Print edition : July 30, 2004

The Goa government's demolition of houses and shacks in Baina in a bid to shut down the State's only red light area, which plays havoc with the lives of thousands of people, especially commercial sex victims, invites strong protests.

recently in Baina

THE Bharatiya Janata Party government in Goa led by Manohar Parrikar recently achieved what several previous governments had tried and failed - to shut down the State's only recognised, albeit unofficially, red light district. On June 14, at the height of the monsoon, a demolition squad with 10 bulldozers razed 800 to 1,200 tiled or tin-roofed cubicles and shacks varying between 2.5 and 80 square metres, about 400 of which were involved in the burgeoning sex trade, in the red light district of the Baina beach, 2 km from the port town of Vasco-da-Gama. But the demolition could well turn out to be a pyrrhic victory for the government.

At the end of the day, outside what was once their homes at Baina.-RAVI SHARMA

Officially the area has been cleared of all structures and closed for sex work, and the around 450 (down from a high of 2,500) commercial sex victims (CSVs), mainly from coastal Andhra Pradesh and northern Karnataka's Devadasi belt, and 100-odd touts and gharwalis (brothel keepers) have been sent out. Besides the brothels, the demolition has also put out of business 20 bars (some in existence since 1967), 83 eateries and a number of telephone booths and small shops selling anything from cigarettes to provisions. The question is, where have all the CSVs gone?

The Parrikar government prefers to believe that the demolition has driven the CSVs out of the State and back to where they came from. However, with multiple dependents including children and debts to pay off, most of them are likely to be doing sex work elsewhere in Goa. Investigations by Frontline show that while a handful of them may have gone back to their `home' States, or shifted base to Mumbai, the majority are in Goa. Most of them have settled in areas near Baina such as Mangoor Hill and Zuarinagar, or moved to Margao city, Porvorim or beaches such as Baga. Some, who failed to find accommodation outside Baina (many have been turned away by house owners since the police have warned them not to rent houses to people from Baina), have stayed back in what remains of their shacks at Baina, or at the nearby Katembaina slum. Several CSVs told this correspondent that the police were hounding them and threatening to lock them up if they did not move out of Goa at the earliest and return to their respective States. However, they could not do so since it was deplorable situations at home that forced them to come to Goa in the first place. Many also got themselves pregnant so as to force their local partners to support them.

Pushpa, a 30-year-old Telugu-speaking CSV who has lived at Baina for the last 14 years, said: "A man promised me a job at Bellary, but sold me to a gharwali at Baina. Later, a local policeman befriended me and by him I have an eight-year-old son. I have put him in a boarding school paying Rs.800 a month. After the demolition, the policeman is afraid to come and meet me. I have to fend for myself. I am afraid that the police will detain me, but whenever a customer comes I don't send him away. In the nights, goons come and beat us, demand money, liquor and sex."

WHAT happened to the few thousand people (figures vary between 4,000 and 6,000) who were not connected with the sex trade, but were migrants chiefly from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and had settled at Baina decades ago, eking out a living as labourers, hawkers and domestic helps? Most have now become homeless. Having lost their meagre belongings and with no meaningful rehabilitation programme in sight, women from such families are more likely to join what the government would like to drive out of Goa - the "sex industry". For them too, the question of going back to their native States does not arise: they have stayed so long at Baina that it is the only home they know.

Ramnaresh Gupta said: "I ran a small hotel here for nearly 20 years. My father brought me to Baina 40 years ago. I have raised even my grandchildren here. We were given water and electricity connections. We have voter identification and ration cards. I was paying taxes to the municipality to run the hotel. The police fully knew what was going on."

Revappa Saravur, who was born in a village close to Bijapur in Karnataka but has lived in Baina for three decades, said: "My children were all born here. They don't even know how to work in the fields. And with no rain in north Karnataka, what will we go back and do?"

Former residents of Baina. In the background is the Katembaina slum.-RAVI SHARMA

Added Maguve Sheikh, who has lived with his family in the demolished Fakir Gully ever since he left Bagalkot in Karnataka over four decades ago: "We had nothing to do with the sex business. Still our house was demolished. The Goa government has promised to build tenements by November for the displaced people. And we have been asked to register with the Mormugao Mamlatdar (Revenue Officer)." Several people told this correspondent that when they went to register, either the official was not there or they were humiliated and told that nothing would come out of registering. Officially, about 300 families registered at the Mamlatdar's office and, after scrutiny of their claims, only 77 were "found to be reasonable in all aspects".

