Dated October 18, 2020
Note: This interview was conducted back in 2019 for Wikinews and the text has been since published here under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license. This article has not undergone the complete peer-review process of Wikinews pre-publication.
The spread of coronavirus in late 2019 and then in 2020 led to a global pandemic, affecting various daily activities. Originating in Wuhan, China, the virus spread globally, and by March, drastic measures were taken by the Indian government. Some branches of the [South Western Railway](South Western Railway zone) of India had started taking precautions by distributing masks to ticket collectors and guards from as early as March 8. Some colleges were suspended by March 13, their exams postponed as the government introduced lockdown and enforced social distancing.
Announced in the evening, the Indian Prime Minister asked his countrymen to get the essential products and avoid going out as much as possible. Long queues outside the grocery shops, people in masks, some in N-95 masks, and hand sanitisers at the gates of megamarts were a common sight. There were reduced items in the shops, and some stores had a limit of the number of customers allowed in the store at any given time. Food delivery services, and taxi services were on hiatus—workers who depended on the profession for their daily income, while people including software engineers were working from home. Physical classes in schools and colleges were replaced by online lectures to prevent social gatherings.
While many relied on technology for continuing their work and earn their livelihood; on the behalf of Wikinews, I reached out to sex workers in Mysore in June who, unlike others, can't maintain social distancing for their work. Two sex workers, Akram Pasha, and Jaya (a pseudonym), who were part of a sex worker's group called "Ashodaya Samithi" discussed how their lives had been affected by the coronavirus, the lockdown and the restrictions they had faced.
Interview with a male sex worker
Akram Pasha: Greetings. My name is Akram. I am from Mysore. I am part of a male sex worker community. And I have been living with the HIV-virus for the last 18 years. And I have been working with the Ashodaya [community] since day-one.Hindi language: नमस्ते। मेरा नाम अकरम है। मैं मैसूर से हूँ। और मैं एक male sex worker community से belong करता हूँ। और मैं पिछले १८ साल से HIV-virus के साथ जी रहा हूँ। और मैं अशोदया [समिति] मैं day one से काम कर रहाँ हूँ।
Ashodaya is a CO—which is a Community Organisation—it works with female, male and transgender sex workers. Its operations are related to their health: primarily, focused on HIV-AIDS.Hindi language: अशोदया जो एक CO है, जो community organisation कहलाता है, यह female, male and transgender sex worker[s] के साथ काम करता है। जो उनके स्वास्थ को लेके, जो main होता है: HIV-AIDS को, उसको लेके काम करता है।
So can you tell me something about yourself?Hindi language: तो मुझे आपके बारे में ज़रा बताएँगे?
Akram Pasha: About me? I have been working as a sex worker in Mysore for the past 25-26 years. And along with that, when Ashodaya was formed, I became a part of it. Before that, my daily routine was to come [work] in the field, whatever was my task, complete it; and with the community—I would keep my distance—I didn't used to talk much with anyone in the beginning. I would distance myself: come, [do my work], and then leave. But when Ashodaya started, and I felt I am not alone, that there are many [people] like me in the community: we all have to move forward [in life] together. With this thought, I started interacting with them. So slowly-slowly: first sixteen people joined, then from sixteen; now there are about 5000 members in the community. [It includes] female, male as well as transgender. A lot of the members are gay, bisexual, homosexual, and hijrā[s].Hindi language: मेरे बारे में? में पिछले २५-२६ साल से मैसूर में मैं sex worker का काम कर रहा हूँ। और उसके साथ-साथ मैं, जो अशोदया शुरू हुआ, उसके साथ जुड़ा हूँ। उसके पहले में, मेरा जो daily routine था, field में आना, मेरा काम: जितना है, उतना करना, और ज़्यादा community के साथ—दूर रह—ज़्यादा बात नहीं करता था में पहले किसी के साथ। लेकिन—दूर-दूर ही: आता और चले जाता था। फिर जब अशोदया शुरू हुआ, जब हमें लगा हम अकेले नहीं हैं; हमारे जैसे बहुत सारे और community है, उनको भी हमें साथ लेके जाना है। एसा सोच के हम उनसे साथ जुड़ने लगें। तो धीरे-धीरे: पहले मैं: हम १६ लोग जुड़े. १६ से अभी लगभग ५००० समुदाय के लोग हैं। जो female, male and transgender। जो इसमें ज़्यादातर हमारे जो बोलते हैं—gays, bisexual, homosexual, हिजड़ा—यह सब समुदाय के लोग हैं।
What is your age?Hindi language: आपकी उमर क्या है?
Akram Pasha: I am currently 45 years old.Hindi language: अभी मेरा ४५ years चल रहा है।
You said you have been working for like what, last 25 years, [right]?Hindi language: आपने बताया कि आप पिछले कितने, २५ साल से काम कर रहे हैं?
Akram Pasha: [For the past] 30 years.Hindi language: ३० साल से।
[I was] fifteen years old when we came here. And then, slowly-slowly over time, I entered into this field. But now, it is my time to retire. Now I want to give others an opportunity.Hindi language: १५ साल की उमर थी जब से हम लोग यहाँ पे आए। एकदम फिर धीरे-धीरे से इस field में आ गए। तो अभी मेरा भी trading का time हो गया। अभी मैं दूसरों को मौक़ा देना चाहता हूँ।
[Would you] tell me about your work?Hindi language: आपके काम के बारे में बताएँगे?
Akram Pasha: Regarding Ashodaya?Hindi language: जो अशोदया के?
