Kamathipura (also spelled Kamthipuram) [1] is a neighbourhood in Mumbai, India. It was first settled after 1795 with the construction of causeways that connected the erstwhile seven islands of Mumbai. Initially known as Lal Bazaar, it got its name from the Kamathis (workers) of other areas of the country, who were labourers on construction sites. Due to tough police crackdown, in the late 1990s with the rise of AIDS and government’s redevelopment policy that helped sex workers to move out of the profession and subsequently out of Kamathipura, the number of sex workers in the area has dwindled.[2] In 1992, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) recorded there were 45,000 sex workers here which was reduced to 1,600 in 2009[1] and 500 in 2018.[3] Many sex workers have migrated to other areas in Maharashtra with real estate developers taking over the high-priced real estate. In 2018 the Maharashtra government sought tenders to demolish and redevelop the area.[3]

Before the completion of the Hornby Vellard project in 1784, which built a causeway uniting all seven islands of Mumbai under William Hornby, governor of Bombay (1771-1784), plugged the Great Breach in Mahalaxmi, while the subsequent Bellasis Road causeway joined Mazagaon and Malabar Hill in 1793. This resulted in several low-lying marshy areas of Mumbai Flats like Byculla, Tardeo, Mahalaxmi and Kamathipura opening up for habitation. Thereafter starting 1795, Kamathis (workers) of other areas of the country, working as labourers on construction sites began settling here, giving the area its present name. It was bounded by Bellasis Road on the north, by Gaodevi on the south and the main road across, Falkland Road.[4][5] At one point during this period it was home to a Chinese community, which worked as dockhands and ran restaurants. By the late 19th century it all changed.[1]

Till then, as previous 1864 Census figures for Mumbai indicate, other areas had a larger population of prostitutes, like Girgaon (1,044), Phanaswadi (1,323) and Oomburkharee (1,583) compared with Kamathipura (601), all which declined after 1864.[6] This small region boasted the most exotic consorts. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, a large number of women and girls from continental Europe and Japan were trafficked into Kamathipura, where they worked as prostitutes servicing soldiers and locals alike.[7][8] Gradually, social stratification also took place: A busy road in Kamathipura was known as Safed Gully (White Lane) owing to the European prostitutes housed here during the British raj. The lane is now known as Cursetji Shuklaji Street. The most well-known brothel in the area, Pila House, is the hybridisation of its original word: Playhouse. The first venereal disease clinic of Bombay was opened in 1916, being taken over by BMC in 1925. Nearby, Bachchuseth ki Wadi on Foras Road was famous for its kothewalis or tawaifs and mujras.[1]

When India gained independence, Indian sex workers took over. In recent decades, large numbers of Nepalese women and girls have also been trafficked into the district as sex workers.[9] Over the years under Indian government rule, the sex industry in Kamathipura continued to flourish, and trafficking brought women from different parts of the country here. Eventually it became Asia’s largest sex district.[10]

Today, it is said that there are so many brothels in the area that there is no space for the sex workers to sit. They hang around in the streets, solicit customers, and then rent an available bed. The 3,000-odd buildings in the area are largely dilapidated and in urgent need of repairs; safe drinking water and sanitation is scarce as well.[11]

Description source: Wikipedia

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