Having no income since the lockdown started, many sex workers are working in the houses of well-off workers for survival
Liza Begum, 45, has been living in Kandapara brothel in Tangail for 19 years. With her daily earnings, she used to cover house rent, food and all other expenses. She also supported her old mother. However, she has been living an inhuman life for the last four months due to Covid-19 as customers do not come.
Like Lisa, more than 600 sex workers in the brothel are living a miserable existence amid this pandemic. They want help from the government and non-government organisations.
Liza Begum said she had passed 38 Eids with great joy in 19 years as a lot of customers usually visit the brothel before Eid, on Eid day and after Eid. She used to earn several times more money during Eid than on other days, which she spent on Eid shopping. However, due to Covid-19, there were no customers during the last Eid-ul-Fitr.
"I couldn't buy new clothes for my daughter or a piece of cloth for myself last Eid. Not only Eid days but I, along with my children, am spending every day in great difficulty. Even if we have food for one day, we starve the next day. We will have to face difficulty during Eid-ul-Adha too," she said.
The 200-year-old Kandapara brothel is established on 302 decimals of land. There are about 600 sex workers in 59 houses there. On March 20, the district administration provided 30 kg of rice per person and announced a lockdown to prevent Covid-19 infection. And, the administration gave Tk500 in cash to each member before Eid-ul-Fitr.
On Tuesday (July 14) at around noon, this correspondent found every alley in Kandapara brothel empty, with no one but the sex workers there. Seeing a reporter with a bag, a notebook and a pen in hand, some sex workers came forward hoping to get relief material. Some people asked to have their names written first to get relief material. They became disappointed when they learnt that he was a journalist.
Among the sex workers, Tanni Akhter said that even if the house rent is waived in the lockdown, the rest of the expenses have to be paid all the time. Even if there is no income, the expenditure continues. Although rice is provided by the district administration, vegetables, oil and many more items are required for meals. Also, they have to buy other necessary things including medicine.
"Everything I had was spent two and a half months ago. At present, I have to bring money from home," she added.
Another sex worker Mausumi Akhter said she had been struggling with her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter for about four months.
"I couldn't even buy milk for my daughter because I didn't have money. I had to feed the baby rice starch brought from someone else's house. Sometimes I have starved. I used to cook on a gas stove but I don't have money to buy gas and I am collecting dry leaves and cooking with that," she added.
Another sex worker named Beauty Akhter, who has been living in the brothel for six years, said she had never had to ask anyone for food and money, but she had to face lots of difficulties since the pandemic started.
"Before the pandemic, I used to earn Tk1,500-Tk2,000 per day. I could save some money at the end of the month after meeting all the expenses including house rent. Now the income is not the same as before, but the cost is the same. So far, I have borrowed about Tk10,000," she added.
Another sex worker Shikha Akhter said since there were no customers in the lockdown, they had to work in the house of other well-off sex workers. She demanded public-private cooperation to solve their problems.
"What could be more difficult than not being able to buy clothes for a 2.5-year old girl due to lack of money? I am feeding my baby by asking others for foods," said Bilkis Akhter, another sex worker in the brothel.
Aklima Akhter Lakhi, president of Nari Mukti Sangha, said the members of the village have been living a very inhuman life since the beginning of the Covid-19. Many have to survive with help from others. Some people are working hard at home to cope with the situation. They need help urgently.
Ataur Rahman Azad, general secretary of the Tangail district branch of the Bangladesh Human Rights Implementation Agency, said the district administration had provided rice and cash assistance to sex workers for humanitarian reasons. He demanded that they should be assisted throughout the disaster.
Tangail deputy commissioner Ataul Gani said the district administration would take necessary steps to assist sex workers. In the meantime, 10 tonnes of rice have been allotted to the poor in Tangail municipality including to those in the brothel.