Ashodaya mainly works to spread awareness [among sex workers] about HIV. They gather the community, identify the needs of the community, look after what the community requires, and also deals with how the community faces violence. I mean the, community often faces violence. It happens from the family, from boyfriend, it can happen from their neighbours, their landlords. So Ashodaya [fights against] violence and exploitation [against the sex workers]. Like for example, they advocate, they network [with the sex workers], and accrediting them by rapid enrolment. They do all these [things]. And mostly about their health. They spread awareness about HIV in the community, and they also counsel. Their [sex worker's] job, which has a high risk [to contract STD], they [Ashodaya] help getting treatment of sexually transmitted disease[s]. Like for example, when we first speak to them [sex workers], we identify if they have any symptoms of STD, [and if so], we get them treated. And then we go check for HIV. And if they have contracted HIV, then we get [them] registered for ART [Anti-retroviral treatment], and we follow-up after ART. Those who are [HIV-]negative, we mostly encourage them to use condom[s], we explain them; and [we] tell them how they can live their lives in a better way.Hindi language: अशोदया mainly HIV-awareness के लिए काम करता है। जो community को इक्ख़ा करना, community की need identify करना, community को main need क्या है, और community का violence किस तरीक़े से है: मतलब community में ज़्यादातर violence होता है। Family से होता है, उनके boyfriend से होता है, और [उनके] neighbours से होता है, stakeholders से होता है। तो ऐसी जो violence, मतलब उनके साथ जो हिंसा होती है, शोषणया होती है, उसके लिए कार करते हैं। जैसे कि advocacy करना, networking करना, rapid enrollment करके उनको accredit कराना, यह करते हैं। और उसके ज़्यादातर, स्वास्थ को लेके जो काम करते हैं, उनको HIV के बारे में awareness create करना, और counselling करना, और जो उनका काम है, उसमें जितना high-risk है, उसके लिए STDs का treatment करवाना। जैसे कि, पहले हम उनको बात करते हि identify कर लेते है: उनको कोई STD का symptoms है, तो उसको treatment कराते है। फिर बाद में जाके HIV का जाँच करवाते है। अगर HIV हो गया, तो उनको ART [Anti-retroviral treatment] के लिए registration करते हैं, ART दिलाके follow-up करते हैं। जो negative है, उनको condom के बारे में ज़्यादातर motivation करते है, उनको समझाते है, और उनके life में कैसे और अच्छी तरह से जी सकते है, उसके बारे में [बात] करते है।
And along with that, we are organising some programmes. Now we are looking for places, the ways they [sex workers] can get a place [for their sex work]. We create awareness about it. So these are [also] the things that we do. And the other thing is, mainly, the social benefits for the community: There are some social benefits that the government provides. For example, they get about 20 thousand to 50 thousand rupees from the Women and Child development. So we also help them to get these [benefits]. Along with that: the national identity. National identity is important for every sex worker. When we started this organisation, almost 90% of the members [of the community] did not have any national identity. For example, ration card, PAN card, identity card, passport, or let it be any national identity: they didn't have it. So we started from there. Every sex worker should get a national identity. Because that is very important for their nationality. So thinking about it, what we did was to get everyone an Aadhaar card. Our community got in touch with one of the Aadhaar [issuing] personal assistants, we asked them to get all of our people, almost 5700 people, the Aadhaar card. We also helped the trans[gender] community to get it, so that there is no stigma there [about being transgender]. Whatever the [previous] problems were, of this community, trans-community shouldn't have to now face it. So we thought that and got everyone [the aadhaar card]. So we got them the Aadhaar card, and also the Ration card. There are three types of ration card: APL card [above poverty line], BPL card [below poverty line], and antadoya ann card. [Our community] mostly has either BPL or antadoya ann card. Antadoya ann card is for the extrememly poor, or HIV positive people: they get some of the things for free. There is BPL card [for others].Hindi language: और उसके साथ-साथ हम लोग अभी नए programme कर रहे है, जो place को ले कर काम कर रहे है, जो place दिलाते है उनको। Place के बारे में awareness create करते है। तो यह सब हम लोग करवाते हैं। और इसकी और दूसरी चीज़ है, mainly क्या है, जो community में जो social benefit: सरकार की ओर से बहुत सारी social benefit मिल रही है, जैसे कि उनको कुछ करने के लिए, WCD [Women and Child Development] Women and Children department है, कुछ पैसा मिलता है, २० हज़ार, ५० हज़ार, वो पैसे से वो कुछ कर सकते हैं। तो वो भी हम दिलाते हैं। और उसके साथ-साथ जो national identity है: हर sex worker के लिए जो main: important है, national identity। क्योंकि जब हम संस्था शुरू किए थे, हमारी community के पास—लगभग 90 percent के लोगों के पास—कोई national identity नहीं था। जैसे कि Ration card हो, PAN card हो, identity card हो, passport हो, या कोई भी national identity हो: नहीं था। तो हम वहाँ से शुरू करें, हर एक sex worker के पास एक ना एक identity होना ज़रूरी है। क्योंकि वो nationality के लिए बहुत important है। तो ये सोच के हमने क्या किया, हर एक को आधार कार्ड करवाया। जो आधार कार्ड का जो PA [Personal Assistant] था, हमारे संस्था ने रख के हम लोग को—लगभग हम लोग ५७०० लोगों को—आधार कार्ड दिलाया। और उसके साथ-साथ हमने trans[gender] community को भी दिलाया, ताकि ऐसा नहीं है कि, वहाँ पे भी stigma हो। जो community के लोगों को तक़लीफ हो रही है, trans-community को नहीं होनी [चाहिए], तो यह सोच के सभी को मिलाके दिलाया। तो उसमें, एक आधार कार्ड दिलाया, दूसरा ration card। Ration card में भी क्या होता है, APL card, BPL card, अन्त्योदय अन्न कार्ड: ये तीन कार्ड होते हैं। तो इसमें हम like mainly दो कार्ड अन्त्योदय अन्न कार्ड और BPL कार्ड। अन्त्योदय अन्न कार्ड जो होता है वह HIV-positive लोग, या कोई भी बहुत गरीब लोग रहते हैं, उनके लिए पूरा free में मिलता था, अभी तो BPL हो गया तो बस वो ही free मिलता है। दूसरा BPL कार्ड।
And the third thing is, we approached some ministers for advocacy and to get everyone a voter ID. So almost 60 to 70% of the community members got it. We also helped some of the sex workers join other organisations for their vocational training for skill-building develop[ment], [...] like using a computer. These are some of the other things that we did. And then we work on different-different kinds of projects. For example, there was one about HIV-AIDS. So we did that. Then there was one about TIFR [Tata Institute of Fundamental Research]. TIFR focuses on reproductive health: It was about [cervical cancer](cervical cancer). The different kinds of cancer that females can get, cervical cancer, [breast cancer](breast cancer), uterine cancer: to detect that. If it was in the first or the second stage, then get them treatment. For those, who were in the third stage, we referred them to different hospitals. Another thing was PrEP [Pre-exposure prophylaxis]. We got almost 800-1000 people PrEP: [we helped give it to] female, male and transgender community. So that is a good improvement in their lives. So they