A LARGE number of commercial sex workers (CSW) in Pune’s red light area at Budhwar Peth want to return home as their source of income is completely suspended due to a nationwide lockdown. However, being in a containment zone, travelling out of Pune is not permitted as of now, while the larger question is: will their families accept them?
Till the beginning of 2019, the approximate number of sex workers in Budhwar Peth was around 3,500.
They lived in over 350 brothels and 70-odd buildings in the red light area. Following a police crackdown aimed at rescuing minor girls and those forced into sex work, their number stands at around 2,500 now, as per social organisations working for the welfare of CSWs.
Since a lockdown was announced, police completely closed business in the red light area. During this period, the Pune Police and various welfare organisations have continued to provide ration and food to sex workers and also facilitated their healthcare needs.
According to local officials, no sex worker or anyone at the brothels in Budhwar Peth or the adjoining Shukrawar Peth has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Tejaswi Sewekari, executive director of Saheli, an organisation working on health and welfare issues of sex workers, said, “Since the lockdown, their source of income has gone. Initially, the aid that they were getting was haphazard and much of it was for photo ops. However, the police machinery with the help of organisations has done systematic work to provide ration packets and daily needs. This has been a major relief to the women in the area. Though not possible due to restrictions, many of them want to go home. Whether they will be accepted by families or not is a tough question.”
A sex worker who is from Karnataka said, “I have some money that I have saved. It’s good that we have been receiving ration. But now, many of us want to go home. I don’t know what will happen once we go back. Some say it’s better we stay here, at least we don’t have to worry about food. But now, we now want to go.”
Prakash Yadav of Akhil Budhwar Peth Devdasi Sanghatana said, “Of around 2,500 CSWs, an estimated 1000, most of whom are from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, wish to back to their native places. They have got forms from the police station and many have submitted them. Some who do not live in Budhwar Peth have made applications to their respective police stations. As of now, no one from here is allowed to travel because this is a containment zone; they all are hopeful that things will get better one day and they can try to go home. Here, there is a great fear of infection. No one has tested positive among the women, mainly due to strict implementation of the lockdown and complete closure of business.”
Yadav added, “Some have maintained good relations with families by sending them money, and they are hopeful that their families will accept them. Some who have not told families what they do, can still head back. But for many others, acceptance is not expected.”
Inspector Jagannath Salaskar of Faraskhana police station, which has jurisdiction over Budhwar Peth, said, “Though the entire area of jurisdiction is a containment zone, we have accepted forms like other police stations so that we have data of those who want to travel out of Pune from our area. We have received over 4,000 applications. Majority are migrant labourers and many from Budhwar Peth area too.”
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