So far government relief has been meagre, and the task of feeding many of the homeless has been left to voluntary organisations. The Goa government provided housing for about 200 non-CSV families - mainly Muslims from Fakir Gully because it feared a communal problem - in the nearby Buthe Bhat Sports Complex. But they were sent out on July 2, some with a grant of Rs.10,000, on the eve of the visit by a delegation of the National Commission for Women (NCW). They were the less unfortunate ones, the rest have so far got nothing. Parrikar said: "As far as we know only around 300 families have come to register. Let the NGOs bring the rest if there are any."

According to observers, the demolitions have not only made thousands homeless, but driven the sex trade underground. Goa's newly appointed Director-General of Police (DGP), Amod Kanth, hit the nail on the head when he said: "No administration or police force can completely wipe out the sex trade." And this is what frightens non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Dr. Maryam Shahmanesh, chief investigator of the NGO Positive People, Goa, said: "If there was no market for sex in Baina the sex workers wouldn't have existed at Baina. We knew there was a market. The demolition has not tackled this problem. Neither has it tackled the network of goons and pimps, nor the network that is trafficking women from other States to Goa. And it will not, as the government thinks, bring down the incidence of HIV/AIDS [human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome]. If anything, it will make the situation worse since they [CSVs] have now been forced to go underground, making themselves more vulnerable to exploitation by goons and traffickers. This means it will drastically bring down their ability to insist on the use of condoms. So HIV prevalence will increase. And neither can there be intervention by NGOs [in 2002 over 7.5 lakh condoms were distributed and socially marketed by NGOs to women in Baina] since we now don't know where the women have gone."

Given that a substantial number of the affected people were from Karnataka, the demolitions had repercussions in that State. The Karnataka government sent a delegation to Baina to take stock of the situation. Although Parrikar met the delegation and promised relief, he was piqued by Karnataka's concern. "Who is Karnataka to ask me? They should first take care of the four lakh people who live on the roads in Bangalore. Why should they worry about Goans?" The demolition also caused some people in Karnataka to take to the streets and condemn Parrikar and his government. The Vasco Express, which runs between Goa and Bangalore, was detained briefly, and a couple of buses were stoned. Moreover, there is a growing feeling, especially in Goa and among migrants belonging to the lower income groups, that the Goa government is pursuing an anti-migrant policy and trying to deport non-Goans. Although Parrikar disagrees, he is candid that he is not for a "large number of migrants, especially from the lower socio-economic groups, making Goa their home".

SO what good has the demolition done? J.B. Singh, Collector, South Goa, said: "It will clear up an area that had become a haven for the sex trade. Forty-four per cent of the sex workers had AIDS. Pimps, brothel keepers, bars, motorcycle pilots and sex workers had all become a part of an interdependent chain. Baina had become a hideout for criminals and provided space for anti-social activities. But the police and other law-enforcing agencies could not even enter Baina. While we have to take a humanitarian attitude, we also have a duty to the law-abiding citizen of Goa."

However, surveys conducted by the National AIDS Control Project dispute the Collector's claims about the prevalence of AIDS among the CSVs in Baina. While 53.20 per cent of the CSVs had AIDS in 2000, the figure stood at 50.79 in 2001, 24 in 2002 and 30.15 in 2003. It was also revealed that 97 per cent had heard about HIV/AIDS and 95 per cent were aware that AIDS could be prevented through the consistent use of condoms.

J.B. Singh also rejected the criticism that the government was wrong in demolishing all the structures at Baina, including those that were not being used for the sex trade. On the other hand, NGOs pointed out that in July 2003 the Panaji Bench of the Bombay High Court had directed that the District Collector concerned should close down the 250 cubicles that were being used for the sex trade. The cubicles were identified in September 1998 by the Justice G.D. Kamat Inquiry Committee, which was constituted by the NCW, after receiving complaints of police atrocities and human rights violations, to study the problems of CSVs in Baina and to make recommendations for their rehabilitation.

