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Why Isn’t Anybody Talking About Sex Workers During The COVID-19 Pandemic?

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This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

When we think about the ‘people of this country,’ we think about people from the rural area, migrant workers. After that, on rare occasions, we also think about people from the SC/ST community. Please note, I have used the word “think” and not “care”. Had we really cared, we would not have witnessed this exodus, suffering, and deaths of crores of people, especially the migrant workers.

But, do we ever think about sex workers?!

I feel sad to say this, but apart from  5-10% of people, the rest of the country stigmatises them in one way or the other. We all know, what people think about them, and what they expect from them. First of all, they don’t even consider them human beings. But, just once, before stigmatising then, read their stories. The stories of sex workers will shatter your heart to the core.

Have you ever imagined, how are they sustaining themselves without any source of income? Representational image.

I hope, everyone is aware of the movie Ek Villain. There was a song in the movie called Awari. I think everyone in this country should try to understand each and every line of that song. Then only they will be able to realise what sex workers go through. I personally, was touched by these lines:

“Duniya Chhoona Chaahe Mujhko Yun (The world wants to touch me)

Jaise Unki Saari Ki Saari Main (as if I am all theirs..)

Duniya Dekhe Roop Mera (The world looks at my beauty)

Koi Na Jaane Bechari Main” ((but) no one knows how wretched I am..)

………………

“Koi Shaam Bulaaye (Someone calls me for the evenings,)

Koi Daam Lagaaye (Someone sets a price for me..)

Main Bhi Upar Se Hansti (I, too, smile at the surface,)

Par Andar Se Haaye..” (but inside, alas, (I am so sad))

 Their situation is horrifying, not only in this country but in every country across the globe. And, I am not talking about those who have chosen the profession absolutely voluntarily and are really happy with it, they make exceptional cases. I am talking about those sex workers who were forced to enter the profession, either by a person or by their condition like poverty, orphanage, and more.

Now think, during an extraordinary time like this, when the whole world, literally, is on a ‘pause mode’; where there is a scarcity of resources, where even influential people are finding it hard to gather necessities, what must be happening to the sex workers, who are not only poor but are also a stigmatised by the everyone (Be it the society, authorities, professionals, other poor people and even the government). They do not have anyone’s support.

Prostitution
The current approach is definitely not working and is making their life worse. So, we need a better plan. Representational image.

Because of the lockdown, obviously the clients are not visiting them. Have you ever imagined, how are they sustaining themselves without any source of income? I know, most of the people will say, source of income has been cut off for a lot of people. But, those people can at least say it in front of the camera and to the Government. Most importantly, society will also believe what they are saying.

But, the sex workers will not seek help from the authorities because most kinds of sex work are prohibited under the law. So, whenever they go to seek help, they are, first of all, harassed (mostly by the authorities) and are later charged under vague provisions of different laws. Basically, they can come to seek rehabilitation but the vague legal provisions and the approach of society and of the authorities towards them does not allow the sex workers to come forward.

Even if they come forward, society will stigmatise them, no one will give them a job and what not! So, they might just accept it as their fate and remain silent.

When our society cannot stop itself from judging a girl when she gets in a relationship, how will they stop themselves from judging the sex workers?

During the lockdown, how you ever wondered how many NGOs are working for them? You may find few for major red light areas like Kamathipura, Sonagachi, and others. But what about the ‘not-so-popular red light areas’? Who goes there? The government? I don’t think so. When it is getting difficult to provide relief to even the “mainstream” population, how will they manage to reach the sex workers who are a part of the “underground population?

The stories reported by IndiaToday and Al Jazeera are nerve-wracking!

Various NGOs like Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), Sangama, Jimme Foundation, Kranti are doing a great job to help them. Apart from that, various other organisations like the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)  also actually did a great job in providing them relief.

But, unless and until we change our mindset and the government changes its approach in dealing with this issue, they will continue to lead a gloomy life. The current approach is definitely not working and is making their life worse. So, we need a better plan.

Now, if, god forbid, a sex worker is tested positive. Imagine the stigma they will face inside the quarantine centres or in the hospitals?

And, we should not forget that it is not just about the lockdown. It is a fight for the greater picture. Problems relating to lockdown is just one of the various other problems they face. There are more and their problem is like an iceberg! Whatever appears outside is just a small part of a very big problem.

Everything needs to change!

You must be to comment.
  1. Umashree

    I think it’s high time India includes sex work into labour laws. As far as legalisation is concerned, it’s already legal under some conditions. But, many people in the country are not aware(or pretend not to be aware) of its legal status as sex has been considered a big taboo in many parts of the country for ages. It’s high time we talk about it and break this stigma, and start accepting sex work as any other professions. If we look at it with a little deeper perspective, sex workers’re just doing their work like any other work. The way we choose to be a writer, a teacher or any other professionals, sex workers in India can decide this profession too. If this profession is regulated, many people will be saved from getting discriminated or stigmatised by some pseudo sociopaths. If we show our empathy towards this section of people and stop stigmatising them, I think India would be a far more civilised country.l strongly believe that we can reduce sex related crimes to a huge extent by accepting the sex workers as equals. Then only we can call this country a really empowered nation. It’s not only about sex workers, in a country where people, especially women’re not comfortable to buy a mere condom at a chemist, it will definitely take time for India to grow into a real civilised nation. Although, it’s kind of EASY SAID THAN DONE, I am hopeful.

    1. Pragya Uike

      I agree with every single word, Umashree 🙂 Thank you for putting it out so well. Let’s hope for the best.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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