of men visit the three or four lanes where these women operate from,” he points out. About 40,000 people live in Kamathipura, an area developed by the erstwhile British rulers in the 18th century, with about 45 east-west roads where most people lead normal lives. But the place has notoriously got worldwide reputation of being a red-light district, he bemoans.

“Most of the residents here are from the middle- and upper-middle-class backgrounds, but when they go to their workplace, they avoid mentioning they are from Kamathipura as others look at them suspiciously,” says Girolla.

Activists in the area have urged Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray and other senior officials to ensure that the sex-trade is not allowed to resume its operations, especially when Covid-19 continues to take a huge toll in the metropolis. They also want police to take action against illicit liquor distributors and drug suppliers, who dominate the night landscape in Kamathipura.

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