don't feel as if there is no one to look after them. And to prevent them from contracting HIV. So with this thought, we gave them PrEP and spread awareness about it.Hindi language: और तीसरा जो है, कुछ ministers के साथ advocacy किया, और सब को identity कार्ड, जो voter ID होता है, तो उसमें से लगभग ६०-७० percent लोगों को identity कार्ड दिलाया। कुछ लोगों को दूसरे-दूसरे संस्था से जोड़ा, ताकि उनका vocational training, जैसे, skill-building develop[ment] के लिए जैसे [...] computer हो, उसको जोड़ के उनको काम कराया। तो यह सब हम लोग करते हैं। और mainly अलग-अलग project लेके काम करते हैं, जैसे कि, हम लोग को HIV-AIDS का programme दिलाया था, तो HIV-AIDS का काम किए, बाद में फिर TIFR का मिला। TIFR का जो reproductive health के लिए काम करना था, जो cervical cancer को लेके, उसका काम किया। जो cancer महिलाओं को, जो योनी cancer होता है, कोई और cancer होता है, chest cancer: breast cancer होता है या गर्भाशय में कैंसर होता है, उसके लिए identify करके, first stage या second stage में जो रहते है, उनको treatment करवाया। जो third stage है, उनके लिए अलग-अलग होस्पितालों में refer किया। और तीसरा जो है: perp का। PrEP लगभग हम लोग ८०० से हज़ार लोगों को PrEP दिलवाया, जो हमारे community के लोग हैं: female, male and transgender community को। ताकि उनके life में और अच्छा बदलाव आए। ऐसा नहीं लगे कि हम लोग को देखने वाला [कोई] नहीं है: ये सोच के है उनकी ज़िंदगी में, HIV से रोक सके। HIV के साथ ना रहे; जुड़ जाए। तो ये सोच के हम लोग उनको PrEP दिलाया और उसके बारे में awareness किया।
We are working on the COVID-19 [pandemic] that is going on now, spreading information to everyone. Telling them to maintain hygiene, to protect themselves from COVID-19. Because a lot of people have mentally changed from within. So we explained to them about COVID. And we are also running our own cooperative. Like how there are railway cooperatives, KSRTC's cooperative, doctor union's cooperative: similarly we have our sex workers' organisations cooperative. It is a public multi-purpose cooperative. So sex workers collect money and save their money: and when needed, they take out personal loans, gold loans, vehicle loans, housing loans: Now they focus mainly on giving health loans and education loans. Because these two are very important for us. This is what the community mostly needs. Because they generally don't have money saved for [looking after their] health. So for that they require loans. Other than that they require loans for their children's admission [into schools], for education and even for their [children's] marriages. So that is what we give importance to. These are the things that we do.Hindi language: अभी जो COVID-19 चल रहा है उसके बारे में हम काम कर रहे हैं, जो information सबको फैला रहे हैं, कि hygene में रहना, COVID-19 से बच कर रहना हैं, पर अपने जीवन में कैसे अपने आप को, क्योंकि, बहुत सारे लोग, मानसिक—अंदर ही अंदर यह हो गए हैं—change हो गए हैं। बहुत लोगों में बदलाव आ गया है। तो यह सोच के हम लोग उनको यह समझाए: COVID के बारे में information दे रहे हैं। और इसके साथ-साथ हम लोग cooperative चला रहे हैं। जो अलग-अलग, जैसे कि, railway का cooperative होता है, KSRTC का cooperative होता है, doctor union का cooperative होता है: ऐसे ही हमारा sex worker organisation का एक cooperative चला रहे हैं: सार्वजनिक multi-purpose cooperative sector। तो यहाँ पर sex worker: पूरे लोग अपना पैसा जमा करते हैं, saving करते हैं, और personal loan लेते हैं, gold loan लेते हैं, vehicle loan लेते हैं, housing loan लेते हैं, अब ज़्यादा focus health loan और education loan को देते हैं। क्योंकि यह दो important है ज़रा हमारा। Community को ज़्यादा need यही रहता है। क्योंकि एक तो health के लिए वो अपना पैसा नहीं बचा के रहते, तो उसके लिए loan चाहिए। दूसरा, अपने बच्चों के admission के लिए, पढ़ाई के लिए, या कुछ, शादी के लिए चाहिए, तो उसको हम importance देते हैं। इतना काम हम कर रहे हैं।
Sir, you said you helped around 5000 people get an Aadhaar card and a ration card. 5000 people across India, or just in Mysore?Hindi language: Sir, आपने यह बताया कि लगभग ५००० लोगों को अपने आधार कार्ड and ration card दिलवाया। ५००० लोग पूरे भारत में, कि सिर्फ़ मैसूर में?
Akram Pasha: Across India. No, not across India: Mysore,Mandya, Chikmagalur, Kodagu. In four districts. We [Ashodaya] operate in four districts.Hindi language: भारत में। भारत में नहीं—पूरा—मैसूर, मांडया, चिकमगलूर, कोडगु। चार district में। हम चार district में काम करते हैं।
So, tell me, why did you choose to be a sex worker?Hindi language: तो आप बताइए, आपने sex worker का job क्यों चुना?
Akram Pasha: I didn't choose. I worked as a masseur in the beginning. I used to think people come—get [services] for free—fulfils their desires for free. Anyone who would come, they used to demand—"I want this, I want that"—they would demand everything for free. Then I thought: "Why should I [do this] for free every time[?] After all, I am a human too." Yes, [while] it was a hobby, that was okay. But now everything that they would demand: whenever [they'd ask about] oral—they asked for oral sex, [they would] ask for anal sex. Everyone had very different demands. So I thought: "No. I should not do it for free". In the sense, I should provide any service only in exchange for something: that is what I thought. And with that thought, I chose this.Hindi language: चुना नहीं। में starting में massager था। मुझे लगा, हर एक आता है—मुफ़त में ले के जाए—मुफ़त में अपने शौक़ मिटा के जाता है। कोई भी आता है, demand करता है—"यह चाहिए, वो चाहिए"—सब मुफ़त में demand करता है। तो सोचा: "क्यों इस को हम लोग मुफ़त में हर बार [करें], हम भी तो इंसान है।" हाँ शौक़ था [तब] ठीक था। लेकिन अभी, हर-एक चीज़ जो वो demand करते हैं: जब भी—oral के बारे में—oral sex पूछते हैं, anal sex पूछते हैं। सब demand—अलग-अलग demand करते हैं। तो हमने सोचा: "नहीं। ऐसा free में नहीं यह करना है, इसको हम लोग।" मतलब कुछ लेके ही कुछ service provide करना है। तो ऐसा सोच के जो हमने चुन लिया।
And at the time whenever I used to go work somewhere, nobody would hire me [as a worker]. For example, I used to go to shops [to work]: Before that I worked in many different places. However [in that work], all I experienced was sexual harassment. Nobody showed me even an iota of respect there. And they also did not accept me. Whenever I would go to their home(s), they would take me to clean their utensils. In many places where I worked: they would ask me for a body massage. Wherever I'd go, they would invite [me] for sex. All of these things made me wonder, "I did not have a place there, why am I living in such conditions?" And thinking that I started this work [as a sex worker].Hindi language: और उस समय, हम लोग कहीं काम [पे] जाते हैं, तो कोई हम लोग को काम नहीं देता था। जैसे की कोई, दुकान पे जाते तो वहाँ पें हम लोग के साथ: पहले बहुत बार बहुत जगह काम के लिए गया भी था। थोड़ा-बहुत दिन काम भी किया है। लेकिन, वहाँ पे हम लोग को सिवाय sexual harassment के सिवा कोई इज्ज़त नहीं मिलती है। और ना तो वो हम लोग को स्वीकार करते हैं। जब भी जाते हैं, घर में बर्तन धोने के लिए ले कर जाते थे। कहीं काम पर जाते हैं, तो उनका body-मालिश के लिए बुलाते [हैं]। कभी जाते हैं, sex के लिए आह्वान करते हैं। तो यह सब हम लोग को लगा, "ऐसे भी हम लोग को वहाँ जगह नहीं, क्यों नहीं हम लोग [...ऐसे] में जीते रहे", एसा सोच के मैंने यह काम करना शुरू [किया]।"
How was your life before becoming a sex worker?Hindi language: आप sex worker के पहले आपकी ज़िंदगी कैसी थी?