Explained J.B. Singh: "We were acting only as per the July 2003 orders. The 8,752 square metres of land where the demolished structures stood belonged to the government. The people there had no legal justification to stay on the land. If basic amenities such as water and power were provided, it was only to meet their minimum needs. And there may have been compulsions. But no trade licence can legalise their occupation. And the court order does not prevent us from recovering what is government land. And, tell me, how could we practically separate and identify which cubicle was being used for the sex trade and which was not? It was not even possible for the law enforcement agencies to go to Baina. About 346 notices were issued in 1998 itself. If anyone now has a problem, let him file a petition in the court. And commercial establishments were issued notices on June 7. [Ironically, the first court hearing pertaining to the closure of these establishments was posted for the afternoon of June 14, the day the structures were demolished.] In fact, in the neighbouring Katembaina slum, the court has only asked us to give people living there a notice, and not a show-cause notice, 10 days prior to demolition. NGOs are today crying foul because in the eyes of the people of Baina they have been shown as liars. They kept telling the people that nothing would happen to their houses."

IN December 2003, the government, through the Goa State Women's Commission and the Department of Women and Child Development, warned the CSVs in Baina about the impending action. In April, the government, following the recommendations of the Kamat Committee and the directions of the High Court, commissioned the compilation of a socio-economic profile of the CSVs. A Pune-based Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) affiliate, the Rambhau Mhalgi Prabodhini-Centre for Development Planning and Research, was entrusted with the task. NGOs are critical that the government invited, at considerable cost, the Pune-based group when a local organisation itself could have been asked to conduct the survey. The CSVs, on the other hand, criticised the members of the Prabodhini for asking irrelevant questions.

In Bangalore on June 22, members of the Kannada Chaluvali (Vatal Nagaraj group) burn the effigy of Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar in protest against the evacuation of Kannadigas from Baina.-K.BHAGYA PRAKASH

In January, the area was cordoned off and prospective customers were prevented from going in. The NGOs pointed out that this was a mistake since the women, in the absence of any other source of income, were then forced to go out of Baina to seek clients. According to the NGOs, CSVs reported an increase in physical violence against them, harassment by the police, use of force by clients to consume alcohol (alcohol is strongly associated with increased HIV risk), multiple partners and forced sex and rape without condoms. (A 2001 study by the National AIDS Control Project indicated that the CSVs in Baina used condoms in 72 per cent of the instances with paying partners and 46 per cent of the instances with non-paying partners.) There was also an increase in self-harm in terms of attempted suicide and in mental health problems. According to Positive People, condom distribution came down from a monthly average of around 14,000 to 6,000.

A day prior to the demolition, the Mamlatdar announced that the cubicles used for the sex trade would be demolished. Four buses were brought and the CSVs were asked to choose from going to the government's rehabilitation centre at Ribandar (formerly a mental asylum), returning to their respective States, and being locked up at the Fort Aguada prison. None of the women opted for Ribandar. Power and water supply to Baina was cut off. The NGOs claimed that Ribandar was unsuitable since there would be sentries and restrictions. J.B. Singh told Frontline that there was only to be a nominal restriction, preventing the women from going out between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. "for their own safety". He also stressed that the NGOs had poisoned the minds of the women and prevented them from taking up the government's offer. Parrikar said: "These NGOs want the problem to persist. If the commercial sex worker issue is settled many of these NGOs will be without a job, which is why they are preventing a solution."

The NGOs do not agree. They accuse the government of offering a flawed rehabilitation package. Sonali Wayal of Positive People said: "The intention of the government is to send these women out of Goa. We, as part of the `Forum for Justice in Baina', have filed a petition in the High Court against the demolition. The government is taking full advantage of the High Court order which had directed that `since the commercial sex workers are being brought from outside the State the government is not bound to rehabilitate them except to the extent provided by specific directions of the apex court' and that `the rescued commercial sex workers be deported to the State from where they come'." Arun Pandey of the NGO Anyay Rahit Zindagi (ARZ), said: "I think we were complacent. After the High Court order of July 2003 the government had to file a compilation report within nine months. It approached the court in April 2004 and citing the elections and the approaching monsoon sought a further 10 months to comply. It also commissioned the socio-economic survey. We NGOs thought that the government was sincere. And we never thought that they would demolish all the structures."

Added Shahmanesh: "At best we thought the government would banish the sex workers and seal the cubicles." During her visit to Baina, even NCW Chairperson Poornima Advani said the Commission was unaware that the Goa government was going to demolish the shacks.

Parrikar told Frontline that within the next six months all the shacks and illegal construction on the Baina beach, including the sprawling Katembaina slum, would be demolished, but only after rehabilitating the people living there. After the June 14 demolition not many NGOs are taking the Chief Minister's promise of rehabilitation too seriously.

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