Rising rents force sex workers to flee Kamathipura

Mumbai: The increasing cost of real estate has forced city's sex workers to relocate themselves from the infamous Kamathipura area to suburban localities, said Vinay Vats, Director, Social Activities Integration (SAI), an NGO.

"The sex workers here in Kamathipura and Falkland are from lower-income groups. It is true the real estate impact is forcing them to relocate themselves, which has led to the closure of many brothels. Many sisters cannot afford high rents and have shifted to suburban areas like Nalasopara, Turbhe and Vashi," Vats said.

Vats said he has been working with the sex workers since the 90s and he has seen the rent rise exponentially in the span of 20 plus years. "I have been working with them from the 90s and many things have changed. The rent then was around Rs 25. But today they have to pay a minimum of Rs 200 and monthly the rent can go up to Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000, which they have to pay on a daily basis," he said.

Citing the reasons behind the increased rent he said: "This is Central Mumbai and areas like Bombay Central and Tardeo are commercial areas which are located near Kamathipura. Therefore, the real estate developers have an eye on this area too."

A sex worker named Arti confirmed Vats' accusations and cited the difficulties she was being forced to face to earn her livelihood.

"I come all the way from Kadhavli, a town in Thane district, to Kamathipura. For years, I have been in this profession. The rents are increasing but the income doesn't. It is very difficult to survive as I have a family to look after as well," Arti said. Another sex worker, speaking on the condition of anonymity, agreed with Arti and said: "We need a place. It does not matter whether it is small or big but rents are increasing. Many of my colleagues have shifted to Kadavli, Kalyan and nearby areas because the rents here are high now."

J Brandon Hill, a Bollywood actor who has been working for the welfare of sex workers for long and is actively associated with SAI said: "It is too bad that people get shifted for such reason but I think somewhere it's economics which comes into play." "Statistics show that even in New York this happens. The rich people come in the city, while artists move out and thereby the city loses its soul. It's too bad that the sex workers don't have any choice. I hope things will get normal," said Hill.

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