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Prostitution in Mumbai

Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, is a city in India that is renowned for its expansive red-light district, Kamathipura. Home to thousands of sex workers, from women and men to children and transgender people, this area has become a major hub for sex tourism in India and even in Asia, earning the city its reputation as the “ultimate destination.”


Mumbai is the bustling capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra and one of the world’s most populous cities, with an estimated population of over 18 million. It is no surprise that India is the global epicentre of the sex industry, with the largest commercial sex trade in the world. This vibrant metropolis is often referred to as the ultimate sex tourism destination. Despite the deeply entrenched gender-based discrimination prevalent in India, it is a land of diverse cultures and religious beliefs, with people of all races and ethnicities. In this paradoxical country, sexuality is tightly regulated, yet the sex trade flourishes.

During the British colonial era in India, a red light district was established in Mumbai in the mid-19th century. This was largely due to concerns that British soldiers would engage in homosexual relationships with one another, but also as a way to satisfy the British military’s need for sexual activity, as a way to reduce boredom and maintain imperial dominance over Indian women. This created a designated area for British soldiers to safely engage in heterosexual activities, while also isolating the brothel area from the residential areas, allowing the British colonial administration to maintain power and control over the sex workers living there.

Researchers have conducted extensive research into sex work in Mumbai, focusing on HIV/AIDS patterns. To gain a deeper understanding, they have collected interviews and narratives from people involved in and impacted by the sex work industry in the city.


Svati P. Shah has expressed sympathy and understanding for those who are involved in prostitution, and has highlighted the need to ensure that they are protected and respected, while also advocating for the decriminalization of sex work. She has argued that criminalizing sex work increases the stigma and harms the safety and well-being of those involved in the industry, and that decriminalization is the best way to ensure their safety and protection. In addition, she has highlighted the need for sex workers to have access to resources, such as healthcare, safe working conditions, and legal protection.

State of sex work in Mumbai

Located in the heart of the city, Kamathipura is the largest red light district in Asia, estimated to have over five thousand sex workers. Of these, the majority are thought to victims of sex trafficking, typically young girls from the surrounding areas and neighboring countries, such as Nepal and Bangladesh. Additionally, hijaras, individuals who were born male but identify as female, are known to work in the red light districts of Mumbai. It has been suggested that they are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual activities due to being perceived as unable to transmit or contract diseases. Sex workers in Mumbai attract both local and traveling customers seeking commercial sex. The exact number of those involved in trafficking in the red light districts of Mumbai is unknown, due to the criminal and often clandestine nature of the issue.

Sex Workers in the City ( Mumbai )

Mumbai has a long history of sex work, with legal and illegal forms of prostitution. Sex work in Mumbai is largely unregulated and is carried out in many forms including brothels, Mumbai escort services, massage parlors, and street-based sex work. Mumbai is also home to a large number of sex workers who are migrants from other parts of India and also from neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Nepal.

Research has revealed that sex work in Mumbai is often driven by a range of economic, social, and personal factors. Women enter into the sex industry due to various crises in their lives, including marital abuse, death of a spouse or parent, poverty, and other traumatic events. Furthermore, Ashwini Tambe has found that the realm of sex work and the role of family are often intertwined in Mumbai. In many cases, women are sold into sex work by friends, family members, or acquaintances. Additionally, increased economic hardship has led to women such as housewives and daily laborers using sex work as a means of securing additional income to support themselves and/or their families.

Research on sex work in Mumbai has traditionally focused on female and child sex workers, overlooking the increasing number of male and transgender sex workers. However, it is essential to account for male sex workers in discussions regarding sex work in Mumbai, as they represent a high-risk group for HIV infection. Through interviews, research has shown that male sex workers, despite their varying sexual identities, solicitation practices, sex roles and clientele, are driven to enter the sex work industry due to their disadvantaged economic circumstances.

As anti-human trafficking and HIV/AIDS prevention initiatives become more prominent, brothels have become the primary focus of these efforts. Consequently, this has led to a shift in the sex work industry in Mumbai, as clients are more likely to seek services outside of brothels in order to reduce their risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

Conditions of sex workers in Mumbai

Social workers have been tasked with addressing the troubling issue of sex trafficking in Mumbai, particularly the trafficking of young girls. The city’s red light districts are filled with brothels, some of which are patrolled by goondas, mafia-connected thugs, to ensure that sex workers remain enslaved. Moreover, police raids often target girls from outside India and those who are underage, who are often kept hidden from view by brothel owners.

The madams of female sex workers typically collect payment prior to the sex act being performed. The wages of the female sex workers are then used to cover costs such as electricity, food, rent, interest, and bribes paid to local police.

In recent years, Mumbai has seen a decrease in the number of brothels due to gentrification, increased anti-trafficking initiatives, and police raids. This has led to the dispersal of sex workers and has made them more vulnerable. While efforts have been made to encourage sex workers/ Mumbai Call girls to use condoms, they are often met with stigmatization. Young girls who have been trafficked for sex work have no control over their situation and are not given a choice to use condoms. Furthermore, condoms are not used in sar dhaki, the practice of selling a girl as a virgin, which demonstrates that there is still a need for improved working conditions and protection for these workers.

HIV and AIDS patterns in Mumbai

Following the first case of HIV/AIDS identified in Mumbai, efforts to prevent the spread of the disease were undertaken. However, these efforts mainly concentrated on female sex workers, neglecting male and transgender sex workers. From 2006 to 2009, Mumbai experienced an intensive HIV prevention campaign, which saw increased use of safe sex practices within brothels and among street-based sex workers. This campaign included programs intended to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS, such as peer based education, condom distribution, increased screening and treatment of sexually transmitted infections and diseases. Despite these efforts, Maharashtra’s female HIV infection rate rose from 26% to 27.5% between 2006 and 2009, with a large proportion of these infections occurring Escorts in Mumbai. Furthermore, according to Human Rights Watch, more than half of the city’s sex worker population had contracted HIV. This is partly due to the fact that some Arab and Indian men believe that having sex with a virgin can cure gonorrhea and syphilis, leading them to bid for and purchase these services from Mumbai. Additionally, some female sex workers may develop a relationship with their clients, considering them a lover or a partner, and may not use a condom in this situation, even if they are HIV positive.

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