Kolkata: Responding to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Kolkata-based Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) the Supreme Court finally instructed the central and state governments to urgently consider providing relief to sex workers in the form of dry rations, monetary assistance as well as masks, soaps and sanitizers without insisting on proof of identity.
DMSC, India’s oldest sex workers’ collective had moved the Supreme Court and filed a PIL highlighting the destitution faced by sex workers on the account of Covid-19, and had requested for relief measures for over 9 lakh female and transgender sex workers across the country.
At a time when India is on the verge of unlock four, thousands of sex workers, are facing starvation like situation across the country due to prolonged lockdown.
While appealing to the Apex Court, the Kolkata based group had highlighted that sex workers’ have been living in the worst situation since the pandemic broke out and are in need of support. “Sex workers have the right to live with dignity under Article 21 of the Constitution of India since they are also human beings and their problems need to be addressed,” it argued before0 the SC.
DMSC consulted and received inputs from various Community Based Organisations and NGOs working with sex workers across the country. Many of these organisations have conducted community-led research and surveys to understand the conditions of sex workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The application cites a five-state assessment undertaken by Taaras, a coalition of women in sex work and their organizations among 1,19,950 sex workers to draw attention to the challenges of the community in accessing critical services during the Covid-19.
Lack of access to social protection services
Sex workers do not have access to social protection measures such as pension, health benefits and labour rights. The five-state consultation shows that only 5% of sex workers had received a bank transfer of Rs 1000 on the basis of a Labour Card issued to for registered workers only.
Lack of access to essential services
Around 48 per cent of the community members did not receive ration through the PDS (Public Distribution System). Out of 26,527 members who reported illness, around 97 per cent (25,699) are unable to access primary care services – both public and private. 20 per cent of the members have children attending private schools and of them, 95 per cent (23,425) are not able to pay the schools fees. Of the approximate 61 per cent of members who live in rental housing, 83 per cent are unable to pay rent and electricity bills.
Impact on livelihood
Almost 71 per cent (81,433) of the members do not have any other source of income to meet their two square meals.
DMSC’s application pointed out that a large number of sex workers have been excluded from aid measures due to lack of identity documents such as Aadhaar and ration cards.
This, despite the fact that the Supreme Court had directed the central and state governments to ensure access to ration cards, voters identity cards and bank accounts, based on recommendations of a Court-appointed Panel in 2011 looking into rehabilitation and empowerment of sex workers.
The application suggested providing relief to sex workers, till the continuation of the Covid-19 pandemic, in terms of monthly dry rations, cash transfer to the tune of Rs. 5000 per month, additional cash transfer to the tune of Rs 2500 for those with school-going children, Covid-19 prevention measures such as masks, soaps, medicines and sanitizers delivered through Targeted Intervention Projects/State AIDS Control Societies and Community Based Organizations.
State DMSC coordinator Mahasweta Mukherjee said that all are happy with the Supreme Court verdict. She also expressed her gratitude toward the Trinamool Congress run state government taking the initiative of allowing sex workers to have ration cards so that they can get a supply of free rations.
“Since April the business has been closed and DMSC has supported all the women. Now with unlock 4, the business scenario is little changing but not up the mark. We are constantly meeting with some influential people so that we can arrange for relief. Now with the apex court’s verdict, we are hopeful and the situation will change. We need financial assistance, at least for the next six months,” mentioned Mukherjee.