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    Published On : Thu, Dec 24th, 2020

    Nagpur sex workers falling prey to debt bondage, says multi-city survey

    Nagpur: A multi-city survey of sex workers including that of Nagpur has revealed that in the aftermath of Covid-19, this section of society are living in very pitiable state and may end up into permanent debt bondage by the end of this year. The shocking revelation puts 90% of the commercial sex workers into affected category. Ganga Jamuna red light area located in Itwari, Nagpur too was included in the survey.

    The survey brought forth the fact that mainstream prostitution came to a standstill earlier this year due to the pandemic, and their daily earnings dried out, the situation forced them to rely on loans from brothel owners and pimps, says the research, conducted by Beulah Shekhar, Emeritus Professor of Criminology at Karunya Institute of Technology Sciences (KITS) in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. The study says that these debts piled up and with no means to repay them in the near future, sex workers will be thrown into the shackles of debt bondage and sexual slavery for the rest of their lives.

    4 more cities apart from Nagpur

    The exercise was meant to examine the financial exploitation the community has been facing in the aftermath of COVID-19, and was conducted in the red light areas of Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune and Nagpur. Of the total 7.76 lakh sex workers in India, over 1.3 lakh are from Delhi, Maharashtra and West Bengal, according to National Aids Control Organisation.

    Documentation issues mar relief in Maharashtra

    Though many migrant workers and daily-wagers chose to return to their hometowns, a lot of sex workers didn’t have that option. Several states like Maharashtra have been trying to help them with ration kits but that is also fraught with documentation issues. In October, the Maharashtra government issued a government resolution (GR) directing that Rs 5,000 and 5 kg dry ration will be provided as a monthly aid to sex workers following a Supreme Court directive. While no identity proof is needed to avail dry ration, to receive Rs 5,000 every month, sex workers must have bank accounts and Aadhaar cards.

    Relief can’t relieve them of debt

    Priti Patkar, co-founder and director of the NGO Prerana Anti-Trafficking, Mumbai, says, “While there was relief in the form of food grains and utilities, this did not help the women with their rent and debt payments,” she said, adding that the government only provides for those who are able to produce ration cards.

    174 people interviewed

    “I started looking into the plight of sex workers as the community suffered a severe setback during the pandemic. That’s when I stumbled upon the problem of debt bondage they were grappling with. Further research into this issue revealed great concerns. A majority of sex workers are victims of trafficking, they were forced into prostitution, mostly at a very young age in their life. Their sufferings seem to have no end as now the debt bondage further victimises them,” explains Shekhar about the research. Nearly 174 people across five cities were interviewed for the report that will be published in the Indian journal of victimology and criminology next month. In India, 95 per cent of the trafficked victims are forced into prostitution, shows data by National Crime Records Bureau. However, these numbers are just a fraction of the actual reality as sex traffickers work in a clandestine way, says Shekhar.

    Debt led to slavery, bondage sex workers

    Since the commercial sex workers living in red light areas are deprived of bank accounts or identity proofs, they can’t access formal sources of credit. They have to borrow from informal sources like pimps and brothel operators. The study further says that if situations do not improve by March 2021, the debt amount can become an intergenerational bondage where sex workers might force their daughters too in sex work for repayment. The pimps and brothel managers use the debts as a coercive binding factor to intimidate and control them further.


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