New Delhi: This surely is an instance of better late than never - in this case, all of 48 years. The infamous "G.B.Road" address on the voter identity cards of Delhi's sex workers had stripped away their dignity and made them a subject of humiliation and ignominy. This will hopefully change with the Election Commission (EC) deciding to replace the address with Swami Shraddhanand Marg - the road's official name since 1966.
The idea dawned upon the EC when it realised that very few sex workers had come forward when the electoral rolls were revised ahead of the April-May Lok Sabha election.
According to the EC, of the 5,500 sex workers in the 77 licensed brothels, only 1,500 have voter identity cards. This led to the realisation that G.B. Road - Garstin Bastion Road - had a perennial stigma attached to it.
Named after a British officer of the East India Company, the road during the day is home to a thriving market in automobile parts, machinery, hardware and tools - one of the largest such in the National Capital Region. The brothels are located on the second and third floors and come alive after sundown.
"There is a negativity associated with the name G.B. Road. The sex workers who were already enrolled in the electorate list were not able to open bank accounts, get ration cards and Aadhar cards and other government documents. This was also the reason why other sex workers were not showing interest in enrolling themselves in the electoral list," Vijay Dev, Delhi's chief electoral officer, told IANS.
Now, the EC will set up camps at various locations to distribute electoral forms to sex workers who already have voter identity cards with G.B Road as their address - and to encourage the others to also sign up.
Vijay Dev is hopeful this change will "give them dignity and motivate all others to avail of their rights".
"Earlier there was no focus on these people, but now we have analysed the problem and thought of this initiative to focus on marginalised sections," he added.
While the voter identity cards of the citizens staying on G.B. Road contains the detailed address of their residence or location, the sex workers have only 'G.B. Road' inscribed on their cards - thus separating them from the others.
This omission has led to broader discrimination for these workers in public places and caused them humiliation and harassment.
"I was once told by the ticket checker on a train to have sex with him or else deboard despite my having a confirmed ticket. It happened the moment he saw G.B. Road on my voter identity card that I had shown as an identity proof," a sex worker, who did not want to reveal her name, told IANS.
Such is the stigma associated with this address and profession that these women constantly struggle to live a life of dignity and fight for their existence.
Said another sex worker: "I failed to get my four-year old son admitted in a school. The school authorities turned down my application when they saw the address on my voter id, which is the only address and identity proof I have."
Subodh Rawat, who has headed several enrollment campaigns for the marginalised sections, agreed that the sex workers lack identity.
"It was seen that despite having voter identity cards, neither did the sex workers come forward to participate in the electoral process nor could use it as an identity proof anywhere due to the stigma attached to the address," Rawat told IANS.
Whether this change of address will help these women to restart a new chapter in their lives is an open question. But they do hope it becomes a solution for their woes.
"Change happens slowly. All I can hope is that people accept our existence and respect our dignity," said Beena, a sex worker.