A colourless Holi for Delhi’s sex workers

New Delhi: Reshma, 20, a sex worker in Delhi’s infamous red light district, loves the colours of Holi. But she and dozens of other sex workers keep away from the festivities due to the hordes of rowdy and drunk people who throng the area.

So, it will mean a colourless Holi for a majority of sex workers in the 23 brothels situated on Garstin Bastion or G.B. Road — one of the largest red light districts in northern India that is a thriving wholesale market in the daytime. Instead, the women will be praying and distributing sweets among themselves.

“Holi was my favourite festival when I was growing up. Now, every year I sit by the window in my room and watch people play Holi in the street below and I wonder whether I would be able to do the same ever,” Reshma (name changed on request) told IANS.

Added Sonu, her 19-year-old friend: “We offer prayers and distribute sweets to each other. For us Holi has always been colourless.”

A major nuisance is the fact that many men in an inebriated condition harass women playing Holi in the area. Hence the brothels remain shut till evening.

“On Holi, we open only after 4 p.m. as a lot of people come here intoxicated just to harass us with lewd comments and gestures. Many of the girls also get frightened seeing the men with colours on their faces,” Sharmila, 45, a brothel owner, told IANS.

But the sex workers do observe ‘Holika Dehan’, a ritual involving a bonfire, outside the brothels on the eve of Holi.

There are some who just don’t like the festivities at all, depressed by the darkness in their lives.

“I don’t like colours and I don’t want to celebrate any festival because I don’t have a reason to do so. My life is empty and meaningless,” 25-year-old Shibi (name changed), a native of Andhra Pradesh, told IANS.

Delhi Police, on its part, increases the presence of police personnel in the area on the day of the festival.

“We increase the deployment of police personnel around the area on Holi. The patrolling is increased as well,” Additional Commissioner of Police (central) Devesh Chandra Srivastava told IANS.

According to unofficial estimates, the 23 brothels have over 100 rooms and about 400 sex workers. Women – and even underaged girls – from several states, especially southern India, like Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, as well as West Bengal and the neighbouring country of Nepal have been rescued by police in routine raids.

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