KUNAL CHATTERJEE, Kolkata: In the narrow lanes of Asia’s largest red-light area, Sonagachi, some sex workers were spotted wearing masks. While most of them stayed indoors, even the clients – only a handful 0f them – are not taking the severity of coronavirus lightly. So, they, too, can be seen sporting the masks. The deadly coronavirus has taken four lives in India, with the number of positive cases crossing 200. And the impact can be felt in the narrow alleys of Sonagachi, Kolkata.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the business of the sex workers and agents real hard. And what is real unfortunate is that the girls here are of course worried about the spread of the deadly COVID-19, but also how to make both ends meet. The coronavirus scare has led to a huge fall in the number of customers in the brothels of Sonagachi.
On any usual day, be it day or night, the particular area on Rabindra Sarani and its adjacent areas like Abinash Kabiraj Street and Masjid Bari Lane, where Sonagachi is situated, one will find women of different age groups, looking out for clients. With the COVID-19 scare all around, the scenario has ghastly changed. A few girls were seen talking to the clients, and the same went for the agents.
Take Suraj Shaw, an agent, who has been working here for the past 15 years. He informed us that the business has hit rock bottom especially after Holi. The picture changed further when an 18-year-old boy was tested positive of coronavirus in Kolkata. Most of the sex workers are returning empty handed every evening as the number of clients have declined due to coronavirus outbreak.
“There are at least 8,000 girls who stay here. Another 3,000 girls from different parts of the state come here for business and go back every day. All the girls are having a tough time including us. Our only earning comes from the percentage that the girls give us after we strike a deal. Most days we are going back empty handed as the numbers of clients have reduced. This has happened after Holi,” he grieved.
Baisakhi Lashkar, convenor of Durbar Mahila Samannay Committee, said that the girls are also scared to venture out that they have bought masks and sanitizers.
“Most girls who used to come here on a daily basis have stopped coming for the time being due to coronavirus. And very few who are staying here are actually entertaining clients. We have started a campaign in the area asking them to keep a safe distance from the clients. We are also checking if they have fever or cough like symptoms before they agree for a deal. The situation is even worse at other red light areas in the state,” said Baisakhi.
Nisha, a sex worker who has come to Sonagachi from Mumbai two years ago, said that it is not possible to judge if a client is infected with COVID-19 or not. “So we have stopped entertaining clients for the time being. These days I am rather going out to hotels with only those clients whom I have known before,” she said.
Nisha also said that before the COVID-19 scare, the girls used to get at least five clients per day but since the last one week some of the girls are not even getting one client. “We are worried how we will send money to our homes? Most of us have to pay at least Rs 50,000 a month for the room that we have hired here?,” rued Nisha.