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Calcutta sexworkers out of business


A nationwide lockdown has resulted in bringing the curtains down on the busiest red light area in Kolkata for more than a fortnight, a first in the history of the area. Sonagachi is the oldest and largest red-light area in Asia and has almost run out of business.

With Covid-19 pandemic gripping India, the city of Kolkata is no exception.

Red-light areas in West Bengal are witnessing a sharp decline in the number of customers amid the novel coronavirus scare, with sex workers finding it difficult to make ends meet. Now, many sex workers of Sonagachi are unable to pay house rent. Most of these workers are the only earning members in their families and are struggling to sustain them.

Sonagachi has a massive force of around 8,000 women who have adopted it as a way of living with their families while continuing to work. The area witnessed a footfall of nearly 30,000 people on an average day.

With the lockdown stretching to over a week now, they too are now feeling the pinch.

Their clients would come from the city, rural Bengal and even from the northeast, however, the women in Sonagachi are from all over India, including neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

Dr Samarajit Jana who has been associated with the area for more than three decades explained, “It is not about only Sonagachi. It is the condition of every sex worker. 6-7 workers stay together in a room and it may infect them. We are requesting central government to organize quarantine for them allowing them to stay separately. The condition is so bad because of no earnings that these sex workers are not able to pay their rents.”

Kajal Bose, secretary of Durbar Mahila Samity stated, “Our sex workers are in bad condition from last two weeks. We always request our customers to stay at home and be safe so that no one should get infected with coronavirus.”

The sex workers who are not from Kolkata cannot even go back to their respective locations due to sudden closure of all modes of transport across the country. Owing to the nature of their daily income, these sex workers hardly have any savings to help them get through this pandemic.

West Bengal Minister and local MLA Shashi Panja extended help to the workers of Sonagachi by distributing essentials in the area on Monday. “There are no customers and the workers have nothing to eat. Around 1500 sex workers have been benefited by the state government. Not only this, but we will also make them aware of coronavirus. We will make them understand what to do or what not to do. We will make them understand to follow social distancing,” Shashi Panja said.

The West Bengal government has established ICDS centres to aid pregnant women and kids with food. “1,60,000 ICDS centres are there in West Bengal which benefit around 60,000 people. CM Mamata Banerjee, the day she announced the lockdown had said that children who come to this centre must get rice and potato. It is necessary for them. This rice and potato have been sent to their respective houses. And these centres are not only for kids but also for pregnant women and girls who do not go to school at the age of 11-14,” Shashi Panja added.

Courtesy – India Today

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