The Plight of Indian Sex Workers during Lockdown

In India, sex workers are being neglected and are facing many life-threatening problems during the lockdown. DESIblitz highlights and discuss these issues.

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"The virus is more likely to transmit in brothels."

Indian sex workers are facing several problems since the lockdown has been put into place. They are fighting for survival and are waiting eagerly for things to return to normal.

One of the biggest and main reasons why sex workers in India are struggling the most is because Indian society does not accept such activities.

In India, the majority of the community frowns upon sex workers and prostitutes. However, because of this, there are not many people who are willing to help them in times like this.

Sex workers in India are refrained to leave their rooms, they cannot even go out to buy essentials. They are having to live with whatever they have, which is not enough.

The lockdown is making life difficult for sex workers in India, leaving them hungry and dehydrated. They just want people to know that just because they are sex workers it does not mean they are not human.

DESIblitz discusses the main issues that have risen for Indian sex workers during the lockdown.

 Indian Sex Workers

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Various women in India escape to the red-light areas to become sex workers to prevent themselves from becoming extremely poor.

There are many sex workers who are working to support their families or their children. Many of them happen to be single mothers who do not have anyone on their side.

Their last resort is to become a sex worker as it can provide them with a decent amount of money to get by.

Those sex workers who are working to take care of their old parents and bigger families tend not to tell their families what their real jobs are. Instead, they claim they are working in call centres or somewhere seen as ‘normal’.

In Dehli’s G Broad area, approximately 5,000 girls are working as prostitutes on a daily basis. The majority of their clientele are truck drivers and those men who do not live with their families.

Sex workers either live in rented rooms or in the red-light areas which can be dangerous. However, since India has announced its lockdown measures due to the coronavirus, things have changed.

The actions and activities of Indian sex workers have been stopped as it can spread the virus rapidly. Even though this has been done to benefit the people of India, it also brings worrying consequences for sex workers.

They are finding it extremely difficult to continue with their lives as they have no money, food or no access to medications. Many mothers who are sex workers are also not able to look after their children.

No Income

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The majority of Indian sex workers are primarily working for the purpose of gaining an income. However, as the lockdown has hit India, it means that they are currently out of work as they need to be in quarantine.

People in India do not recognise the issues faced by sex workers at this difficult time. Many people discriminate against sex workers, leaving them to pick up the pieces themselves.

From the day the lockdown was announced in India, sex workers became worried about their lives. What are they going to tell their family? How will they tell their families the truth about their job?

Sex workers are living in either brothel accommodations or hostels where many landlords are still asking for rent. As they have no income or very little money, many women are not able to pay their landlords.

The director of a non-governmental organisation in India, Durbar speaks to DW about this issue. He claims that sex workers will not be able to continue to work as soon as the government lifts the lockdown. He says:

“They will have to wait for at least a month to be sure that the pandemic is not spreading. The virus is more likely to transmit in brothels.”

This means that they will have no income for a long period of time and it will take longer for them to get back on track.

As there is a higher chance of the virus spreading in brothels it also means that the government will have strict orders once the lockdown is lifted to avoid the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19.

Food and Sanitation

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Due to the fact that they have no income, sex workers are also short of food, sanitation items and medicines.

As the government prohibits them from leaving their accommodations, it means that they cannot go out to buy food or any essential items. They cannot leave in case they spread the virus or they might even catch the virus.

The Indian government is organising to give out a relief package for those who are poor. However, sex workers in India do not know if this applies to them too.

Food and essentials are provided to sex workers from local charities, however, there is a limit to how much they can do. Children are starving as they only eat small amounts so that there is enough for everyone.

In regards to hygiene and sanitation, it is extremely hard to follow the government guidelines. This is because many sex workers in India are living in such small places together, meaning there is no social distancing.

In many accommodations, there are up to 50 people using one bathroom, spreading bacteria. In many cases, there is no water for them to use either.

This means that they are unable to cleanse themselves or have baths which are also a massive risk to sex workers. Without regularly keeping clean, it can make them prone to spreading illnesses to one another.

There are many sex workers who are carrying different diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. However, it is difficult for them to seek medical help due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Sandya Nair, who is the daughter of a sex worker speaks to Al Jazeera about the troubles sex workers are facing. She mentions:

“One of the women in Kamathipura started throwing up blood. No hospital was willing to see her. Eventually, a local doctor gave her medicines, but she needs to undergo more tests.”

Luckily, there are few helplines in India willing to help those who are in serious pain or have life-threatening illnesses. Sex workers are able to then access medications and the help they need.

Suffering Children

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Many women in India become sex workers to provide for their children and to look after their homes. However, since the lockdown has been put into place, they have not been able to take care of their children.

This is due to the fact that they currently have no source of income. Some women are living in brothel accommodations with their children who are also suffering.

For example, in one brothel accommodation, there will be around 15 women and around 10 children.

As none of them are allowed to leave the premises means that they are not able to buy food. Instead, they are having to ration the food they have between many of them.

The fact that they are not able to feed their children an appropriate amount of food frustrates them. Hygiene and sanitation in these accommodations are severely poor too, leading to illnesses.

Sex workers have so much anger towards the government as they believe they should at least help the children. Those women with children in the brothel accommodations say that they cannot provide their babies with things as little as milk.

Luckily, there are a few activists in India who are willing to help sex workers and their children. They provide them with basic essentials such as food to help them get by.

However, the activists in India are unfortunately not able to provide them with as much as they want to. This is because they have limited money of their own, so they, therefore, are not able to help all the time.

Mental Health

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Being stuck in such confined areas with no food or water is affecting the mental health of hundreds of sex workers in India. It can lead to depression and other serious forms of mental health.

The fact that several sex workers in India are lying about their occupation to their families can also affect their mental health. This is because, they are scared that during the lockdown, their families will find out.

They will begin to question why they are not bringing home any money and why they are not being fed. They will then need to uncover the truth to their families which will cause an uproar.

It will leave many sex workers attempting to commit suicide, all because they do not want their families finding out the truth.

As many sex workers are living in small rooms with various other women and children, some of them end up fighting. This also causes their mental health to make a turn for the worst.

However, as well as women who are unhappy with their job as a sex worker, there are also some women in India who love it.

They love being a sex worker as it makes them feel powerful, empowered and alive. The job gives them the freedom to do whatever they want, without anyone knowing.

Knowing that they are able to satisfy someone also makes some of them happy. However, now that they are not allowed to continue their daily activities as a sex worker.

It can make them feel as though their power, control and freedom has been taken away from them. The worst thing is, is that they are unsure about when they will get it back again.

The fact that sex workers know that there are not many people in India that care about them can also affect their mental health. They wish that more people can see and hear about what they are going through.

Indian sex workers feel neglected and feel as though nobody cares about their existence. However, during such a crisis like this, there should be no one who should be feeling this way.

They are continuing to fight for as long as they can with the hope that they can reach the help they need. The sooner the government lifts the lockdown, the sooner they will become free.

Suniya is a Journalism and Media graduate with a passion for writing and designing. She is creative and has a strong interest in culture, food, fashion, beauty and taboo topics. Her motto is "Everything happens for a reason.”

Images courtesy of Pexels.