March 9, 2021 7:01:16 pm
Altogether 623 sex workers of Mumbai opened their bank accounts over the past five months to avail of the state’s financial aid during the pandemic, courtesy joint efforts by the Women and Child Development (WCD) department and the Mumbai District AIDS Control Society (MDACS). A large number of sex workers here are one of the worst-hit by the ongoing pandemic.
On September 29, 2020, the Supreme Court directed all states to provide dry ration and financial help to sex workers without insisting on proof of identity to sail them through the lockdown period. In October, Maharashtra was the first state to issue a government resolution to this effect — each sex worker would receive Rs 5,000 per month directly in their bank account, 3kg of wheat and 2kg of rice, while their school-going children would get Rs 2,500 per month for online classes. The aid was announced for six months. So far, 2,697 sex workers in Mumbai are getting the aid.
An unexpected outcome of the financial aid has been larger turnout of sex workers for HIV screening. “Initially, many sex workers were wary of giving their personal details; they were not sure why their names and identity proofs are being sought by the government. But once they started receiving money in their accounts, they also began to turn up for HIV testing,” said Amruta Bawadekar, who works for NGO Asha Darpan that ensures the welfare of over 1,700 sex workers in South Mumbai.
MDACS Project Director Dr Shrikala Acharya said they are witnessing a huge turnout of sex workers at medical camps for safe sex awareness, blood tests and HIV screening. Following initial hiccups, the MDACS roped in several NGOs to create zero-balance bank accounts for these workers.
In the city, so far, 1,588 sex workers have submitted their bank details and 1,014 have received the aid through direct bank transfer. The MDACS is in the process of submitting details of 457 more sex workers. In suburbs, 1,683 have submitted their details and started receiving the aid.
Officials said due to lack of proof, several children of the sex workers are yet to receive their aid. So far, 241 beneficiaries have received money in the city. “Schools are shut and several children are unable to procure documents to prove they study there. We are helping them. It will take some time,” said MDACS staff Sachin Katkar.
NGOs complained that despite having the dire need for funds during the lockdown, the aid has reached sex workers this year. Previously, WCD department secretary Idzes Kundan had said they supported 30,000 sex workers and their 6,000 children during the pandemic by providing them ration.
Asha Darpan officials said sex workers have resumed regular business in the past three months, although their clientele has dipped considerably.
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