From jewellery making to packaging incense sticks - How Maharashtra's sex workers coped with COVID-19 lockdown

As India went under lockdown in March 2020, sex workers in Maharashtra faced a crisis. Not exceedingly affluent to begin with, many of them had faced a financial crunch as people stopped visiting amid lockdown restrictions and fear of COVID-19. And with this being a line of work where it is impossible to simultaneously maintain social distancing, Mumbai's red light area had decided to close its doors to possible customers in mid-2020. It is not just the state capital.

"Initially, when the lockdown was imposed due to Corona, it was very tough to survive. We had to ask for ration from others," a worker in Nashik told news agency ANI on Monday. And while the Maharashtra government had announced financial aid of Rs 5,000 each and 5 kg dry ration to sex workers for three months from October to December, many of them remain without the promised support till date.

The government's insistence that the money be transferred to their bank accounts, and that beneficiaries be in possession of identity cards issued by the National AIDS Control Organization has been a hindrance.

But while many are struggling to make ends meet, the sex workers in Maharashtra have also found alternative ways to earn.

"ASHA officials pushed us towards making jewellery. We learned from them and started selling it in the market to earn money. We received a good response & people recognise us now. This will also help us in the future," said a sex worker in Nashik.

As a June 2020 FPJ report had noted, local NGOs are also helping the sex workers find alternative means of work. In the Bhiwandi red light area near Mumbai for example, a local NGO had employed the workers to package incense sticks.

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