Sex workers in a fix over government aid
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Even as the Maharashtra government has announced a financial aid of Rs. 5,000 and 5 kg dry ration per month from October to sex workers, both NGOs and these women have claimed that the majority of sex workers do not have bank accounts, thus making them ineligible for the scheme. The criteria of possessing identity cards issued by the National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) too has left many confused.

Prerana, an NGO that works in the red-light districts of Mumbai, has registered 500 plus sex workers attached with their organisation, in three district offices in Mumbai City, Mumbai Suburbs and Thane as beneficiaries for the scheme. However, according to Priti Patkar, a social worker, human rights activist and co-founder, director of Prerana, hardly 10 per cent of the total sex workers they had registered have a bank account, and Aadhar cards.

"The best thing about this scheme is that this is a direct beneficiary transfer scheme, we appreciate it. However, this has become a hurdle for many. Not having a bank account is one problem, but struggling to open a bank account it another. We are facing two major problems in opening bank accounts of women who do not have bank accounts to be eligible for the schemes. At many occasions bank officials have not been very supportive, besides the minimum balance of Rs 1000 is needed to open a bank account. Some of them had to borrow this amount to open the bank account," Patkar said.

She added, "It should be easier for these women to open a bank account under the Jan Dhan Yojana which does not need minimum balance. It is sad that a woman will have to identify herself as a sex worker to be able to open the account."

According to Patkar, on the criteria of having identity cards issued by NACO, "It is a known fact that identity of many women registered with NACO is not true. Hence there are possibilities that names on Aadhar card or bank account and on NACO id's are different.

With the state making bank account and Aadhaar card mandatory to avail the direct benefit transfer, of the 14,000 estimated commercial sex workers in the city, the Mumbai District Aids Control Society (MDACS) – which is making a list of beneficiaries – has managed to come up with only 5,600 names for registration so far.

A 39-year-old sex worker and resident of Navi Mumbai is yet to register herself as the address on her Aadhar card of Tamil Nadu. "I approached an NGO, they said I will have to wait, till there is clarity on the issue. I need the money, I also have a bank account now after I managed to deposit a minimum balance of Rs 2000. I really hope I get the benefit of the government scheme," she said.

The lockdown has hit the sex workers and their children badly and this financial aid may be their only source of income for a few months and relief to their children too.

"There has been no clarity on if a woman has an Aadhar card on an address from some other state, will she be eligible. We have cases where women have an address of other states on Aadhar cards but have been living the city for more than a decade. Clarity on this is needed," added Patkar.

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