Her worst nightmare was going back to the streets, where the fear of being assaulted and abused was real and always lurked around the corner.
And that is exactly what Reena (name changed) has been forced to do over the course of the last six months. Reena, a transgender sex worker, is among the hundreds of volunteers who have been forced back into their old world of sex trade, after the NGO she works with failed to pay her for six months at a stretch.
There are over 90 NGOs working with the government on targeted intervention projects in HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness in the city and none of them have received any money from the Delhi State Aids Control Society (DSACS) to pay their staff, who run intervention programmes.
The end result? Hundreds of sex workers like Reena have been forced to go back to their old lives in the past six months to make their ends meet. “I left my old work almost two years ago because I wanted to live a life of dignity. I work with other sex workers and help them deal with myriad issues.
Most of them are afraid to go to hospitals to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. I accompany them and also talk to them about using condoms. This is a work that no one else is ready to do, but my friends and I do it because we understand its importance.
However, the situation now is such that I haven’t received any money for a long time. I have to do something to get money because I need pay rent and I have to eat. How long will I keep living off loans?” said Manisha (name changed), another woman who was forced to return to the world of sex trade.
Sources said NGOs run the targeted intervention projects which are funded by the Union health ministry. Till June, the ministry regularly transferred money to Delhi State Aids Control Society which would then transfer it to the NGOs.
“Since June, the process has changed. We are well aware that the NGOs have not been paid and are making our best efforts to get the money to them as soon as we can. The problem is in the release of funds. Earlier, funds used to come directly to us. Now, they have to go to the Delhi government’s finance department.
We are in talks with the people in the department and are hoping that we will get funds for at least two months within this week,” said Mrinalini Darswal, project manager, Delhi State Aids Control Society.
Not paid minimum wages Sex workers and NGOs have also pointed out how the money they received was grossly inadequate to begin with. Full time outreach workers earn Rs 7,500 per month while part time workers earn Rs 3,000 per month. These are less than the minimum wages for unskilled workers - which currently stand at Rs 8,632 per month in Delhi.
“I could have earned Rs 6,000 in one night but decided to choose a life of dignity. Now, I don’t see any dignity in asking for money and going to sleep hungry. So I am back on the streets,” said Raju (name changed), a gay sex worker. According to the NGOs, their ground work has suffered a major setback because of the non-payment of salaries.
“There is no money for anything. The government’s idea behind the outreach programme was ‘getting to zero’ — zero sexually transmitted diseases. We have got to zero, albeit in a different context,” said Anjan Joshi, who works with a prominent NGO.