Indian Sex workers || The untold story of survival in Lockdown period

In this devastating pandemic of COVID-19, we rarely think about the Indian Sex Workers, not in India but the whole world. We forgot that they also exist side by side of our economy.

COVID-19 has impacted hugely every section of the society without any discrimination in the whole world. Let us check the current status of COVID active cases.

But the marginalized sections of society get affected the most like:

      • Daily Labours
      • Sex workers
      • Hawkers
      • Migrant workers
      • Very small Tea stall or Dhaba

However, except for sex workers govt has provided various relief packages for laborers and other marginalized society. This is the cause that we should send a message to govt through this post to help the Indian sex workers too.

The key topics of this blog :

      • Problems faced by Indian sex workers in COVID-19.
      • Risk of dying if they found positive.
      • Do their problems continues after lockdown lifted?
      • 5 e-books related to Indian Sex workers you should read.
      • How they are similar or different from other countries.

Problems faced by Indian sex workers in COVID-19

According to the National Aids Control Organisation(NACO), India has close to 637500 sex workers, and over 5 Lakh customers visit a daily basis, the scientists noted in the release. Due to COVID-19, they are facing an enormous number of problems. These are the following:

No Bussiness no money:

      • Zero customers due to lockdown cause drying up of money.
      • Moneylenders give them a loan at very high interest(12-14%).
      • They lack a bank account and don’t invest in savings.
      • There is no food, no customers, no medicines provided by govt.

Social Distancing is impossible:

      • There is no vaccine for COVID-19 as of now.
      • Sex workers’ work needs physical contact, so the term social distancing is far away from the work they do.
      • In cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, worst affected areas due to COVID-19.
      • These cities are already congested with a huge number of people.
      • Brothels located in these cities are jam-packed red light areas where social distancing is impossible.
      •  Delhi’s GB road has approximately 3000 sex workers housed in 80 small brothels. So if we take 1 brothel about 38 Indian sex workers are staying in. This is not less than human law violation.
      • Kolkata’s Sonagachi which is referred to as Asia’s largest red-light area has approximately 9000 Indian sex workers.
Indian sex workers
Source: Google images

Hygiene of Indian sex workers:

      • Hygiene is already a challenge in south-eastern Asia.
      • But is brothels this is extreme. Only 1 bathroom is shared by about 15-25 people.
      • They are having limited access to running water.
      • Brothels rarely have kitchens.
      • They buy food from vendors.
Indian sex workers hygiene
Source: Google images

No acceptance in society:

      • Back to home town may lead to no acceptance for Indian sex workers because they are sex workers.
      • There is a huge social stigma about the acceptance of a woman who is a sex worker.

Unable to reach home:

      • After lockdown, many women(60% of sex workers of Delhi) left for their villages but some couldn’t manage to leave.
      • If they manage to leave they said it would take 3 months on foot to reach their home. So if they leave they would never come back they said.

Mental problem:

      • As the uncertainty and fear of the pandemic grow, social workers anticipate a sharp spike in depression, anxiety, and perhaps, suicide.
      • Existing mental health problems are likely to be exacerbated by anxiety over income, food, and housing, alongside concerns about infection from continuing to work in the absence of social protection.

Risk of dying if Indian sex workers found positive:

      1. Sex workers are 13 times more at risk of HIV compared with the general population.
      2. This is due to an increased likelihood of being economically vulnerable, unable to negotiate consistent condom use, and experiencing violence, criminalization.
      3. Though, there is scare reliable evidence of the risk of infection or complications of COVID-19 among people living with HIV, although the risk could be greater among those who are immunocompromised and not on HIV treatment.
      4. Increased prevalence of underlying health conditions among sex workers might increase the risk of COVID-19 progressing to severe illness.
      5. Some of the sex workers here also feel that they may be at greater risk of suffering from coronavirus than others.

No Support from the Govt:

Indian govt says that we don’t have any prostitution in India, they don’t legalize it. With no govt support, the onus to help the marginalized has fallen on the voluntary sector. Women working in the sex industry are now dependent on charities for their basic needs, including food and access to medication during the lockdown, especially antiretroviral therapy medications for treating HIV/Aids.

Do their problems continues after lockdown lifted?

Urmi Basu, the founder of New Light in Kolkata, which works with children of sex workers, worries about the long term situation.

Even when the lockdown lifts, if they start taking clients, there is no way of knowing who’s carrying the virus. Unlike HIV/Aids, a condom can’t protect them.

No opening of Red Light Area shortly:

Govt of India unlikely to open brothels and sex work so early because researchers including those from Yale School of Medicine in the US, said closing down these places of sex work may reduce projected COVID-19 death toll increase in India by 63% post the easing of lockdown measures.

Findings of the report: 

      1. They believe the closing of Lockdown can reduce the number of cases by 72% in a period of 45 days, and delay the peak of COVID-19 cases by 17 days.
      2. If the red-light areas are kept closed, they said there can be a delay in the peak of COVID-19 cases by up to 12 days in Mumbai, 17 days in New Delhi, and 29 days in Pune.
      3. According to scientists, the measure may also reduce COVID-19 cases by a fifth in Mumbai, by 27% in Pune and 31% in New Delhi.

Way Forward:

Though it is the need of the hour to not open brothels, there is a critical need for Govt and health and social care providers to work with affected communities and front-line service providers to co-produce effective interventions.

It may be the right time for the govt to come up with alternative livelihood options for sex workers.

5 e-books related to Indian Sex workers you should read:

      1. Sex Work: Writings by Women in the Sex Industry.
      2. Prostitution and Beyond: An Analysis of Sex Workers in India.
      3. The Autobiography of a Sex Worker.
      4. Sex Workers As Virtual Boyfriends Kindle Edition.
      5. Sex Work and Sex Workers.

How Indian sex workers are similar or different from other countries:

Indian sex workers are not an exception to the world, the same condition applied to other countries too. They face some of the below problems:

      1. Increased policing can expose sex workers to more harassment and violence.
      2. And several countries have already led to home raids.
      3. Compulsory Covid-19 testing.
      4. Arrests and treated deportation of migrant sex workers.
      5. In the USA sex workers, cant get rent/mortgage relief, utility payment abatements, or unemployment checks.
      6. In the Netherlands, prostitution and operating a brothel are legal and regulated unlike India and the USA. Although sex workers are not allowed to resume their business until September. The Advocacyund group says the lack of support for sex workers has exposed how vulnerable they are Dutch law.


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