There are reports galore stating how the lockdown has harshly affected migrant workers and daily wagers. Conservative estimates state that the 450 million that comprise the informal sector workforce have lost their only source of income and have been left stranded, with no means to fend for themselves.
In the next few days that followed after the announcement of the lockdown, the government announced several relief packages for the underprivileged, and charitable organizations gathered resources to come to the aid of the daily wagers and at-risk families. However, in this tumultuous situation, two sets of people are largely ignored, and cannot avail the aid being offered, simply either because of their form of work, or because they do not have official documentation. These are commercial sex workers (CSWs) and transgender people.
Very few of these individuals have actually chosen this form of earning wages; most have been forced due to abject poverty. Their work is dangerous, they live in cramped and suffocating rooms that are shared with at least 4 other people, and are shunned by society. On a good day, a CSW earns anywhere between INR 350-500, just enough to soothe the pangs of hunger. With the lockdown came the prohibition of all forms of non-essential work and social distancing. For CSWs, this spelt disaster; For those who live on hand to mouth, and those who have been left at the margins of society with no means of making a living, CSWs are facing an evil that is equal to if not worse than being infected with Coronavirus- starvation. With almost all avenues of support being shut off from them, they have nowhere to turn to but to those who do not find them ‘dirty’ because of their work.
Wishes and Blessings, a Delhi-based NGO, has been at the forefront of relief work ever since the lockdown was announced. One of their main tenets is to “Never say no,” and their work cuts across spectrums of race, class, gender and community. The organization started by serving meals to over 9,000 homeless and daily wagers in Delhi, and has grown ever since. At their peak, they were serving meals to 15,000 people and providing ration kits to over 8,300 families across 7 states. The Wishes and Blessings Relief Van travels across Delhi/NCR to distribute relief in the form of cooked food, ration kits and hygiene supplies.
On one of their relief drives, Wishes and Blessings ventured into one of the lesser-known areas- Dhundela, a small village in Gurgaon. Dhundela is home to 3,000 migrant families, many of whom are engaged with construction and manual labour. One particular line of rooms houses CSWs. These CSWs are not just women, but individuals from across the spectrum of gender and sex. Many do not have to support just themselves, but their children as well.
When asked about their current situation, Naincy said, “We have no way to support ourselves now. Whatever money we managed to save we put together to buy ration. But it is not enough. I have to feed my children… we cannot even take food on credit. No one will give it to us. Even shop keepers shout at us to go away. Everyone shuns us because of our work. Don’t we feel hungry too?”
Wishes and Blessings identified 205 such individuals and families who were in need of dire aid and organised a ration distribution drive. Each kit contained atta, rice, dal, oil and salt as well as hygiene supplies including soap and detergent. The kit can last a family of 5 for 7 days. Cherry, one of the beneficiaries said, “We have been so worried about how we will survive. We have been turned away from many places because of our work. I am so grateful for the ration… at least now I can sleep on a full stomach.”
Dr. Geetanjali Chopra, Founder and President, said, “As an organisation we always work for quality and never quantity. We may work with smaller batches as compared to other organizations, but we ensure to carry out due diligence to ascertain actual needs on the ground. Each individual, each family is as important as the previous one. And I have to say, this drive-in Dhundela has been the most satisfying one yet. The blessings we have received are truly priceless!”
Wishes and Blessings have committed to providing relief until the 15th of June, until beneficiaries are assured of their security.