Akram Pasha: It was ordinary! I was a child. I would play. At that time: I was in school too [like other kids]. I would also want to play [like other kids]. I would be with others, for a greater [amount of] time. I used to do different-different types of jobs, like I worked in a factory, I worked in a vegetable market, I traded in clothing. Then I worked for someone who manufactured cement. I worked at many places. But at none of the places I would find it there: the happiness that I now get with my community. At the other places, I never found happiness.Hindi language: मामूली! बचपना था। खेलें-कूदें। [त]ब हम लोग: मैं भी school भर रहा था। मैं भी खेलना चाहता था। सबके साथ रहता था ज़्यादा। अलग-अलग काम करता था, जैसे कि factory में काम किया, सब्ज़ी मंडी में काम किया, कपड़े का व्यापार किया। फिर बाद में जा के जो सूखी मिट्टी बनाता था [...] वहाँ पे काम किया। सब जगह किया। लेकिन कहाँ भी मुझे उतना यह नहीं मिला, जो अभी मैं अभी हमारे समुदाय के साथ मैं जितना ख़ुश हूँ। वहाँ पे, मुझे ख़ुशी या, कोई भी मुझे यह नहीं मिला उतना।
These days, I mean, when corona[virus] wasn't spreading, how was a normal day for you?Hindi language: आज-कल, मतलब जब corona[virus] नहीं चल रहा था, तब आपके लिए एक normal day कैसा लगता था?
Akram Pasha: It was fantastic! In the morning, how everyone gets up, goes to office, maintains their daily routine, have breakfast then go to office, have lunch there, and come back home in the evening: We also used to go in the morning and come back in the evening. Since the time corona[virus] has been spreading: all of these activities have completely stalled. If I think about corona[virus], I get goosebumps all over my body [: it causes chills down my spine]. Corona[virus] has caused just so much problems, it has adversely affected our entire community.Hindi language: एक-दम बढ़िया था! सुबह, हर कोई जैसे कि उठता है, सुबह office जाता है, अपना daily routine कैसे maintain करता था, breakfast सुबह फिर office जाना, फिर lunch करना, फिर शाम को घर आना: ऐसे ही, हम भी सुबह जाते, और शाम को वापस घर आते हैं। जब से corona[virus] शुरू हुआ है, तब से हमारी ज़िंदगी में तो एकदम [stall] हो गया है। corona[virus] को ले के तो बहुत सारा, अगर याद किया, तो, मेरे बदन में कांटे आते हैं। जैसे कि बहुत सारा problem हुआ है, coorna[virus] की वजह से। हमारे समुदाय के ऊपर बहुत सारा असर पड़ा है।
What are the things that you like about your job, and what [are the things] you do not like?Hindi language: आपको आपके काम के बारे में सबसे ज़्यादा क्या चीज़ पसंद है और क्या चीज़ बिलकुल [भी] नहीं पसंद हैं?
Akram Pasha: Mostly, I like solving other people's problems. Whatever they may face, let it be, police harassment; or be it harassment from their family members at their home—So to go, stop those things, and bring them into their happy lives—I really like that. And secondly, those people who are HIV-positive: they become closeted [and they distance themselves]. So to bring them new life, I meant, to bring them to their former lives [before contracting HIV], [to help them] to live like everyone else is living, to show them path to this life, I really like that. Because I really like to bring changes in people['s lives].Hindi language: ज़्यादा जो कुछ भी है, मुझे लोगों का जो problem होता है, उसको solve करना। उनको कुछ भी, जैसे कि, police harrasment हो, या उनके घर में, family में उनके साथ harrasment चल रहा है, तो उसको जाके रोकना और, और उनकी ख़ुशहाल ज़िंदगी में उनको लाना, वो मुझे बहुत अच्छा लगता है। और दूसरी चीज़ है, लोग स्वास्थ्य को ले के, जो HIV-positive हो जाता है, तो वो अपने-आप को जो, अलग तरीक़े से अपने-आप को बंद करना चाहता है। तो उसको हम वापस नई ज़िंदगी लाना, मतलब उसको मामूली ज़िंदगी में लाना, सबकी तरह जैसे [...] लोग जैसे जी रहे हैं, ऐसे जीने के लिए रास्ता दिखाना, वो मुझे बहुत अच्छा लगता है। क्योंकि लोगों का बदलाव लाना मुझे बहुत पसंद है।
But what I do not like is: The stigma people hold [against sex workers], when they discriminate, [...], [to divide] on the basis of caste and community, the way the judge people based on their clothes, or to show them a finger: these are the things I do not like.Hindi language: लेकिन मुझे जो अच्छा नहीं लगता है: जो लोगों stigma करते हैं, discrimination करते हैं, [...] जाट-पाट करते हैं, लोगों के कपड़े को देखके तोलते हैं, या उनका जीवन को लेकर तोलते हैं, या उन पर उंगली दिखाते हैं, तो ये मुझे बिलकुल पसंद नहीं है।
Do you make enough that you can earn your daily bread?Hindi language: क्या आप इतना पैसा बना पाते है कि आप आपकी रोज़ी-रोटी कमा पाएँ?
Akram Pasha: There are no difficulties. Whatever I make [from my earnings], I eat.Hindi language: कोई दिक़्क़त नहीं [है]। जो कुछ भी मिलता है वो खा लेते हैं।
So you are telling that for the last 18 years you have AIDS.Hindi language: आप बता रहे थे कि आपको, कितने, पिछले १८ साल से AIDS है।
Akram Pasha: I didn't get AIDS. I contracted HIV virus.Hindi language: AIDS नहीं हुआ। HIV-virus हुआ।
So were condoms not [readily] available at that time?Hindi language: तो उस ज़माने में condoms available नहीं होते थे क्या, sir?
