A post office in Kamathipura after two centuries
The first post office in Kamathipura to come up in the last 200 years is a big deal, insists Poonam Awasthi, field director of AAWC
After paying the pimps and the brothel owner, say sex workers, there is little left to save. But in Kamathipura, said to be Asia’s oldest ‘red light district’ operating for over two centuries, sex workers say that the first dedicated post office with PIN Code 400008 on Gali No. 8 is a boon for them. They now can deposit small savings safely.
Maya Mondal (name changed) recalls that in the absence of a post office till now, the sex workers would trust men with their savings and remittances back home. But when one of them ran off with cash after posing as a postman and winning their trust, they had stopped saving altogether. The pandemic underscored again the need for savings.
The ordeal of visiting government offices and the absence of documents also deterred them from approaching post offices outside the district. But thanks to the NGO Apne Aap Women’s Collective (AAWC)and a compassionate Post Master General, a woman, the first post office in the area in 200 years is now a reality.
Poonam Awasthi, Field Director of AAWC, recalls the difficulties the NGO faced. ‘Even the sex workers living here often get lost in the maze of lanes in Kamathipura’, she points out. It was difficult to find space even to hang out, leave alone operate from. Often working out of streets or space that could barely accommodate a cot, an abandoned municipal school eventually came to their rescue. Sex workers would often drop in to sleep and use the lockers provided by AAWC.
Convincing sex workers to save also proved to be a task. A door-to-door campaign and weekly follow ups finally softened them. When the NGO finally persuaded the state government to issue ration cards to the women and earned the trust of sex workers. The NGO is trying to get them proper documents so that they can prove their identity without inviting contempt or ridicule.
While Post Master General Swati Pandey was not available for comments, AAWC says it was she whose approval and understanding clinched the issue. Earlier attempts and pleas had failed to cut any ice. The post office in Kamathipura, staffed entirely by women, is also a boon because the staffers help the sex workers in filling up forms correctly and guide them through procedures.
The post office also offers various other schemes besides the savings deposits and Money Order. Savings schemes like ‘Sukanya’, which mature when girl children complete their Matriculation, and recurring deposit schemes too are slowly becoming popular.
(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)