Kalyan Shankar, Symbiosis School of Economics, Pune
Migratory Patterns of Female Sex Workers in the Hierarchy of Urbanity in India
The colonial Indian cities of Mumbai and Kolkata stake claim to the largest Red Light Areas in the country- in the form of Kamathipura and Sonagachi respectively. The spaces occupied by sex workers here are old urban pockets, often centrally located bearing witness to the expansion of urbanity across these mega-cities. If the origins of the women were to be traced, they very often are outsiders to the metropolis.
With backgrounds in poverty, they have had a tumultuous migratory past; with journeys that began in rural hinterlands and traversing through the urban hierarchies before reaching here.
Across urban centers in India, a Red Light Area has grown to be a commonly recognized spatial entity.
Typically associated with urban agglomerations, the term evokes a similar understanding when referring even to a lane in smaller urban centers. Thus, the term traverses fluidly through several scales of urbanization, differing only in area dimensions and scale of operations. There are several instances that can be identified to substantiate on this claim. In the belt that covers the borders between Maharashtra and Karnataka, two states in south-west India, clusters of women in prostitution -multilingual in nature and quite proficient at that, keep traversing back and forth across the smaller towns existing on state borders, not conforming with the linguistic division that formed the genesis of these states. There are certain patterns of movement that can be discerned, which are as follows:
(a) A circular urban flow of the women spanning semi-urban border centers across Maharashtra (Sangli, Kolhapur, Solapur, Karad etc) and Karnataka (Belgaum, Bagalkot, Bijapur, Hubli-Dharwad)
(b) A north-bound, cross-border flow from the northern Karnataka districts into the larger cities of Maharashtra like Pune and Mumbai
(c) A south-bound flow from the northern Karnataka districts into Bengaluru, the capital city of Karnataka
Understanding the precise nature of spatial journeys of sex workers would involve a closer scrutiny of the smaller towns through which they have journeyed. It has also been found that as women in sex work age, they slip down the urban ladder and start moving into the smaller towns where the competition for clients is less intense.
This paper seeks to study the smaller cities and the operations of sex work therein to understand the larger patterns of sex-work related migration. The paper would attempt to reveal the relationships between the satellite towns as well as far flung places and the attracting-shining Metropolis and the journeys of women in search of livelihoods.
The paper draws upon and builds its arguments using data collected from the interviews of 3000 sex workers across fourteen states as part of the first Pan India Survey of Sex Workers during 2008-09. The exercise was supervised by the authors and conducted under the aegis of Center for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalization (CASAM), with the coordinated efforts of several grass-root organizations and groups working with women in sex work.