Akram Pasha: Available: no, it was available, but we had the information that time. We didn't see many clients. We would engage with them differently, like for example, using hands. And whatever it was, we didn't do sex [that time]. Because it took us 4-5 years just to come out of the fact [we've contracted HIV]. So when our organisation was formed, since then we have been getting condoms for free.Hindi language: Available; नहीं, होते थे लेकिन उस समय ज़्यादा जानकारी तो थी हम लोगों को। ज़्यादा client नहीं करते थे। Client को कि अलग तरीक़े से, हाथ से करके आ जाते थे। और दूसरा जो भी है, हम लोग वो नहीं करते थे: sex। क्योंकि उस समय हमारा, status से आने में ही, हम लोग को ४-५ साल लग गए। तो जब तक हमारा organisation आ गया था, जो अशोदया, उस समय हम लोग को कंडोम फ़्री में मिलना शुरू हो गया था।
How did the last three months go for you?Hindi language: आपके लिए पिछले तीन महीने कैसे गए हैं?
Akram Pasha: Totally: totally [different]. I had never thought the situation would be so horrible. I hadn't thought we would have to lock ourselves in our own homes. Or to isolate ourselves from others. I have never thought that. Because I have suffered a lot. We had nothing to eat. We are not rich, we han't saved any money. What about we made in the day, we used to eat that. What ever people gave, we ate that. There are so many nights where we went to bed empty-stomach. Our life was drastically different. At that time nobody would even give us some money on loan. "How are these people going to return the loan", they used to think. Most of the shops were closed. Any shop owner, whom we knew, was also closed. Otherwise we would have asked them to lend [some groceries]. Whatever was available in 30 to 60 minutes we had to buy it. So within that time we had together money and go buy: that was difficult to do. And other thing was about health. I had a lot of problems because of my health. I am a diabetic patient, And I'm also have [high] blood pressure. And on the top of that, I am living with HIV virus. To live with all of these three: it's not easy! Every month I require ₹2000-₹2500 for my treatment: for my medicines. To you have money for that was not easy. I used to have medicines on alternate days: I mean, the medicine I took today, I wouldn't take it tomorrow. If I had a surge, what will I do [if I run out of medicine]? So I also had to embrace this reality.Hindi language: एकदम...एकदम [अलग]। बहुत ही अलग तरीक़े से। जैसे हम सोचे भी नहीं थे, इतना बुरा हाल आएगा। मतलब हम लोग को अपने आपको अपने घरों में बंद रखना पड़ेगा। या सब लोगों से दूर रहना पड़ेगा। हम ये नहीं सोचें थे। क्योंकि बहुत ही दिक्कतें झेली है। जो हमारा खाना-पीना: मतलब हमारे लिए खाने को भी यह नहीं था। क्योंकि हम लोग पैसे वाले नहीं है, तो हम लोग [ने] पैसा कमा के नहीं रखा था। जो हम [पैसे] लाते थे [उससे] खा लेते थे। [...] जोजो और लोग दिये हैं वो खाए है। और कितनी रात भूखे भी सोए हैं। बहुत ही अलग तरीक़े से गुज़री है ज़िंदगी। क्योंकि उस समय कोई भी हमें पैसा देने वाला भी पैसा नहीं देता था। "क्योंकि आगे ये कैसे पैसा वापस लौटाएँगे", ये उनकी सोच थी। और दूसरा जो था, पूरे दुकानदार बंद थे। कोई भी हमारा पहचान का दुकान खुला नहीं था, ताकि हम लोग वहाँ पे जाके उधार लेकर खाएं। और जो मिलता था, आधा-एक घंटे में हम लोग को ख़रीदना था। तो आधा-एक घंटे में हम पैसे जोड़ कर के, जाके ख़रीदने में दिक़्क़त होती थी। और दूसरी चीज़ है, स्वास्थ्य को लेकर, मतलब हमारा health को लेकर बहुत दिक़्क़त हुई थी। जैसे कि, अभी में daibetic patient हूँ, और blood pressue का patient हूँ, और HIV virus के साथ जी रहा हूँ। इन तीनों के साथ जी रहा हूँ तो आसान नहीं है यह! हमारे लिए हर महीना लगभग दो से ढाई हज़ार रूपये treatment का चाहिए, दवाई के लिए चाहिए। वो पैसा जुगाड़ करना भी दिक़्क़त था। मैं एक दिन हाँ एक दिन ना लूँ। मतलब आज जो गोली खाया, कल नहीं खाता था। क्योंकी surge आइ तो कल कौन दिलाएगा? परसों खाता था। तो इस तरीक़े से उसके साथ भी समझौता करना पड़ा।
And the other thing was: No doctor in any government hospital was going to check us. No matter what we suffered from, we had to endure it. If my stomach was hurting, I had to bear it. If I had a fever, I had to live with it. If I had a skin problem: same. You know, I had three rashes on my body. For three months, I lived with those rashes which got a big infection. No after three months I am finally getting it treated. Because back then I did not have money to buy medicine, there was no doctor to show the problems. Those people who used to know me and used to call me, they all have stopped. Everyone is afraid of coronavirus. If I call them up then they hang up the phone. They don't talk to me. These are the changes [I see in people].Hindi language: और दूसरा जो है, कोई डॉक्टर, कोई डॉक्टर government hospital मैं हम लोग को देखने नहीं वाला था। तो उस समय, हम लोग जितना भी तक़लीफ़ होता था, अंदर ही सेहता था। जब पेट में दर्द हो, उसको भी सहन करो, fever हो, उसको भी सहन लो। Skin-problem हो तो उसको भी ऐसे ही सब। तुमको मालूम है, मेरे तीन rashes हो गए थे। तीन महीने: मुझे तीन महीने उस rashes के साथ: इतना बड़ा infection हो गया था। फिर तीन महीने के बाद अभी treatment करवा रहा हूँ। क्योंकि [...] पैसा नहीं था दवाई लेने के लिए; डॉक्टर नहीं था [...] दिखाने के लिए। ये भी समस्या थी। हर दूसरा जो था, जितने लोग हमें पहचानते थे, जितने लोग हम लोग को call करते थे, अभी पूरे लोग बंद कर दिए। सब लोगों में डर आ गया, corona[virus] को लेके। अब हम लोग बात करेंगे उनको तो phone काट देते हैं। हमसे बात नहीं करते हैं। यह सब बदलाव आ गया।
What were the precautions that you took in the last three months, so you don't contract corona[virus]?Hindi language: पिछले तीन महीने में अपनी किस किस तरह के precaution लिए, कि आपको corona[virus] ना लग जाए?
