The 21-day lockdown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to fight the pandemic has put everyone under the fear of uncertainty. While all of us are trying to figure out our lives under the lockdown, there are certain sections of the society that are worst hit by this epidemic such as sex workers. The lockdown has escalated the risk of poverty and ill health for the sex workers, as there are no clients in the market. Isn’t that the responsibility of government to protect these vulnerable people amidst the lockdown who are struggling for their daily bread?
Add to hunger other finger pointing. There’s loathing and societal shame right now with people in their areas calling them names or being a potential source for disease.
No food, no money
Many sex workers don’t even have the money to afford food since the nationwide lockdown was announced on March 24. Around 80 brothels house close to 3000 sex workers in multi-storeyed dingy buildings located in the busy market area of GB Road, remained shutdown. Since the savings of these workers are meagre there is no other source to finance their daily expenses.
An India Today report noted that people are stuck in these dirty corridors and authorities are strictly monitoring us.
“We cannot even go down to buy groceries or medicines. Many of us are sick but now we have no means to even reach a doctor or call for help, let alone wearing masks. The police do not really listen to us. We anyway have little money left. We do not know when this lockdown will get over. I wonder if all of us will survive this,” said the work.
Lack of support from government
Till now there are no relief packages being exclusively announced for the sex workers. However some NGO and police personnel have voluntarily came forward to help them by ensuring proper food packets, masks and sanitizers. But this is not enough. The sex workers need urgent help from the government, so there is a kind of sustenance available for them.
Making this worse for sex workers is that community support from social impact organisations is also suffering. Rashmi Tiwari of Aahan Foundation wrote a powerful piece on SheThePeople saying “all the positive effects of such programs on the participants and ultimate recipients are slowly withering away.”
“While many professions seeing a gradual decline in business, sex workers are witnessing a sharper fall. With almost no source of revenue, it is difficult to safeguard their children who are now at home all the time due to shutdown. These women cannot even benefit from the benevolence of the general public who are coming forward to lend a helping hand to other women,” notes Rashmi.
The sex workers are worried about the length of this lockdown and the impact on their business. Even after the lockdown ends and business resumes, there will be all sort of apprehensions among the clients, they worry. The business will take some time to regain its momentum which is another fear among the workers.
Various NGOs and people have been working continuously to support sex workers in different ways. Such as Aanchal Narang who raised money to help the sex workers of Kamathipura, Maharashtra amidst COVID-19 lockdown. She is out on the mission to help these workers, as their daily earnings have taken a hit due to dearth of customers. She also did a project work,named ‘Community Mental Health’ , with the sex workers and closely interacted with them to raise awareness regarding mental well being. Narang runs a put practice in Andheri West as a psychologist with a specialization in addiction,trauma,gender and sexuality.
Sangama, an NGO in Bengaluru is also working towards the rights and welfare of sexual minorities since 1999, has extended a helping hand to make the lockdown period a little easier for sex workers.
Sangama will provide groceries to 350 families of sex workers. Each kit have suffice consumption for April and May and is worth Rs 2000. The NGO pooled the donations from various people and then using the money for the betterment of the sex workers.