The State of Sex Workers in India During COVID-19

India has been in a COVID-19-induced nation-wide lockdown from March 25th. The imposition affected a multitude of people across the nation, particularly, daily wage workers and those belonging to the lower economic strata. Amongst them are millions of sex workers who are rendered jobless as a result of the ongoing lockdown. The once busy and bustling streets with a daily clientele of at least 6-7 costumers (per sex worker) have come to a standstill. Sex workers are now struggling to make ends meet.

The entire community is facing serious repercussions due to the halt in their income. With little or no money left, the availability of food becomes meager. Many sex workers are HIV-AIDS positive or TB (tuberculosis) patients who struggle to generate enough income to balance between food and medicines. Some even have families in villages who rely on them for a regular stipend. In Mumbai’s Kamathipura area, those who failed to pay rent were kicked out of their houses. They had no option but to live on footpaths, which they call “Thandi Sadak”.

Sex workers are more vulnerable to contract the deadly pathogen given their unhygienic living conditions. In some areas, 25 to 30 people are crammed in one room of a multi-story building, all sharing a common bathroom. It is unlikely that their occupation will resume post lockdown since the nature of their job completely violates the norms of social distancing. A recent Yale & Harvard study states: “Indians are at a much lower risk of getting COVID-19 if red light areas are kept closed after the lockdown until an effective treatment or vaccine for COVID-19 is developed.”

With their sustenance on the line, sex workers are now forced to depend on the government for aid. Reportedly, under the Prime Minister’s Garib Kalyan Yojana, a financial package of INR 500 (USD 6.5) per month would be transferred to women’s accounts under the Jan Dhan Yojana for three months. However, most of these women do not have a Jan Dhan account, or the absence of required documents disqualify their chances of acquiring one.

Hope remains, however, with several non-profit organizations coming forward to help sex workers. In Kamathipura, Mumbai, Kranti is providing food or food rations to 60-70 of the 2,000 families every day. In Kolkata, The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee and New Light are collecting cooked foods as a donation to sex workers and their families, and distribute over 250 food hampers, respectively. Vishwa Hindu Parishad in Madhya Pradesh is providing a one-time meal and food rations for days to the Bachhada Community, where women are groomed to become prostitutes and men do not work.

Allegedly, many sex workers have started offering online services (video and audio calls) to their loyal customers in order to earn a little. “Customers have no qualms in spending small amounts, ranging from Rs 100 (USD 1.3) to Rs 200 (USD 2.73) for a live video chat/show. There isn’t much money, but these small amounts help,” said a sex worker from Kerala. This, however, leaves behind those who do not have a smartphone or cannot afford an internet connection to fend for themselves.



Featured Image via Canva

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