Akram Pasha: I took my own precautions: for example, our organisation had told us what we should do. And I also informed others how we should use masks. And to sanitise our hands using a sanitiser. Every hour, wash hands with soap. If you had gone outdoors, use soap and bathe immediately. And to maintain distance from everyone. Like you should keep 2m distance. And if anyone was suffering from cough, cold or fever, So we would advise them about their health. We will motivate them to go to hospital. These are the things we did. Whenever I used to go I would go wearing a mask. I would use sanitiser often. So to even buy a sanitiser do you know what I did? I had to sell a ring that are used to wear on my finger to buy sanitiser. It was a silver ring, I got ₹200 selling it. But using that I bought two sanitisers. Health is important. You have to do all of these things also for health.Hindi language: हम ख़ुद precaution लिए, जैसे कि, हमारे organisation ने हमें बताया था कैसे रहना है। और हम लोग दूसरों को भी बताया, जो अपने-आप को कैसे mask [डाल] के रहना है। Sanitiser से बार-बार हाथ wash करना है। Soap से हर एक घंटे में हाथ धोना है। कहीं बाहर जाके आएंगे तो, तो उसको साबुन के पानी में डाल के सीधे पानी-नहाना है। और किसी के साथ ज़्यादा दूर से अंतर रखना है, जैसे दो मीटर [का] अंतर रखना है। [...] और कोई भी patient है जो सर्दी, झुकाम, बुखार: उसको जो health के लिए advise करना है, हॉस्पिटल जाने के लिए motivation करना है। ये सब हम लोग करते थे। हर कहीं भी जाते हैं तो mask डाल कर जाते हैं, sanitiser का इस्तेमाल बार-बार करते हैं। तो sanitiser लेने के लिए भी, आपको बताऊँ मैं क्या किया? हाथ का अंगूठी बेचकर मैंने sanitiser लिया घर के लिए। वो चाँदी का था [...] 200 रुपये में गया। लेकिन उतने में ही मैंने दो sanitiser ख़रीदा। तो स्वास्थ्य ज़रूरी है। इसके लिए यह भी करना पड़ता है।
Did you receive the N95 mask or not?Hindi language: आपको N-९५ mask मिला कि नहीं मिला?
Akram Pasha: No no. I didn't get. We didn't get any mask: We didn't get anything for free. The mask we had, we made it out at homes. And then there was another one which I got from the market. It cost around ₹30-₹40. Certain medical shop they would sell a fire up your mask for ₹30. So initially we bought that mask being ₹30. But then it got dirty. So then I thought I'll just make it at home. So we made it at our homes with her own hands and stitched it together. I made it using a cloth and cotton. I used that. Every day I would clean it and use a different one the next day. And on the third day I used the one which I had cleaned. So these are the things that I did for my own safety.Hindi language: नहीं नहीं। नहीं मिला। हम लोग को कोई mask: मुफ़्त का कुछ भी नहीं मिला हम लोग को। जो mask था, वह हम लोग अपना घर में ही बनाया, और दूसरा जो था, एक बाज़ार में लिया था, ३०-४० का। तो medical [दुकान] में, ३० रुपये का वो भी, और पाँच रुपये का mask ३० रुपये में बिकता था। तो उस mask को हमने तीस-तीस रुपये देकर शुरू में लिया, फिर गंदा हो गया, फिर हमने सोचा घर में ही बनाएंगे। तो घर में ही हमने उसको हाथों से सिलाई किया—कपड़े का—साफ़ कपड़े कॉटन का। उसका इस्तेमाल करते हैं। हर दिन उसको धोने डालते हैं और दूसरे दिन दूसरा इस्तेमाल करता है। फिर तीसरे दिन धुला हुआ उसको डालते हैं। तो इस तरीक़े से हमने अपने आप को safety किया।
Nobody gave N-95 mask, Or sanitiser or even a hand wash. The government give us a kit via WCD. That was the only thing that we got. It contained: 5kg rice, 1kg oil, 2kg wheat, 1kg pulses.Hindi language: N-९५ mask नहीं मिला, sanitiser नहीं मिला, दूसरा handwash के लिए कोई नहीं मिला। जो kit था, जो सरकारी है वो WCD की तरफ़ से एक kit मिला। जो सिर्फ़ एक ही वो: पाँच kg चावल, एक kg तेल, दो kg आटा, एक kg दाल दिया था। तीन महीने में! बस उतना ही मिला।
You had financial difficulties all this time in the last three months?Hindi language: पूरे तीन महीने में आपको आर्थिक दिक़्क़तें रही?
Akram Pasha: A lot, yes. As I said, I can't even tell you how much problems we had faced. Let it be getting the medicines or any other thing, It was extremely difficult to get that. We didn't have enough money which caused the problems. And then nobody would come to see me because I live far from others. They know about me. But how are they going to come see me?Hindi language: बहुत बहुत। बताया ना मैं, बोल ही नहीं सकते हैं, हमें बहुत दिक्कतें आयी। दवाई लेने के से हर एक चीज़ से दिक़्क़त थी। जो पैसा नहीं होने की वजह से दिक़्क़त थी। और कोई भी हमारा, अपना ही नहीं आता कि देखता था, क्योंकि हम सबसे बहुत दूर रहते हैं। मालूम है उनको हमारे बारे में। तो कोई हमको आके कहाँ से देखेगा?
Are you married?Hindi language: क्या आप शादीशुदा हैं?
Akram Pasha: No.Hindi language: नहीं।
Did you get any financial help from anyone in your family in the last three months or not?Hindi language: क्या आपको आर्थिक सहायता आपके कोई भी परिवार वालों से मिली [या] नहीं मिली पिछले तीन महीने?
Akram Pasha: No. Because my mum and dad do not accept me. That is a different thing. And I do not go to their place. So whatever I get, I get from the community. I live with my community.Hindi language: नहीं. क्योंकि मेरे mummy pappa मुझे स्वीकार नहीं करते हैं, वो अलग है। और मैं उनके यहाँ नहीं जाता। तो मेरा समुदाय जो भी है, हमें मिलता है हमारे समुदाय से। हम अपने community के साथ रहते हैं।
Did you try to find some work at any place in the last few days?Hindi language: आपने पिछले तीन महीनों में कहीं और पे काम ढूंढने की कोशिश की?
