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Surviving COVID: Got a New Job, But Not Respect, Says a Sex Worker

“Customers started coming post 2020 lockdown. But business is down as customers have less money, said a sex worker.

Published
India
4 min read

Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam

I got a job at an NGO. But they never let me forget that I had been a sex worker. They (NGO) showed me dreams which never got fulfilled. I could not continue there for long and got back to sex work.
Suman (name change), sex worker

Suman is one of over 3,000 sex workers who live in Delhi's red-light area at GB road. Unfortunately, sex workers are considered an insignificant part of our society and almost no one takes up issues that concern them, be it politicians, policy makers or even media.

But like all of us, sex workers too are not immune to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Quint spoke to several sex workers to find out how badly they had been hit.

Suman was trafficked to GB road 17 years ago when she was just 24 years old. Due to the pandemic and lockdown, her income has fallen by 60-70%. Because of the uncertainties in her profession, she decided to join an NGO. But her dreams to be a part of society did not work out.

I won’t name the NGO where I started work. We used to be introduced as - “these sisters are from GB Road”. I argued with them on this issue. I said now I am here, why do you keep reminding me of my past? If this goes on, I will go back. You are not letting me change my present and future.
Suman (name change), sex worker
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Suman claims the NGO even forced her to bring her child with her so that they could upload the child's photographs on their website for donations. She said the NGO even recorded her interview for donations. She was paid a mere Rs 10,000 per month.

Post lockdown in 2020, sex work at GB road took a bad hit. The number of customers fell dramatically due to the COVID-19 scare.

Customers started coming after the lockdown. We took precautions like sanitisation, checking temperature. We did not allow anyone who had fever. But business is down as customers have less money now.
Suman (name change), sex worker
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Suman was earning Rs 15,000 to Rs 20,000 a month before the pandemic but now it has come down to Rs 3,000 to Rs 4,000 a month. She has a son who stays in a Child Home, also on GB road. The Home takes care of his food and education.

Before the pandemic I was earning Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 a month. Last year, post lockdown, my earnings reduced to merely Rs 1,000 to Rs 2,000 a month as I was getting one or two clients a week.
Rekha (name changed), sex worker
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Sex workers like Rekha survived on rations provided by NGOs till January 2021. After a two month gap, the NGOs started providing rations again from April 2021, after the second wave hit the country.

But ration isn't all they need, say sex workers.

Sex workers are in need of money for expenses like medicine, vegetable, and milk.
Suman (name change), sex worker

During the first COVID wave, most of the sex workers had savings, but those have been used up, and so, the second wave is hurting them more.

Rama has been a sex worker at GB road for almost 20 years. She has four children. Her mother and sister were hospitalised in April during the second wave. She did not have enough money for their treatment.

My brother is a farmer back at my village. He took care of all the expenses.
Rama (name change), sex worker

Two of her adult children were able to pick up jobs. Their salaries are low, but it is helping her to run their home.

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Lalitha is Vice President of the Society For Participatory Integrated Development (SPID), an NGO for the children of sex workers. She wrote letters to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in April 2021 seeking ration for the sex workers but got no response.

The OSD (Officer on Special Duty) said they got our letter and sent it to the concerned department. That’s the only help we got from the Delhi government.
Lalitha, Vice President, SOCIETY FOR PARTICIPATORY INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT

"Government has not given us anything. They make promises to help us during elections. But do nothing. NGOs helped us during the pandemic, but not the government. They have ignored us," said Rekha.

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With no end to the pandemic in sight, the government should come up with some concrete plan to help sex workers, said Lalitha.

For a certain number of years the government can deposit a fixed amount in their bank accounts. They can save this money so that one day they can get out of this profession. These savings will help these women to at least go back to their homes.
Lalitha, Vice President, Society For Participatory Integrated Development

Some of the sex workers at GB road have reached a stage where they want to come out of this profession and go home, or look for an alternate job. Since most of them do not have other skills, finding an alternate job is getting tougher. Acceptance from society is yet another challenge.

It's high time that the State and Central governments and the Ministry for Women and Child Welfare think about sex workers and provide them financial help to deal with the pandemic.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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