GB Road to Holbeck – Sex Workers Fight for Survival

While everyone is debating around the world to provide shelters to the homeless, majority fails to even recognize the existence of sex workers. With the imposition of severe restrictions in the lockdown period, income of majority of the sex workers has dried up. The brothels see no customers, and there are few individual demands fearing the spread of virus. The sex workers who have little access to healthcare or government support have lost their regular income and are fighting for survival at a time when the world observed International Sex Workers Day on June 2, 2020.

Sex workers, the bread-earners of their families are now facing difficulties in managing households. While some of them have returned to their villages, some couldn’t manage to go back. “Ek saal lag jayega ghar pahunchne mein agar paidal gaye toh” (It would take me a year to reach home if I walk), said a worker who hails from Tamil Nadu, India. They are purely dependent upon NGOs who seldom provide them with ration.

New Delhi-based NGO Kat-Katha organised a relief drive and distributed ration and hygiene kits in 78 brothels to more than 700 families on GB Road [Photo courtesy of Kat-Katha]

According to a BBC report, lockdown measures have not stopped sex workers from travelling around the country to meet up with clients at their homes or offices, for which they are paid extra. Majority of them being mothers, they are forced to get back into business to feed their children even in COVID-19 fear.

“We are facing a massive crisis,…No one wants to be flouting the rules and putting themselves and others in danger, but those who are still working literally have no other choice.”

Niki Adams (English Collective of Prostitutes)

Few of the sex workers have moved to the use of technology to serve their clients to make ends meet. Phone sex has become the new ‘work from home’ where workers are getting paid via Google Pay. They charge differently for a phone call or a video call.

On April 8, 2020, the Global Network of Sex Work Projects and UNAIDS released a statement highlighting the hardship and discrimination faced sex workers in this time, urging countries to ensure that their human rights be respected and fulfilled.

Practice of social distancing norms, proper sanitisation, social recognition – these factors vary from country to country. While it might be possible to adopt these measures in the UK, the story may not be the same for India where around 8 families live in an area of 200 square feet.

“I grew up in a red light area, my mother is a sex worker. And we had this khat (bed), it was kept a little higher on the old battery so it had some space below it too. One family would stay on top, one family would stay under the bed. So one house contains six to seven beds, it contains more than eight families. This is the situation in which we grew up. This is still the situation there where our mothers live,” 

Sara (daughter of a sex worker in Kamathipura, Mumbai; in an interview to The Citizen)

But what is common to all is the job of a sex worker, and as all know, income comes only when customers come. This is the ideal time when not only the NGOs but governments should come forward and address the concerns of sex workers.

“We found out this coronavirus spreads touch and thought, yeh to AIDS ka bhi baap aa gaya (this is worse than AIDS). Condom had helped until now but what do you use for this? A raincoat?”

Riya, a sex worker from Grant Road, Mumbai
A sex worker from GB Road, Delhi; Women here say that in the initial days, they did clap for the frontline workers and light candles in balconies, but now they are just waiting for things to normalise so they can start earning again; Image Courtesy: Manisha Mondal)

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