Akram Pasha: Yes I went to many households to wash that utensils, And I also did the cleaning work, and tried other things. They would keep me one day, Fire the next day. "Since you are an outsider, We are scared to be made contact corona [from you], so." Then I also went to do the gardening work for one or two days. Or maintain the plants and trees. They fired me from there too. Saying, "No no, we do not require [a gardener]. This is not an important thing right now for us." I have also tried distributing bonda, vada, but there was nobody who would buy to eat it.Hindi language: हाँ बहुत घरों में बर्तन धोने के लिए, और साफ़-सफ़ाई का काम भी किया है और कोशिश भी किया है। एक दिन रखा, दूसरे दिन भेज दिया। "क्योंकि तुम बाहर से आते हो, हमें corona[virus] का दर है, इसलिए"। फिर बाद में माली का काम करने के लिए गया है एक दो दिन। जो पेड़-पौधे होते हैं उनको साफ़ करने के लिए, वहाँ पे भी भगा दिया। "नहीं, हमें नहीं चाहिए। अभी हम लोग को [ये] करना ज़रूरी नहीं है" बोलके। और फिर, कुछ जैसे की बोंड़ा, वड़ा, उसको भी डालने का कोशिश किया: कोई खाने वाला ही नहीं था।
When did you first hear about coronavirus?Hindi language: आपने corona[virus] वायरस के बारे में सबसे पहले कब सुना?
Akram Pasha: When [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi Announced a public curfew back in [March], That is when we got to know more about it. I knew a bit about Corona[virus] are used to hear about it back in February. But when curfew was in place then the fear started spreading. "Oh, corona is coming". And then when curfew started and the lockdown started, we learnt about [the coronavirus case in] Nanjangud. Then we got to know more about corona[virus]. Me had a meeting the day before. One 20th, we had a group meeting where we discussed what we should do, how we should do. Then everything closed. Since then, we never got to meet each other. Not a single meeting took place. It has been three-four months since then. Since there neither we could go out properly not could we all come and sit together for discussion.Hindi language: जब २१ को [नरेंद्र] मोदी जी ने बंद कराया था, जनता कर्फ्यू करवाया था, तभी हमें ज़्यादातर पता चला। कोरोना के बारे में मुझे, मैं थोड़ा बहुत सुनता था। फ़रवरी में। लेकिन जब लॉक बंद करवाया, जब कर्फ्यू करवाया, जब भी हम लोग डर शुरू हो गया, "ओह ये corona आ रहा है।" फिर उसके बाद धीरे-धीरे से कर्फ्यू शुरू हो गया है, लॉक डाउन हो गया है, लॉकडाउन में नंजनगुड के पास कोरोना के बारे में मालूम हुआ। तो जब हमने को corona के बारे में ज़्यादा information और उसी समय हम लोग, पूरे मिल के बात किए उसके बारे में। एक दिन पहले बात किए थे हम corona के बारे में। जैसा 21 को कर्फ्यू हुआ था तो बीस को हमारा एक ग्रुप मीटिंग हुआ था। ग्रुप मीटिंग में हम बात किए थे। कि इसके लिए क्या करना है कैसे करना है लेके। तो ये एकदम बंद हो गया। आज तक हम लोग फिर नहीं मिले। और एक मीटिंग नहीं हुआ। तीन-चार महीने हो गए हैं हमारे। अभी तक हमारा mobilisation या एक साथ बैठ के बात करना नहीं हुआ।
So when did you realise corona[virus] is going to be extremely dreadful?Hindi language: तो आपके कब पता चला कि corona[virus] जो है वो काफ़ी भयानक होने वाला है?
Akram Pasha: [I had] realised during the time of the [initial] lockdown. When the lockdown had started, [I] had figured out at that moment. And a lot of people came from Italy, we used to see the news: people who were dying in Italy, [the] USA, China: so I had a lot of doubt at that time. One was: both corona[virus] and HIV [to contract them] both: both were combined together and [was being] spread. There were even more fears, and at that time, we had a lot of miscommunication. That time, our fears were different, and we had thought [about this] very differently.Hindi language: Lockdown के समय में ही पता चला। जब Lockdown हुआ, उसी समय पता चला। और बहुत सारे लोग जो इटली से आया, जो न्यूज़ देखते थे हम लोग: इटली, USA, China में जो लोग मर रहे थे: तो उस समय बहुत सारा doubt था। एक तो ये था: corona और HIV डोनो एक साथ है: जो दोनों को एक साथ मिलाकर बनाया, virus को, virus को छोड़ा जा रहा है। तो और भी बहुत सारा डर हुआ, और उस समय में, हम लोग के दिमाग़ में बहुत सारा miscommunication था। बहुत हि उसके बारे में अलग अलग डर, और सोच ही अलग थी हमारी।
Did you not even get a chance to work as a sex worker during the lockdown?Hindi language: क्या आपको lockdown के समय में sex worker का काम करने का मौक़ा भी नहीं मिला?
Akram Pasha: No, I used to find some opportunities. Clients in the neighbourhood would call me, But I couldn't go. Because first of all there was no place to do it. Secondly the police would hit us with the laathi. We couldn't go outside. They had completely sealed down this area. We could hardly go out of our homes. We could only go during the times the shops would be open, Buy the things from the shops, And even if we were a little bit late the police want to beat us. We had all of those fears. At that time, we were scared of the police beating us That we won't even remember [sex work].Hindi language: नहीं मौक़ा तो मिलता था: आस-पड़ोस के लोग ऐसे client बुला रहे थे, लेकिन हम नहीं जा पाएँ। क्योंकि एक तो जगह नहीं था, दूसरा, पुलिस वाले इतना डंडा मार रहे थे, बाहर निकाल के नहीं जा सकते थे। हमारे यहाँ पे तो sealdown कर दिया था पूरा। तो हम लोग को घर के बाहर हिल भी नहीं सकते थे। सिर्फ़ दुकान के समय में जाना और दुकान का सामान ख़रीद के लाना, और थोड़ा भी देर से हम आ रहे हैं, तो हम लोग को लाठी का मार पड़ता था। तो ये डर था बहुत। उस समय पुलिस की मार से बहुत दर था तो याद ही नहीं आएगा।
You had mentioned there is a union of yours in Mysore.Hindi language: आपने बताया कि मैसूर में आप लोगों का एक union है।
Akram Pasha: No, it is not a union. It is a body where we all have taken a membership collectively. And we live together. And, whenever there is a problem, we raise our voices together, we fight it and we also find solutions to it.Hindi language: जी। Union नहीं है, हमारा संविधान है। इस संविधान में हम एक साथ मेंबरशिप लिए हैं, और एक साथ रहते हैं। और कहीं भी हमारी कोई भी समस्या है, तो एक साथ आवाज़ उठाते हैं। उसको लड़ते हैं। और उसको: समस्या का परिहार भी ढूंढते हैं।
For the COVID-19 problem, what did the community provide? Any [information] on how to live?Hindi language: COVID-19 के लिए, [इस] समस्या ने: क्या समुदाय [ने] दिया? कि किस तरह से आपको रहना है?
