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Bangalore’s sex workers left out in the cold

This converted cowshed was the only shelter Geeta could find.

BANGALORE (Dec. 8)—Geeta spends her nights in what was once a cattle shed at the end of a narrow, muddy lane in Dasarahalli, near Hebbal. The owners moved the animals out, cemented the floor and rented it to her for Rs. 1,800 a month.

Geeta, 34, is a sex worker.

“After two months of spending nights at Majestic Bus Station, I got this house,” said Geeta. “They used to tie their cows and buffaloes here.”

Though the house is no bigger than the average balcony in Bangalore, Geeta has very few complaints.

She said that there were many who don’t even have a house and that they are forced to spend the night in buses or toilets across the city.

Geeta has been a sex worker for 20 years now.

Marriage turned abusive

Born into a family of five in a village near Bangalore, she dropped out of school after the eighth standard and her parents got her married soon after.

She expected a lot from her marriage, but her hopes were crushed when her husband began to beat her every day and abuse her verbally.

She lived with the abuse for years, giving birth to two sons, but eventually she was driven away from the house and her family.

With her parents dead, and no help from her brothers and sisters, she was left on the streets to fend for herself. Geeta got help from a friend, a sex worker, who let her stay with her until she got a job.

With no education and no special skills, Geeta found it impossible to find a job. Eventually, she decided to do what her friend was doing—she says that she has no qualms about her decision.

Landlords reluctant to rent to prostitute

Despite coming to Bangalore with nothing more than the clothes on her back, Geeta has managed to make her life comfortable.

She started working in Doddabalapur, but she had to keep moving from house to house like a nomad. Every time the house owner realized that she was a sex worker, she was asked to leave.

Some owners would double the rent if they learned she was a sex worker.

“I paid a rent of Rs. 2,500, while my neighbors had to pay half that for a house much bigger than mine,” she said.

Geeta moved to Bangalore six years ago. After knocking on a lot of closed doors, she finally found the house she now stays in.

“The owner of the house is really nice,” said Geeta. “She lets me stay here and doesn’t judge me by the work I do.”

But her neighbors were not always the smiling faces who welcome her now. Initially they were very opposed to her staying in the area.

“The women said that I would spoil their children and lure their husbands away from them,” she said.

Despite all the complaints, the owner let her stay in the house.

Geeta came to the house with nothing more than the clothes she was wearing, but over the years she saved money and made the house a home. Now she has a television set, some show pieces and she recently bought a fridge.

“Even I want my house to look like other’s houses. My house shouldn’t reflect what I do.” she said.

Though she has everything now, a house, money and many things she considers luxuries; she still yearns for something more.

“I miss both my sons,” she said, while wiping away tears from her eyes.

Her husband has married another woman and is happy with her. She hasn’t spoken to him in years now and does not wish to. But her children’s attitude hurts her—they refuse to talk speak to her.

HIV-positive diagnosis a stigma

Geeta was diagnosed HIV positive three years ago. Life started taking a downward spiral with her neighbors pushing her away and her children’s indifference turned to hostility.

“When they found out I had been diagnosed with AIDS, they called and hurled abuse at me,” she said. “They have no love or affection for me. They are just worried about who I am going to give my possessions to after I die.”

Her neighbors once even stopped her from feeding a cow, claiming that she would infect the cow as well.

“I wanted to die when they told me that I was tested positive for AIDS,” she says.

She tried to follow through on that desire, attempting suicide twice, but living through both attempts. Surviving has given her a new perspective, believing now that “God didn’t want me to die.”

That is when an NGO called Sangama intervened. They educated her neighbors about AIDS and how it spreads, putting a stop to the harassment. Geeta is now a part of the work that Sangama does.

‘Are we garbage?’                       

Sangama and the Karnataka Sex Workers Union has been fighting to get housing schemes for sex workers and people from the LGBT community for years—but the state government has refused to do anything.

According to Geeta many sex workers who come to the city go through the same hardship that she did—no one will give them a place to stay, and they are forced to live in toilets or buses.

A few years ago, the government agreed to provide houses on the outskirts of the city, but that plan was scrapped because of the government’s conditions.

“They said they would put up a board declaring that this was a sex workers colony,” says Geeta, who says that is unacceptable. “Are we not workers too? Then why separate us? Why throw us out and even label us like we are garbage in the city?”

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