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After floods: In Sangli’s red-light areas, sex workers await state govt assistance, customers

Indian Express 2019-09-08 11:48:20

"We have been completely ignored by the government. No kind of government help reached us during the floods," said a woman who represents the Vaishya Anyay Mukti Parishad.

Weeks after large parts of Sangli in Maharashtra were flooded, life in the district is slowly limping back to normal, with relief flowing in from various quarters. But, for the 600-odd sex workers of the Gokulnagar red-light area, one of the biggest in this region, things have turned from bad to worse.

One of them, who represents the Vaishya Anyay Mukti Parishad, said the sex workers were facing extreme distress due to the lack of help from the government.

“We have been completely ignored by the government. No kind of government help reached us during the floods. Till now, less than half of the population in the locality has received government assistance due to unavailability of relevant documents establishing their stay,” she said, adding that it was the NGO Sangram which had come to their rescue since the entire locality was submerged in floods last month.

A 55-year old sex worker said the floods have been the worst ever that she has experienced in her life. “Our locality is next to a nullah-turned-open drain. The drainwater gushed into the ground floor houses of the sex workers and they lost everything,” she said.

Otherwise famous for its turmeric market, Sangli, which lies on the highway connecting Maharashtra with Karnataka, has a thriving red light district that caters mainly to truck operators. At one point of time, this area was infamous for housing the largest number of HIV positive people in the state outside of Mumbai.

The red light district has five lanes, with nearly 100 tenements where the sex workers live along with their children. Each house is shared by about six sex workers.

“Life has been difficult for us after the floods. We were living in poor conditions earlier but now the situation is worse. The houses were stinking due to the waste gushing into them, all the items in our house were damaged … there is nothing left. We have been cleaning our houses…,” said the 55-year-old.

“As the houses were damaged, our source of income was also been hit. The most important thing was the bed mattress, which was damaged and had to be thrown out. We wanted a bed mattress more than anything else and were ready to handle the rest of our concerns,” she added.

The red light area has hardly seen any clients in the last few days. “Our clients were mainly long-distance transport operators who passed by the city, as well as local residents. Because of the floods, the highways were closed for a long time, so no transport operator visited us. The locals themselves have suffered due to the floods, so they have turned their back. The situation is the same as it was in the period after demonetisation. The clients had turned their back during demonetisation and now the situation is the same as the clients don’t have money as they too have been affected by the flood,” she said.

Meena Sheshu, founder of the Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha, a NGO working for women’s rights, said there has been almost no government help for the sex workers. “We have provided them food and clothes to bring their life back to normal. We have distributed mattresses to them, so that they can earn a living again,” she said.
In the nearby Rajmane chawl, another locality of sex workers, all 24 houses were submerged in floodwater in August.

“The government help, of food items and clothes, never reached us. Of the 24 houses, only 10 houses received assistance of Rs 5,000,” said a sex worker.

She said sex workers usually live in rented places, and documents like ration cards, cards and bank account numbers of nationalised banks were needed to seek government help. “Not all of them have documents and even those who have them, lost them in floods. All the help is going to owners of the houses and not to the sex workers, who are tenants,” she said.

“We are used to the indifferent treatment. Other flood-affected people have got Rs 5,000 cash and additional Rs 10,000 in their bank accounts from the government, along with clothes and food supplies. This treatment is because others are considered as humans and we are not,” she added.

Medical practitioner R K Patil, who has been working for the NGO, said the sex workers were also facing health concerns. “They have suffered fungal infections due to wading in floodwater and living in unhygienic conditions, which worsened after floods in their locality. We are providing them medication, but the government needs to look into their health issues,” he said.

However, Commissioner of Sangli Miraj Kupwad Municipal Corporation Nitin Kapadnis assured that help was on its way.

“The municipal corporation is coordinating the relief work by directing the agencies to distribute food and clothes to various localities. We will ensure help to the sex workers,” said Kapadnis.