Being a Social Worker In Mumbai’s Red Light Area

Over 20,000 sex workers cramped in a 14 lane nightmare: this is what the Kamathipura brothel – which has been in existence for the past 150 years – looks like. The general public – sometimes understandably – has an aversion towards red-light areas (RLAs) such as these, forgetting that underneath the sex and business, children and women live an unimaginable life of misery.

I am a social worker at Oasis India’s Kamathipura Hub. My day begins with a walk around the area where I meet women. Women just like you and me but with a stinging past that brought them here. Starting from rapport building to helping them move out of the RLA, we slowly work to empower them to not only make the decision to leave, but also to become self-sustainable. Although this is a long emotional and mentally draining process, many women have successfully left the trade. They live among us. Happily.  

When we initially start working with a sex worker- we face an established pattern. First they lie. Avoid eye contact. Eventually they open up, call us ‘didi’ (sister) and get attached to us like family. When we personally get to know these women, it is hard to digest that they were lied to, kidnapped and forced into sex work.

What is life as a sex worker like? From my experience of working with them, here are some issues that they face every day.

Abuse and controlled by pimps and brothel owners

Women do not talk freely to social workers or NGO staff since they are under brothel owners and pimps who control their every move. New workers have to get permission to even step out of the brothel. Women are often verbally and physically abused when they try to seek help. Some young girls born to sex workers have not even seen the world outside. Therefore they do not truly understand that there is life beyond.


Young sex workers are predominantly from villages in Maharashtra, made to believe that they will be given a job or an acting role in Bollywood. They all leave their homes behind, desiring for a better life and to escape the horrendous poverty they are faced with every day. But they feel deceived when they discover that poverty is at its epitome in the RLA. They live in dingy rooms with no financial freedom and more often under debt to either the pimp or the brothel owner.

Hygiene and health issues

The surroundings that women live in are unimaginable. They suffer from sexually transmitted diseases as well as serious mental health issues. Pimps force them to take in customers. They are not provided with proper food, suffering from prolonged illness and malnourished.


Majority of sex workers are addicted to alcohol, tobacco, drugs and smoking because they believe that it helps them forget their suffering and pain. Some even die due to the addiction.

The above are only some of the struggles that the women face, all the while suffering in silence. At Oasis, it is our goal to give them a voice.

We help sex workers with:

– Referrals to other NGOs for residential and financial needs
– Helping their children find hostels through the Child Welfare Committee
– Liaising with NGOs to advocate for domestic violence cases
– Home investigations
– Job placements
– Medical assistance
– Life skills
– Vocational training
– Livelihood training

Rina, a sex worker from Kamathipura left her past behind and moved in with her second husband in hopes of finding a brand new beginning. But in a few months, she found out that her husband gambles away all his money. He also physically and verbally abused her. Rina escaped from that dangerous situation, came back to Mumbai and sought the help of Oasis. Working with thousands of women in similar situations, we referred her to a partner NGO to file a domestic violence case in court. Our aim is to help Rina join the tailoring course and become self-sustainable within 12 months.

In the past 12 years, Oasis India has assisted 1224 trafficked women and children back to wholeness. We have also reintegrated 679 victims of trafficking or those abandoned – back with their families.

Sheela Bhalerao
Social Worker, Kamathipura Hub



  • Philip Thompson ,

    Hi Sheela what amazing work you do.
    We are involved with providing hairdressing training at the Mumbai refuges. Through BA1 Hair we hope to expand the project to help more women in this predicament. I didn’t have time as we where teaching but I will endeavour to come to see the redlight area.
    We will be returning this year perhaps we might make contact. My best, Philip

  • Sheela B halerao ,

    Thanks Philip.

  • Rajesh ,

    I am ready to work with ur ngo,i will give my best pls consider me for these work my number is 8329371519

    • Oasis India ,

      Hi Rajesh! Do send us an email to with your contact details and Resume. We will get back to you as soon as we can. Thanks!

  • Priyanka Shelke ,

    Hi Sheela,
    I’m an Architecture student looking to study Kamathipura and its essence for an upcoming project. This article was extremely insightful and I would like to know if
    there was any way i could get in touch with you for a further chat?

  • Preeti Bhagat ,


    Good morning.
    On behalf of Inner Wheel Club of Bombay Airport, we would like to help women residing at Red light area in Mumbai. Can you list us the things needed for them in this pandemic situation?
    Plz reply us ASAP.

    • Oasis India ,

      Hi! Could you please give us your email id and we will definitely get in touch with you. Thank you so much for reaching out to us! Our email id is

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    Dear Partners & Supporters,

     Greetings from Oasis India!

    I would like to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year! As we step in 2022, we thank you for what you have helped us accomplish this past year.

    Oasis India has accomplished 27 successful years of empowering women and children in India. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for the wonderful support and partnership that we have shared over the years. Even though we faced a great global distress in the past years, we have come out stronger. As we begin celebrating this season of joy and peace, I would like to thank you for your support and love towards Oasis India.

    My sincere appreciation to the Board (Committee of Management) for their guidance and a special thank you to our funding partners. We are very grateful to our institutional donors, Mukthi Bike Challenge network & riders, volunteers, sponsors, donors, 500 club donors, community partners and everyone who has continued to support our work through donations, volunteering and professional services. You all make us who we are and we will never lose sight of that. Our teams in the field who work directly with the beneficiaries have gone above and beyond their call of duty in 2021 and have left me so deeply humbled by their self-sacrificing efforts and commitment.

    You will be delighted to know that in 2021, we have received our Platinum certification from GuideStar India for one year. That makes Oasis India one of the selected 100 non-profits attaining the highest Transparency and Quality Standards. We are on track, making all necessary arrangements for our FCRA renewal. We have also received 12AB and 80G renewal for the year. Our biggest accomplishment this year has been the successful launch of our new hub at North East in Churachandpur, Manipur to help families in alternative skill training and holistic development of children, leading to a developed and socially conscious community. Mukthi Bike Challenge 2021 was nothing short of amazing and the different editions in the various cities and countries helped us to get the word out about human trafficking to people around the globe.

    Thank you all for supporting the work of Oasis India and helping us make a difference in our community. Your dedication is what inspires each and every one of us. This season, I wish you all the best and success in life as we head towards 2022! Be blessed.

    With Regards,
    Mangneo Lhungdim
    Executive Director
    Oasis India