Taaras Coalition, which works among women sex workers in different States, has urged the authorities to give financial assistance to the community members on the lines of what Maharashtra government did recently.

Last week, Maharashtra government decided to give ₹5,000 a month worker and an additional ₹2,500 to those with school-going children to close 31,000 sex workers in the State, following a Supreme Court order. However, similar financial assistance is not available to sex workers in other States, even though their profession was severely hit during the Covid-19 pandemic, said leaders of Taaras, a coalition of 107 community organisations with a total of 1.6 lakh members in five States —Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Telangana. Taaras also has presence in seven other States in the country.

Talking to BusinessLine in connection with the World AIDS Day, observed on December 1, Taaras leaders said the stigma associated with their profession and financial difficulties are forcing a large number of the community members to vacate rented accommodation that they have and their children are not in a position to attend online classes as they lack smartphones and net connectivity.

Selvi, a Taaras leader based in Madurai in Tamil Nadu, said more often than not those sex workers who had to leave their security of their homes are harassed by either by police or goons. Even though the Tamil Nadu government provided them free ration, a vast majority of the 26,000 members affiliated to Taaras in the State are living in penury and worried about their future, she said. Taaras is said to represent nearly one-third of the sex workers in Tamil Nadu.

The situation is no different in Karnataka where Taaras coalition has over 40,000 members. According to Swaralaxmi (name changed), a Taaras leader and also a HIV-affected sex worker with two children, though the organisations wrote to the Chief Minister, other Ministers and administration in districts no help, other than free foodgrains, was given to them. She also said since most sex workers do not belong to the place where they live, they often do not have documents to prove their identity. This is also affecting them from getting many other benefits otherwise announced by the State government.

Both Selvi and Swaralaxmi, however, said HIV positive sex workers were luckily getting antivirals and other medicines on time with Taaras volunteers delivering them at their doorsteps after procuring them from health department.

In October, the National Human Rights Commission advised the Centre and States to recognise sex workers as “Women at Work” and provide them the beneficiary schemes available to the economically-vulnerable sections of the society.