New Delhi: Nafeesa, who has been living in Delhi's infamous GB Road red-light area for 15 years, feels lucky to be included among the over 1,500 sex workers who would cast their votes in the December 4 Delhi Assembly elections - thanks to an enrollment drive by the state election commission.
Nafeesa, name changed, was among 300 women from GB Road who were enrolled during a camp held in the area by the Delhi State Election Commission.
"This year we have provided 300 sex workers with voter ID cards. We have applications from around 1,000 more candidates from GB Road for voter ID cards but their verification is yet to be done," a senior government official of the area said on the condition of anonymity.
There has been a steady rise in the number of sex workers enrolling as voters, the official said. From 300 who got enrolled ahead of the 2003 elections, the number went up to 1,200 in the 2008 elections, he said.
"I was trafficked in Delhi in 1998 and sold at brothel number 64 at GB Road. Since the 2003 Assembly elections, I have been trying to get a voter ID card but failed every time due to incomplete documentation. This year I have got my card and will cast my vote," Nafeesa said.
Khairati Lal Bhola, president of NGO Bhartiya Patita Uddhar Sabha (BPUS), said: "Around 5,000 sex workers, excluding woman pimps and touts, reside in the 116 brothels situated in 25 buildings on GB Road. But till the 2008 Assembly elections only 1,200 of them had voter ID cards."
Bhola said the 2008 Assembly election saw over 80 per cent sex workers cast their votes. "These sex workers should be given sympathy and provided rights like other citizens so that they can come forward to cast their vote," said Bhola.
An election commission official said: "We have taken several special measures to enrol the sex workers as voters, including setting up camps in GB Road.
"We noticed in the past that sex workers generally avoid going to the general enrolment centres. They feel embarrassed to be among the other people. We have also seen them getting beaten by pimps who try to stop them from exercising their rights fearing they might flee. We then decided to reach out to them," added the official.
Earlier, only the brothel madams would go to cast their votes. But now all those who have got voter ID cards are raring to exercise their franchise.
Rukshana, a sex worker for over nine years, said: "Now our votes shall also matter."
Another sex worker, Sofia said that she will not give her vote to those politicians who had "ignored" them .
"We all will vote but only for the person who will fulfill our long-pending demands," Munni Begum, president of GB Road Sex Workers Association, said.
The sex workers are grateful to the administration for providing them with voter ID cards, Aadhar cards and Below Poverty Level (BPL) cards.
But, they reiterated their long-pending demand of legalizing prostitution.
"Give us licenses and mark the areas for us. If any one of us is ready to go out of this profession, she should be provided work to live in the society. If somebody wants to earn her livelihood by selling her body why should it not be allowed?," Nasreen Begum said.
"It will help in checking human trafficking as it will help the authorities to clearly define a sex worker," she said.
Some other sex workers demanded old age homes or hostels for those sex workers who are older in years and fail to get clients.