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Subdued: Unduly?

It has been estimated that roughly 81% of people in India are employed in the unorganised sector. As per 2016 data, providing sexual services is one such field! Like other unorganised sectors, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in this particular sector. A study was conducted a couple of years ago on 3,000 female sex-workers across the South Asian country. The study showed that majority of the sex-workers considered their profession as a part-time job. For some, this is the only way to earn their livelihood…

It is quite natural that to understand the nature of the sex-trade in India, one has to understand the relationship between this profession, with other professions in the labour market! There are quite a number of sex-workers who perform as dance-girls during festival-time… and the rest of the time, they are involved in their profession. Then, there are also some full-time sex workers, who have few other options to earn their livelihood…

Courtesy: Business Standard

It has been observed that in many cases, those – who are involved in sex-trade as part-timers – fail to make an optimum usage of their profession, even if they want to… The main reason for that is that the profession is not a respected one at all in the Indian Society. Secondly, persons involved in this profession in India, more than often, come from a particular class, race, and caste. Usually, they belong to the Below Poverty Line (BPL). It leads to inequality at two levels: a) due to their social position, and, on top of that b) because of their involvement in this particular profession. Even if they manage to earn money, the inequality still remains flagrant!

Social vulnerability has often been rendered more prominent during outbreaks of pandemics, and particularly in case of scourges, like COVID-19. The two most important aspects of sex-work are body and physical contact. However, social distancing has become a crucial factor for the survival during this pandemic. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for the sex-workers to entertain customers, as their profession is based on physical proximity. The discriminatory behaviour, born out of fear among people, has increased since the outbreak of COVID-19. In such a situation, it is no longer possible for the sex-workers to carry on their jobs. Sex-workers, who solely depend upon the profession, are, thus, in the most critical condition, bordering on abject penury!

Sex-workers had been the biggest victims when HIV/AIDS had emerged as a threat to human lives, decades ago. Today, one knows that unprotected sex is one of the many reasons that spreads HIV/AIDS. Later, the Government started promoting the usage of condoms in an attempt to control the disease. However, many sex-workers were still in trouble as their clients were not interested in doing so. Unfortunately, the sex-workers had to shoulder the responsibility of spreading the disease. In case of the HIV/AIDS, using condoms could have prevented the spread of the disease. As COVID-19 virus can be transmitted even through droplets of different sizes, social or physical distancing could prevent the infection from happening. Naturally, most of the sex-workers are in dire straits…

The Government of India provided some employees of the unorganised sector with financial aid after the lockdown. However, the sex-workers are yet to receive any support, as discrimination prevails in this country. Even the State is yet to consider prostitutes as workers, and thus refuses, in a way, to help them overcome the social stigma!

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