• Rohan Wadhwa

IMPACT OF NOVEL CORONAVIRUS ON INDIA'S URBAN SEX WORKERS

Several communities across India bore witness to an extraordinary and an extenuating announcement in March: A nationwide lockdown to fight the pandemic. Overnight, a country where almost 70 percent of the people survive on a daily wage lost nearly more than 4 million jobs, therefore facing an awful choice between health and livelihood. However, amongst these people working under the informal sector, there remained a sector that remained all but invisible- India’s approximately 6,57,800 sex workers (2020). From Delhi’s GB road to Kolkata’s Sonagachi area and Mumbai’s Kamathipuri district women as well as transgenders are losing out on their jobs, homes, and their only source of income (Bhandare, 2020).

For a community which has been historically ostracized, the pandemic has meant nothing but an even more distasteful circumstance.

The question which remains unanswered is that how are sex workers expected to pursue their work while following new requirements of “social distancing” when their entire profession is based on close proximity and contact?


In India, the legal status of the sex workers is governed under India’s Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, however the same has remained a matter of contention for decades now. The legislation is regarded as contradictory and inherently regressive. Four days after the lockdown was announced in India, the Central Government allocated 22.5-billion-dollar relief package for the people who were worst affected by the pandemic. Specific relief was also announced for the women who were economically marginalized, which also included “widows”, however it was astonishing to see that there was no mention of sex workers. Several NGO’s and organizations like Kranti and Karwan-e-Mohabbat have been supporting the sex workers by providing the red-light areas and brothels with food, ration, and other essentials (Neogi, 2020).

(Image Source)


The pandemic has affected the sex industry gruesomely with minimal or no financial aid from the Government. Covid-19 has imposed an unprecedent challenge on the workers of the sex industry which has made it extremely difficult for them to maintain their household expenses and sustain their families. Even though several donors have made donations which has helped them during these extenuating circumstances, however at the same time it is imperative to note that it is impossible to maintain such a large number of sex workers in a highly populous country like India. Moreover, most of these workers hide their real identities which makes it even more difficult for the NGO’s to trace and provide them with help.


With other industries now getting back in the market while ensuring proper hygiene and sanitation, there is absolutely no surety as to when the sex workers could resume their work. Moreover, unlike other sectors and industries they do not have an option of providing online services as there is a constant fear of being recorded and being sold to porn websites. There is no denial that covid-19 has made the lives of sex workers extremely difficult.

Owning to the pandemic, several sex workers have tried getting other job alternatives however, covid-19 has affected the job market severely and India is now almost on the verge of a “Recession”, this makes it even more difficult for them to find other alternative jobs.

Recently the Maharashtra Government announced that they would provide Rs 5000 to all the sex workers in their state and provide an additional Rs 2500 to those with children. Even though this could prove to be beneficial for the sex workers at a great extent, but there would always be a question w.r.t its effectivity and efficiency in terms of providing every sex worker in the state with the monetary relief. There is an urgent need for a new legislation by the central government which provides not only monetarily relief to the sex workers but also provides them with rehabilitation and other job opportunities to ensure a longer as well as a more promising sustainable source of income. Meanwhile, other states should also consider adopting policies similar to that of Maharashtra, which address the grievances faced by the workers of sex industry and also provides for alternatives to ensure their livelihoods and sustainability.


Bibliography


(2020). Retrieved 30 November 2020, from https://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/global-AIDS-update-2016_en.pdf


Bhandare, N. (2020). Covid-19’s impact on sex workers and their families. Retrieved 30 November 2020, from https://www.hindustantimes.com/columns/covid-19-s-impact-on-sex-workers-and-their-families/story-mp8WTXShUuzIgUiFHchVJI.html


Neogi, O. (2020). India’s urban sex workers and COVID-19 - Toward Freedom. Retrieved 30 November 2020, from https://towardfreedom.org/story/indias-urban-sex-workers-and-covid-19/


Cover Image: Manisha Mondal


Disclaimer: The cover image is purely representational.


About the author: Rohan Wadhwa is a final year law student. He is passionate about litigation and is an avid learner of law. He has a profound interest in national politics and is also captain of the university basketball team.

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