‘Who Will Give Us Jobs?’: Delhi’s Sex Workers Hit Hard By COVID-19

The Quint speaks to a couple of sex workers to understand their problems and challenges amid the pandemic.

3 min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

“We are getting ration here. But there are other expenses like vegetables, gas cylinder, etc. We also need to send some money back to our families. My father has no source of income. Earlier he used to work on farms, now he stays at home. The house is run on whatever money I send him.”
Sudha, sex worker

These were the words of Sudha (name changed), a sex worker in Delhi’s red light area, GB Road. An estimated 3,000 sex workers live in this locality. Sudha was trafficked to GB Road 15 years ago, but was able to make a living over the years. However, the coronavirus pandemic has left many sex workers like Sudha with no source of livelihood.

Hundreds of sex workers have reportedly left GB Road and returned to their hometowns in search of alternative livelihoods. Those remaining are also looking for an opportunity to leave the city.

‘From GB Road? Sorry, No Job’

Sudha has tried, unsuccessfully, to look for other jobs in Delhi. She says her 'address' is the biggest hurdle.

“Who would give me a job based on an Aadhaar card address that shows GB Road? The moment they see our Aadhaar card, people say you are from ‘there’ (‘red light’ area). We can’t show our Aadhaar card anywhere. Even when we go to buy a train ticket, they look at us differently. I am thinking of going back home and working as a labourer on farms.”
Sudha, sex worker

‘Police Trouble Us A Lot’

Some sex workers are in touch with a few of their old customers who are willing to help them financially. But they are scared of coming to GB Road these days, mainly because of the police.

“Some old customers do call us. Those who used to come 3-4 times a week, do come to meet us. But the police trouble us a lot. If any client comes to meet us downstairs, outside the building, the police beats them up. We tell our old clients that we are in trouble and ask for help. Sometimes they give Rs 1,000-2,000; they also give us food. But the police often gets hold of them and beats them unnecessarily.”
Sudha, sex worker

Rashmi (name changed) was trafficked to Delhi eight years ago, and has been working at GB Road as a sex worker since then. She now wants to go back to her family and her children in Pune, permanently.

“I’m ready to do any work in Pune, maybe a job at some company, since I have studied a bit. I will not return to Delhi. I will get some job in Pune.”
Rashmi, sex worker

Sudha and Rashmi are also scared of getting infected with COVID-19. They say, as of now, they do have a place to live at GB Road, but they know that they cannot live without work for long.

‘Getting Funds For Sex Workers Is Difficult’

Lalitha Nayak, a social worker, associated with Society for Participatory Integrated Development (SPID), has been working with sex workers at GB Road for the past 30 years. She also runs a home for children born in brothels.

NGOs or CSR groups don’t want to raise funds for sex workers’ programmes. There is a myth in the society that sex workers earn a lot. But this is not true.
Lalitha Nayak, Vice President, SPID

“Society needs to accept them first. Only then can they get alternative jobs,” says Lalitha. In these times of the COVID-19 pandemic, this lack of acceptance, has left thousands of sex workers across India in a very vulnerable position.

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