'This Lockdown Is A Curse': Sex Workers In Delhi's Red Light District Ask For Help
Ground report from G.B. Road, Delhi's red light area
NEW DELHI: In the narrow lanes of G.B. Road, Delhi’s red light area, a group of sex workers stand under the scorching sun, waiting for ration to be distributed. Out of work since the lockdown, their only source of income has been snatched from them.
Even as visuals of migrant workers walking thousands of kilometers to their villages flash across our screens, sex workers are silently bearing the brunt of the lockdown. With hardly any food or aid, the women are starving and left to deal with the situation alone.
“We hardly earn anything as it is, and this lockdown has come as a curse for us,” said Nagma (name changed on request).
Staying alone in the brothels of G.B Road, Nagma said that she hardly has any money to sustain herself. “I used to earn Rs. 200 to 300 per day, which was Rs. 5000 per month and is hardly anything. We don’t have to pay rent, that is the only benefit we have,” she said, showing her small room.
Nagma hails from Andhra Pradesh and has been working as a sex worker for the past 15 years. “My family is in the village, including my kids. I used to send them money. I have nothing to send now. There is no money to even buy medicines,” she said.
Due to movement restrictions, the women have to live inside their cramped houses, with tiny rooms and narrow walkways or staircase. Outside is no better with a dirty footpath occupied by the homeless and out-of-work rickshaw pullers.
Ration is provided by the state government every month, but it is next to nothing. “We are given very little ration. For every two people, one bag of rice and wheat is given. Usually, this is done on an individual basis,” said a sex worker standing outside her house. She added that women are starving; they are scared that if the lockdown extends, they will be facing an issue of life or death.
Resentment toward civil authorities was clearly visible here, as the workers this reporter spoke to felt abandoned, left alone to fend for themselves during the crisis. “They have used our stories to earn money, while we have nothing,” said Choti.
Fear for the future is high, as the women lack savings or financial stability and sex work is their only means for survival. With the coronavirus pandemic, their work life may irreversibly change.
“People slowly stopped coming as the news of Covid-19 was shown in the media. Before the lockdown itself, we saw only a few customers,” said Choti.
Choti said that even though they are aware of the consequences of Covid-19, they are scared for their livelihoods. “How will we earn is what I am concerned about. This is terrible and we are afraid,” she said.
In another block of the G.B. Road area, three women stand together, uncertain about the situation. “My family lives far away from here. I hardly see them and due to this lockdown and very little money, I was not able to go back home,” said a worker, who didn’t want to reveal her name. “There are problems, from food to money, we only have problems. With society not supportive, it gets a bit difficult, but most of us have learnt to deal with it,” she said.
Nagma, who wants to go back to her village, looks skeptical. “I live far away and I don’t know how to leave. I tried online to leave by the special train, but the process was tedious and it was difficult so I didn’t try beyond a point,” she added.
There are more than 1200 sex workers remaining at G.B. Road, while many others have left for their village. In addition to worries about their livelihood in the near future, the women here live in cramped, unhygienic conditions, with zero social distancing. They are pleading for help from the authorities - but who is listening?