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Over 99% of Sex Workers in Dire Straits, Forced to Seek Other Jobs in Indian City Due to Pandemic

© AP Photo / Rafiq MaqboolAn Indian sex worker looks on outside her house at the Kamathipura red-light district, in Mumbai, India, Monday (File)
An Indian sex worker looks on outside her house at the Kamathipura red-light district, in Mumbai, India, Monday (File) - Sputnik International
Bringing businesses in all sectors to a halt, the coronavirus pandemic has left thousands of women involved in sex work in a lurch. One of the biggest red light districts in India’s Pune city, in the southern state of Maharashtra, was allowed to resume work on Tuesday after months of hiatus.

Burdened by overdue loans and uncertain business, 99 percent of commercial sex workers in India’s Pune city are now willing to take up alternative livelihood options, revealed a survey conducted by sex workers' welfare NGO Asha Care Trust.

A majority of sex workers, 92.7 percent in Budhwar Peth - India’s third-largest red light district which houses nearly 700 brothels and around 3,000 commercial sex workers, said they fear that normalcy in their trade will never return.

“We have been facing lot of hardships for the last 4-5 months. With each passing day it is getting difficult for us to survive as we have no earnings and hardly any savings. All of us here are bound to start the business as we have no other means of livelihood. Given an opportunity, I would like to opt for alternate livelihood so that I have a better source of income to sustain myself and my children”, said one sex worker from Budhwar Peth's red light area.

The Budhwar Peth red light district was given a nod to resume activities, following COVID-19 guidelines. The standard operating procedure states that clients have to use sanitisers, disinfectants, and use gloves and masks at all times.

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The brothels have been directed to ask clients to take showers before any sexual activity and use thermal scanners as well as foot-operated sanitiser dispensers in premises.

Shilpa Shetty, president of Asha Care Trust, says that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented an opportunity to create a mechanism to rehabilitate sex workers into mainstream society.

However, the prospect of rehabilitation comes with a struggle, as 84% of sex workers have not had any formal education and the remaining 16% were pushed into the trade even before they finished high school.

India's worst-affected state since the beginning of the pandemic, Maharashtra, has a total of 291,630 active cases. The second-largest city in Maharashtra, Pune, has 28,142 active cases. 

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