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Retired CFSWs in the Red-light Area in Times of Pandemic

Sex work is a stigmatized profession from the times of its origin for the fulfillment  of polygamous need and demand of males. It has a patriarchal politics  to exploit the female body as a sex commodity. They have no worker rights after continued movement from the last decade of the last century in India.  The Government  of India has only been recognized it as a profession with some limitation of the place of operation of the trade through enactment of the Immoral Trafficked Act. Women in this trade  are always treated as ‘dangerous outcast’ to the mainstream larger society, while they are victims of male domination, torture and gender discrimination, and they fulfill the interest of the larger society.

It has been studied that there is a limited career span for the commercial female sex workers (CFSWs) in the brothel/ red-light area. ‘Beyond the age of 30, CFSWs usually attract fewer customers and their client demands often become more deviant.’  Further, they have no saving; no family support (from offspring, husband/paramour for whom they shared handsome part of their earnings); rather, their focus is on daily expenses; the fulfillment of basic needs for themselves, and family members; as well as the immediate expenses associated with their trade(rent, etc.).Therefore, after their retirement from the trade, a thin portion of them continues to work indirectly in the sex trade as malkin(brothel owner), and  pimps (the percentage decreases with age). Then, another portion of them engages to assist other CFSWs including malkin for caring of children and other household works.

A few of  them engage to operate the business of alcohol and ganja, etc. Most of them are unable to engage in any income generation other than begging. They have to survive without food, shelter and other needs.As most of them have no identity of their citizenship, they have no scope to avail the services of any government relief or entitlement schemes. No rehabilitative measure for their livelihood after retiring from the trade is responsible for their critical living in inhumane condition. Even there is no scope of old age pension for them.The above is their general living condition in normal times.

Then, what is their living conditions in times of the pandemic? This trade is badly affected in this adverse milieu. This trade is fully closed. Some of them involve in online sex plays. Some of them get relief from a few sources for a limited period. Many of them sell their gold ornaments. But the majority of retired CFSWs have now any option excluding relief. How long and what way they would survive are the most challenging issues in this neglected section. If the  government considers them as a vulnerable group and arrange for a pension monthly without any identity proof deporting the local administration in association with the CFSWs’ organization, it would be more relevant and effective step to protect their lives


The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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