Safety on the mind as CSW look to resume work in Pune’s red-light area

Among the many NGOs working in Budhwar peth, Saheli HIV AIDS Karyakarta Sangh is once holding special advisory sessions on safety for CSWs
A CSW thermal scans a man before he enters her residence.(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)
A CSW thermal scans a man before he enters her residence.(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)
Published on Jun 28, 2020 04:50 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Pune | ByPrachi Bari

We asks our customers to wear masks and use sanitisers while visiting us. We are also using masks and gloves as protection, but there is still this fear lurking in our minds about hygiene and protection from the virus, says ‘Kamla’, who has been working at Budhwar peth as a commercial sex worker (CSW) since a long time.

She is one of the 2,000 CSWs working in the Pune’s oldest and largest red-light area, in existence since the Peshwa era. Most of those working here are from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh. For the past three months, Kamla and most like her, were sitting at home without work. However, now business has resumed as Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) has excluded the area from the containment zones’ list.

The three months of lockdown was tough for many of the CSWs, and as they look to resume work, there is apprehension among them about the spread of Covid-19. With masks, gloves and video chat on their mind as preventive measures, these women with the help of the NGO Saheli have laid out certain Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs).

‘Kajal’ has been part of Budhwar peth for past 12 years as a CSW and it was for the first time that she used ‘phone sex’ for her regular customer.

“Phone sex is a new thing for me and I feel shy during the process. I am yet to get use to it,” said Kajal, who acquired her this name after coming here.

After PMC opened the area, Kamla stepped out to “find a customer” and also to collect ration that was being distributed by the local NGO working in the area. “We are changing the sheets frequently. It has been tough to meet my day-to-day needs during the past three months of lockdown. We get ration from NGOs, but it is not enough,” said Kamla, who acquired her name after coming here.

Among the many NGOs working in Budhwar peth, Saheli HIV AIDS Karyakarta Sangh is once holding special advisory sessions on safety for CSWs during Covid-19 pandemic and is also encouraging them to use the phone for their regular customers.

“When we were called for a meeting with the police to announce that Budhwar peth was no longer a containment zone and that they could resume their work, four days ago, we are constantly thinking of how best to offer protection to these women,” said Tejasvi Sevekari, executive director, Saheli.

“Their job has physical involvement and despite masks and gloves, there is still a risk of the infection. Hence, we began an advocacy programme and have been sharing videos about phone sex,” she said.

With the rising number of Covid-19 cases earlier in the area, police had shut the red light area on March 19, thus leaving no means of earning for the 3,000 CSWs. Almost 1,000 of them went back home, while 2,000 of them are still in the area.

Most of them are looking forward to earning their money. “I used to make around Rs18,000 to 20,000 a month, I am hoping to get at least few customers in the day if possible,” said Kamla.

“Some of the CSWs have also pulled in money to buy sets of gloves, sanitisers and masks, although we are providing them with basic masks, as they want to resume activities with as much safety as possible,” said Sevekari.

Sevekari is apprehensive too about CSWs resuming their work. “Until now there were no cases of Covid-19, but with customers visiting, there are chances of spreading of the virus.”

“We are appealing to the government, if any funding could be worked out for the protection of CSWs. This will at least help them financially until the fear of this virus is gone,” she said.

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Sunday, December 05, 2021