As business in the red light area in Pune’s Budhwar Peth, a former containment zone during the coronavirus disease pandemic, slowly returns to normal, a standard operating procedure has been put in place for commercial sex workers (CSWs).
Budhwar Peth, a section of which is the red light area of Pune, had been demarcated as a containment zone from the beginning of the lockdown because of the large number of cases in areas located in the heart of the city. Commercial sex activity in the red light area had come to an end during this period and boundary closure was strictly implemented, said police officials. Throughout the lockdown, over 2,000 CSWs in the red light were being provided ration in a coordinated effort by the local police and various NGOs working for the welfare of the women.
The containment zone tag was recently lifted by the civic administration after no new cases were reported in the larger zone. While many women still have not started their work, some have been left with no choice but to resume work because they have no money left.
Now, Saheli Sangh, a Pune-based collective which is part of the National Network of Sex Workers, has come up with an SoP for the CSWs to conduct their business.
Tejaswi Sevekari, executive director of Saheli Sangh, said, “For CSWs, doing their work in the current times is extremely risky. But for those who have no option but to resume work, we have come up with an SOP. It has minute points about not just conduct of work but also their daily routine in brothels. The SOP has been translated into various languages that they speak, and we have also made video and audio clips explaining each and every point. The SOP includes details from identifying primary Covid-19 symptoms to use of sanitisers, masks and gloves, which are now as mandatory as condoms. There are steps to be taken before and after the visit of a customer. Some brothels have also purchased temperature guns.”
“Some of these woman have also started trying the option of giving ‘phone sex’ services through video calls. While it is certainly one way to avoid contact, there are some risks in doing that with strangers. So, the CSWs are doing it for regular and known customers. Regular screening of the CSWs will also be conducted to check for symptoms of Covid-19,” added Sevekari.
Officials from Faraskhana police station, which has jurisdiction over Budhwar Peth, recently held a meeting of representatives of various welfare organisations working for the CSWs. Senior Inspector Jagannath Kalaskar, in-charge of the police station, said, “In the meeting of the welfare organisations, we urged the representatives to create awareness among the CSWs about basic safety measures that need to be taken. The organisations have also been asked to monitor the health of CSWs and immediately inform authorities if they come across anybody with symptoms.”
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