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Maharashtra to give rations, aid to Mumbai sex workers during pandemic

Each sex worker will receive Rs 5,000 per month along with three kg of wheat and two kg of rice.

Written by Tabassum Barnagarwala | Mumbai | Updated: November 25, 2020 11:09:25 am
While the dry ration will be distributed without insistence on identification proof, the government has insisted on bank details and Aadhaar card number for direct benefit transfer of Rs 5,000 every month. (Representational)

To cope with the effects of the lockdown, the Maharashtra government has decided to give financial aid and 5-kg ration to 5,600 sex workers of Mumbai every month till the Covid-19 pandemic is over.

But even as Maharashtra became the first state in October to issue a government resolution to this effect, NGOs have pointed that a larger share of sex workers – including some with no proof of identity like ration card, Aadhaar card or bank account – are missing from government’s list of beneficiaries to get the financial aid.

Each sex worker will receive Rs 5,000 per month along with three kg of wheat and two kg of rice. Children of sex workers who go to school will receive Rs 2,500 per month to support their online education.

Mumbai’s vast community of sex workers are one of the worst hit by the pandemic. Physical distancing norms have forced their business to shut. In September, Durbar Mahila Samanvay Committee, a collective of sex workers, had approached the Supreme Court highlighting that the community was facing shortage of food and shelter as well as financial crisis.

On September 29, the SC had directed all states to provide dry ration to sex workers without insisting on proof of identity. The court asked the states to not only provide ration to those sex workers who had approached it but also to reach out to more.

The state women and child development (WCD) department has so far prepared a list of 5,600 sex workers and their 1,592 children in Mumbai with the help of Mumbai District Aids Control Society (MDACS).

While the dry ration will be distributed without insistence on identification proof, the government has insisted on bank details and Aadhaar card number for direct benefit transfer of Rs 5,000 every month. “An NGO has to write a referral letter identifying a sex worker. What happens to those who are not associated with any NGO, how will they get financial aid? Most do not even have a bank account or Aadhaar card,” said Priti Patkar from anti-trafficking NGO Prerana.

The MDACS works with sex workers and NGOs to prevent and treat HIV infection. Its officials have found the process of identifying a sex worker, when most prefer to use a pseudonym, an impediment in enlisting them as beneficiaries.

The data with MDACS, which functions under the National Aids Control Society, shows there are 14,000 sex workers registered in Mumbai. But so far, it has managed to pass on names of only 5,600. When contacted, Dr Shrikala Acharya, additional project director of MDACS, said, “Based on what the government asked us to do, we have provided information for sex workers who have bank accounts and Aadhaar cards…”

Prema Gadge, Deputy WCD officer for Mumbai city, said Aadhaar card and bank account details are necessary to ensure there is no duplication. “We need bank account details for direct benefit transfer…”

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