Mumbai: Red light dims in Kamathipura to make way for posh homes

The Association of Landlords invited sealed tenders from consultants yesterday to begin the cluster-wise redevelopment of 52 acres of the red-light area; while landlords claim everyone wants redevelopment and the areas where sex workers live won’t be touched, NGOs say the workers are being driven out

Gentrification and the lure of money is set to swallow up most of Kamathipura, dimming its red lights and bathing it in a more acceptable hue. While landlords claim it’s a win-win situation, activists say sex workers, most of whom have already been driven out of their homes, will be the losers.

The dingy bylanes of Kamathipura and a high-rise coming up in the background
The dingy bylanes of Kamathipura and a high-rise coming up in the background

Yesterday, the Association of Landlords invited sealed tenders from Project Management Consultants (PMC) from the city who can help them redevelop 52 acres of Kamathipura in clusters a project that would involve nearly 550 buildings, 500 landlords and 3,500 tenants.

It received more than five inquiries yesterday itself, and the association plans to accept tenders for the next 15 days before finalising the PMC. The association claims the redevelopment will be confined to the area between the 1st lane and 16th lane, and excludes the eight acres of Kamathipura where the nearly 500 commercial sex workers who live in the area, and others, still carry on their trade.

“We will develop lane numbers 3, 4, and 5 first, and we expect that others will see this and get attracted to the concept of redevelopment, after which we will redevelop other lanes. In future, we hope areas which haven’t been included right now, including Shuklaji Street, Faras Road, and others (where the sex workers reside) will also be developed,” said S Channa, president of the Association of Landlords .

The body is looking for nearly three to four developers to come together and redevelop Kamathipura. “The residents want bigger homes, and when we told them they would get homes that will be bigger than the ones they currently occupy, they were all very happy. Everyone here wants the redevelopment to happen,” said Channa.

Many developers had approached the association in the past as well, but the proposals didn’t work out, and the association has decided to hire a PMC now to speed up the redevelopment process. The landlords claim they have no issues with the name Kamathipura, as they think the bad associations with the name will begin to fade once the buildings come up.

Losing out
Channa claims hardly 20 per cent of the sex workers have stayed back in Kamathipura, as the second generation received education and moved out of the area, taking their mothers with them. He said they are now living better lives than they did in Kamathipura.

However, NGOs working in this area say that one of the major reasons behind only 500 sex workers staying in Kamathipura now, compared to 2,000 in the year 2010 and 50,000 in 1992, was that landlords had started driving them out from their buildings to ensure there is no hassle in redevelopment.

Sanjay Shinde, from Aasha, an NGO that works for the upliftment of sex workers, said, “Many landlords have driven sex workers away, as they think redevelopment is a better option for them and they don’t want any hindrances.

Except for very few sex workers, most were floating tenants, and landlords could drive them away easily. However, not many have left Mumbai. Some now stay in slums and come to Kamathipura in the evening to work,” said Shinde. Many sex workers, who didn’t find a place in Mumbai shanties, have now shifted to Taloja and other areas to work.

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