The nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19 has impacted various sections of society and the red-light area workers are no different.
By Labani Mahanandy
Kolkata: With the lockdown being extended to April 30 across the country, the sex workers struggled to survive, and have had to bear its brunt. Sonagachi—in West Bengal, is the largest red-light area in Asia.
Ratan Dolui, an active member of Durbar Mahila Samawaya Committee said, “We are trying to help as many workers as possible. I don’t know about the Coronavirus situation, but the least I can do is to make sure that they don’t die without food. Some people are also extending their help individually.”
Out of the 12,000 workers, around 4,000 had managed to return to their homes.
Mr. Dolui added, “A lot of these workers come from different states and districts. Some of them had managed to return home, but a large number of them are still stuck here.”
Sima Fokla, one of the sex workers said, “The condition of this area is really poor. I work with Durbar, so the girls have complained to me regarding the difficulties they are facing to sustain with a handful of rice, pulses and other essential commodities. But we are bound too. If the lockdown continues, then I don’t think we will be able to survive here.”
She also added that the women used to send money back to their families to buy ration, which has become difficult as they are now stuck here, and thus their families are affected as well.
Shashi Panja, West Bengal’s Women and Child Development Minister and a local MLA had extended help two weeks ago to some 1,500 workers of Sonagachi, but it wasn’t enough as the area has almost 12,000 women working.
Our Didi has inspired and instructed us to look after those people who are in financial distress due to lockdown and unable to fend for themselves. Today dry rations and mask was distributed to 1,500 sex workers in my constituency. pic.twitter.com/sFtFykTCPV— Shashi Panja (@panja_shashi) March 30, 2020
Bishakha Naskar, president of Central Committee of Durbar said, “We understand that it is a global crisis and there is nothing that can be done but the way we are staying, is no better. There are some places in the area where at least 90-100 people have to put up together. The government is asking to maintain social distance, but in such a situation I ask them how could that be maintained?”
Dr. Samarajit Jana, founder of Durbar Mahila Samawaya Committee and member of the task force for COVID-19 of Indian Council of Medical Research said, “The condition of these areas had always been poor and it is not going to change. We have been helping them by providing them with basic food supplies. Previously, the lockdown was till April 15, which has now been extended till April 30. It’s a very tough situation. Last time the government had given them some rice and pulses was two weeks ago. No other help has been received since then.”
“Almost 100 of them have to put up together and there is no other way for them too. Red-light areas are more or less a slum and maintaining the required physical distance here is nothing but daydreaming. Home quarantine is a privilege because hardly 20 per cent of them have homes in big cities. Rests have to adjust.”
The red-light areas across the nation face similar issues.
Kiran Deshmukh, a sex worker at Sangli town, Mumbai said, “Right now a handful of us are here who have nowhere to go. Rests of them have returned home. I am the earning member of my family. My son has returned from his hostel too, but due to the lockdown I have no source of income and I have no clue how to run my family right now.”
She further revealed that a lot of the women working with her don’t have any identity card—the reason they couldn’t receive the ration too.