Sex workers choose Pune over Mumbai’s rising rental prices

This story shows how sex worker migration can be a result of rising property prices in major urban centres – not trafficking. Women in Mumbai are moving to Pune, about 100 km away, because rents are cheaper. The ‘better police cooperation’ referred to in Pune seems to mean less police interference and harassment. Comments toward the end by an NGO doctor sound like pure speculation: clients reducing because of fear of HIV and sex workers offering condomless services give reasons for NGOs to exist. Proof, please.

Mumbai-Pune Expressway

Pune has the sex appeal
Alifiya Khan
16 October 2009

Sex workers moving from Mumbai to Pune say it is the low rent and better ‘police co-operation’ here that attracts them

Kamathipura, the famous sex hub of Mumbai, is drying up quickly. And the reason is Pune. The city’s relatively low real estate prices and ‘police co-operation’ are drawing sex workers by the dozens from Mumbai, where they are troubled by abnormal rents and land sharks.

Figures obtained from NGOs working in the two cities show that while the Commercial Sex Worker population in Mumbai is shrinking, it is rising in Pune. “Mumbai’s sex streets like Kamathipura, Falkland Road, etc, had a total of about 18,000 to 20,000 prostitutes till two years ago. But with land sharks eyeing this prime land for redevelopment and brothel owners hiking rent rates, most sex workers have migrated to neighbouring suburbs and Pune,” said Manish Pawar, co-ordinator of Asha Mahila, a government-run project for sex workers that is based in Mumbai’s Grant Road area.

Too much pressure

Nandita (31), used to live in a brothel in Kamathipura, but migrated to Pune about a year ago after she couldn’t handle the pressure from the brothel keeper. “I used to pay a rent of Rs 7,500 and give some part of my earnings to her. But then she wanted to hike the rent. We heard that a builder had offered money to her, so she wanted us out. I knew people here and even cops don’t harass us much, so I decided to come here.” Rent for brothels in Pune ranges between Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,500 a month. Some CSWs don’t pay rent, but simply share the money earned with the brothel keeper.

While Nandita didn’t reveal how much she earns, she said it was better than her hand-to-mouth existence in Mumbai. “Here I charge the same price and pay less rent. Besides, here I don’t live in a brothel,” said Nandita, who shares a flat with another girl in Pimpri. According to current estimates, there are approximately 10,000 sex workers in the red-light areas of Mumbai.

Other reasons

Another reason for migration is fewer customers. “Many women complain that they are moving from Mumbai, as the clients are very few. With HIV/AIDS awareness rising, the clientele is reducing,” said Dr I S Gilada, founder of People’s Health Organisation, an NGO in Kamathipura, Mumbai.

The rate has increased over the past two years. “It’s not just sex workers. Even bar girls have migrated to Pune. After the ban on dance bars, they took to sex work. Maybe they can’t afford Mumbai and Pune is cheaper,” said Dr Laxmi Mali, who runs a health clinic for NGO Vanchit Vikas in Budhwar Peth, Pune.

In the long run

Experts say that while this migration might have not affected prices yet, increased competition might be a problem in the long run. “These women are insecure about their business at the moment. So, they will offer any service to lure customers, even without condoms sometimes. This can create huge problems not just for them, but the local sex workers as well,” said Gilada.

– Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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