Other States

Virus effect: sex workers worry about the months to come

“I am now reduced to a beggar and rely entirely on free cooked meals distributed in our area,” says Laxmi Mane (name changed), a 32-year-old sex worker in Pune’s largest red light district, Budhwar Peth.

The lockdown and the fear of COVID-19 means that this primary bread winner of her family of five has no source of income now, and perhaps for months to come.

The financial worries continue to mount — an unpaid loan, overdue house rent, maintenance costs and an uncertainty over the future of her business.

“After the lockdown is over, there will be no business. Earlier, it was the note ban which reduced our earnings from ₹15,000- 20,000 to ₹7,000 as many clients stopped visiting us. Now, clients will worry about who all we have come in contact with. These thoughts keep gnawing on me,” she says in a telephonic interview. She earns about ₹7,000 per month, while her husband earns ₹6,000 monthly from his roadside food stall, which is also shut.

With the lockdown being extended into May, she is also anxious about her three children who study at a boarding school in Ahmednagar and had to return home next month for the summer break.

Least of worries

There are approximately 1,700 sex workers living in Budhwar Peth, apart from nearly 300 who have fled to their homes because of the lockdown. Food provision is the least of their worries.

“There are other needs too. Many women have families to support in their home towns, childcare has become a huge problem as day and night care shelters have shut down and children spend their entire day in cramped brothels. Routine medical needs of those who suffer from diabetes and hypertension are being ignored and then there is the issue of mental health, especially with uncertainty over resumption of business,” says Tejaswi Sevekari, Executive Director, Saheli Sangh — a sex workers collective.

She is concerned that it may take 8-12 months for sex workers to resume their livelihood.

In the initial days of the lockdown, HIV+ women were unable to access third-line anti-retroviral therapy (a higher treatment regimen for those who fail first and second line treatment) as it entails travelling to Mumbai. After a sex workers’ organisation, Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (VAMP), moved the Bombay High Court, district authorities were ordered to make suitable arrangements.

In Jharkhand’s Gumla, where sex workers earn ₹ 40-50 per client or sometimes offer services in kind, such as in return for tilling or harvesting by a male on her farm land, there may be problems faced by HIV+ survivors in accessing anti-retroviral therapy (ART) for which they need to travel to Sadar Hospital in Ranchi, explains Pushpa Sharma from Srijan Foundation.

‘Can’t avail benefits’

Many daily wagers, who travel to Ranchi on a daily basis and sometimes provide sex when they can't find other work, found themselves stranded and unable to return home when the lockdown was announced. “As a result, they have no identity proof, no ration card to avail benefits,” adds Ms. Sharma.


Our code of editorial values

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Oct 22, 2021 4:14:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/virus-effect-sex-workers-worry-about-the-months-to-come/article31384288.ece

Next Story