Although Covid-19 has been difficult for everyone, it has been especially devastating for sex-trafficking survivors and their children, many of whom were already struggling to make ends meet. They had lost half of their earnings during the lockdown. Their children had to return from school, and families of children aged 4-11 were confined to small rooms with no privacy. More than 85% said that they didn’t have enough food, income or even fresh air, and their housing was in jeopardy.
Sex workers have suffered greatly as a result of the government’s enforced lockdown. They struggled to survive and provide for their families
and children. They were just getting by on their meagre savings. Their work had been fully shut down. Even once the lockdown was lifted, their unfortunate situation seemed to continue. Their children still didn’t have a school to go to and they barely had enough food to feed their families. Survivors of sex trafficking have had a particularly difficult time during the lockdown and they were in a desperate need for food as well as basic sanitation.
These women and children have also been physically and sexually exploited as a result of their involvement in sex trafficking. Their bodies bear witness to the trauma of their ordeals. They had to lived in disgusting circumstances. Hunger and lack of sanitation have only contributed to their misery.
Ruchira Gupta, who is the founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, introduced 1 Million Meals in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that deprived families get food and dry ration. A distress call was received by Gupta from a 12-year-old living in a red-light area in Delhi, “Didi kuch kijiye, hum log bhooke hai, humhe khana nahin mil raha hai (Sister, do something, we don’t have any food at all and we’re starving).”
Gupta was galvanised into action by this distress call. She immediately asked a friend to arrange for the delivery of 500 fast meals. This movement subsequently spread to different cities including Delhi, Bihar and Kolkata. People in the red light areas of these cities
were served food packets.
Project 1 Million Meals aims to serve one million meals and hygiene packs to sex trafficking survivors. The project will cover women and children of red light areas of Delhi, Kolkata and Bihar. The project is currently providing food ration and basic hygiene facilities such as soap, mask, basic medicine and sanitary pad. Till the third week of March 2021, around 44,24,400 meals had been distributed to families across red light areas.
Covid-19, according to Gupta, has been especially harmful to sex trafficking survivors and their children. They’ve lost their source of revenue. Many of them were confined to their rooms, 11 people sleeping in a single room with no windows. Their children’s future seemed gloomy and uncertain without access to education.
Gupta’s immediate focus point was food, and in just a matter of days, she launched 1 Million Meals, which has now become a metaphor for millions of meals distributed to these marginalised families over the past one year.
Dry rations – a bag of rice, onions, dal, potatoes, spices, soap, cooking oil, masks and other products – accompanied cooked meals. Volunteers would take ration food for 50 families in one go and 200 people would line up. The organisation then began planning to deliver truckloads of these packets. The delivery of the food was fraught with difficulties. Gupta would be on her phone and laptop from dawn to dusk, checking if trucks have reached the state boundaries, ensuring that loading, unloading and packing was done on time so that the perishable food in these packets is delivered before it gets spoilt.
While food security was already a problem, disaster was struck again in West Bengal with Cyclone Amphan. So, in addition to food, 1 Million Meals also started bringing tarpaulins and other necessities to help people get through the crisis. The programme served five million meals in just 100 days. The journey continues as the number of cases of coronavirus rise and complexity persists.
“After food, we must consider employment and education. Since we should consider the future of these people, 1 Million Meals will remain a metaphor. I now need one million people to amplify these voices,” says Gupta.
Click the link for more information and to donate for the good cause.
Written by: Ahmedabad University Students