Budhwarpeth, India’s third-largest red-light area in Pune, is home to 3000 sex workers and 700 brothels. The past two years, especially, have been difficult for them to make a stable livelihood. The pandemic caused a steep fall in the demand for sexual services, which coerced sex workers to survive through borrowing money. In other circumstances, this might sound like an okay option, temporarily. But statistics show that about 85% of the workers have taken loans and over 98% have taken them from brothel owners, moneylenders and managers, which puts them in the vulnerable position of further exploitation. Most of the money they earn is also in the hands of these people that impose their power on the workers.
Sex workers, irrespective of the pandemic, struggle to make their ends meet and the main factor for this is the lack of education and skills that foster higher chances of employment. This leads them to be stuck in the flesh trade loop that gives them the minimal yet unstable safety of surviving. On the flipside it also creates the helplessness of not knowing where else to go or what else to do. A survey done in the pleasure district of Budhwarpeth reveals that 87% of the workers have stated that they experience this trap. About 82% of them are between the 25-45 years age group, and have not had the chance to explore alternative career options.
The survey conducted in Budhwarpeth, the district that survives on the satiation of sexual pleasures in exchange for money has revealed that the sex workers have a deep desire to explore alternative forms of livelihood. This isn’t to demoralise their profession but it is to bring light to the fact that they deserve to explore other non-exploitative options that are based on their free informed choice, and not as a compulsion. Around 84% of them have not had any formal education and before they could finish high school they were forced into the trade. The combination of the fall in demand due to the pandemic, and the fact that most of them have been forced into the flesh trade when they were minors, proves that they never had the chance to build other skills and be educated, to have the agency to step beyond the desire district of Budhwarpeth.
To untangle and open up alternative livelihoods is possible only through expanding their skill set and by providing them and their children the right to education. This vicious cycle can be undone only through the means of giving them the chance to explore their potential and empowerment through education. This is why we at Purnkuti are committed to uplifting their quality of life, personal and professional development and opening them up to opportunities to discover what lies beyond the flesh trap.