Kolkata: When the city of joy goes to sleep, it’s dawn in Durgacharan Mitra Street in Chittaranjan Avenue. The place teeming with entrepreneurial life in row houses is ‘Sonagachi’ in north Kolkata.
Sonagachi is known as the biggest red light district in Asia, as it is home to more than 11000 sex workers.
But now-a-days, life here has changed completely as the flow of customers for sex which usually starts in the afternoon has virtually evaporated because of the fear of coronavirus or COVID-19. It’s not just the customers, but also the women into sex trade, who have no option other than putting their trade on hold.
Business is as good as dead in Kalighat and Khidderpore, the other red light areas in the city, also thanks to the fearful pandemic that has come to India and is spreading.
Talking to eNEWSROOM a sex worker Meena* (name changed on request) said the situation now is far worse than the harrowing time they had during the demonetisation period when customers ran short of cash.
“This is our daily bread. We are afraid now, as we don’t know how to make ends meet,” said Meena comparing the status now with the cash flow problem they faced in 2018.
Her colleague Anoushka said a fall in earnings began during Holi last week when she saw at least three customers a day. “Now it is difficult to get two customers per day,” she said.
“Even we are little afraid of the virus, but it is more important to earn our keep. In the profession we are in, we cannot afford to wear masks,” said Anoushka.
“Those who work on a temporary basis can have other options, not us who are permanent as we have to pay room rent and send money back to our villages. We don’t know how to make ends meet,” said Koel who was with Anoushka.
Stress of a threatened livelihood was evident among transgender women who have found shelter in Sonagachi. The coronavirus is also scaring away their clientele.
“I have been here for seven years. This is the first time I am facing such doom when even pimps are losing their contacts,” said Mohona, a transwoman.
“Whenever you are making calls, corona alert is heard. Text messages are also being sent by service providers. So there is not a single person who is not aware of this pandemic,” she said.
“Everyone is worried about their health and in the process our business has gone for a toss!”, he said.
Bishakha Lashkar, president of Durbar Women’s Cooperative Committee, said between 200 and 250 sex workers stay around her house, but in the last few days only 10 to 12 of them were seen standing on the road.
“Every night we go patrolling to inquire about the well-being of our girls. But in the last few days we only saw 10-12 women active. On inquiring about the low turnout, all blamed the virus scare and said sex workers also preferred to stay back in their rooms,” said Lashkar.