Akram Pasha: They couldn't give anything at all. Because even their lives became a living nightmare, Even they couldn't get out of their homes. Via our organisation we went out and spoke to some people including some donors. And with that help we got some food for others. And also for those who are HIV-positive, we delivered medicines to their homes. We also distributed some calcium, Paracetamol, rantac, baralgan for a fever to the community. Whenever they require it, they can use the medicines. So we arranged for the food and medicines for the sex workers community. We delivered them food and also provided them counselling to keep their self-confidence up. That entire self-confidence had vanished. They were very frightened, lost, they had no jobs left. Many were ready to commit suicide. So we spoke to them and explained, and provided counselling, and tried to fulfil their needs. This is what we did at the organisational level. Most of the people couldn't go out. Me and 8 to 10 people did some work voluntarily. We went to the police station to request a permission, We got a pass. And using that pass, We were able to deliver medicines door to door. And if someone required medical help, we would contact the doctor, tell them the symptoms on phone. And the doctor would prescribe the medicines and send it via WhatsApp. Using the same pass, we would go to a pharmacy, and get the prescription. Because we did all of these things, the community didn't suffer as much [as otherwise it could have].Hindi language: वो तो कुछ नहीं दे पाए, क्योंकि उनका जीवन ही बहुत ही नर्क हो गया था, जो वो भी घर से बाहर नहीं निकल रहे थे। कुछ लोग से हमने, संस्था से जाके कुछ लोगों से बात किया, donor से बात किया, उनके ज़रिए उन लोगों को कुछ food दिलवाया, और उसके साथ साथ हमने जो भी [HIV-]positive होता है उसके लिए दवाई घर-घर जाके हमने पहुंचाया। और दूसरा जो है उनके लिए calcium, और जो side-affect के किए जो होता है, fever के किए paracetamol, rantac, baralgan: medicine को हमने ले लिया और सभी community को थोड़ा-थोड़ा बाँटा। उनको कोई भी समस्या हो तो थोड़ा बहुत इस्तेमाल कर सके। तो ये food और medicine का बंदोबस्त करवाया। और बाहर से खाना पहुँचाया। और ज़्यादातर counselling की वजह से उनका आत्मविश्वास बढ़ता रहा है। क्योंकि उनका आत्मविश्वास पूरा सो गया था। तो उसने बहुत बहुत डरे हुए थे, बहके हुए थे, रोज़गार नहीं पा रहे थे। बहुत लोग आत्महत्या करने के लिए तैयार हो गए थे। तो उन लोगों को समझा समझा के counselling करके, उनकी क्या need है, उसको जाके कोशिश करते थे। तो ये हमने संस्था की ओर से किया। समिति के लोग कुछ कर नहीं पाए क्योंकि वो बाहर ही नहीं निकल पाते थे। हम वहाँ पे काम कर रहे थे आठ-दस लोग, voluntary, बाहर police station में permission लिया pass बना लिया: फिर हम लोग जाके, पास के ज़रिए घर-घर जाके medicine distribute करना और उनको कोई समस्या है तो डॉक्टर से बात करके। हमारे जो डॉक्टर था फ़ोन पे ही हम से बात करके medicine वो WhatsApp में भेजता था। तो वो medicine को हम medical में लेके देते थे। क्योंकि वो हमारे पास pass available था। तो उसमें हमारे community के लोगों को ज़्यादा दिक़्क़त नहीं आयी।
When did COVID-19 start to change your life?Hindi language: COVID-19 की वजह से आपके जीवन में कब्ज़े परिवर्तन शुरू हो गया था?
Akram Pasha: After February 18. After listening to [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi's address to the country, our life became a living hell. That night, I remember, everybody was going, paying loads and loads of buying groceries. And we were left wondering what is going on! How is this the reality? If this is how it turns out. And then as the time went by there was version one version to version three of the lockdown. I am a Muslim. We could not go to the mosque to offer namaz for Eid. Nor could we fast. And we could not even celebrate the Eid. This was an extremely bad day for us. We call it a black day. All the days in the last three months of the lockdown they're just black days for us.Hindi language: February 18 के बाद से। मोदी का जो भाषण था, भाषण ने ही हमारा नर्क़ की ज़िंदगी शुरू हो गई। उस रात सभी जाके पैसे दे देकर लोग राशन ला रहे थे, हम सोच रहे थे कि ये सब क्या हो रहा है कैसे हो रहा है, कि सचमुच में ऐसा ही होगा कि नहीं। फिर धीरे धीरे से v1, v2, v3 lockdown करके आया। हम लोग मुसलमान हैं, हम लोग को ईद का नमाज़ पढ़ने के लिए मस्जिद जाना नहीं हुआ, या तो रोज़ा रखने हुआ, ना ईद मनाने हुआ। ये सब हमारे लिए बहुत हि ख़राब दिन बोलते हैं हम लोग, black day, हमारे लिए पूरे ये तीन महीने lockdown के black day थे। बहुत सारे लोग भी मर रहे थे, तो ये सब सोच सोच के, हमारे लिए ये day ही ख़राब निकलें।
Did anyone outside the community: any NGO or government help you?Hindi language: आपको community के अलावा NGO या government से और कोई भी सहायता मिली?
Akram Pasha: No. Not even a little bit. They just gave us some soap to keep ourselves clean. They gave us Dettol. Except for that, nobody even bothered to ask if we're alive or dead. Nobody asked and nobody wants to. They must be thinking we [sex workers] are a liability on this Earth, and we are better off extinct. They left us to our sufferings. Now also, I'm saying, you are the first person who reached out to us asking how we are, and what is going on, how you are feeling within. You are the only one who at least asked so that these problems get reported. Except for you nobody was going to ask, and nobody was going to say: "These are the facalities, [you can] avail these".Hindi language: नहीं। ज़रा भी नहीं मिला। हम लोगों को कुछ soap दे कर भेजें हुए हैं, साफ़ सुथरे रहने के लिए। Dettol soap भेजा है। उसके अलावा कोई; कोई-कोई भी आज तक नहीं पूछा आप कैसे हैं, आप ज़िंदा है या आप मर गये हैं। कोई नहीं पूछा और कुछ पूछना भी नहीं चाह रहा है। वैसे ही सोचते हैं हम बोझ है धरती का, हम लोग ख़त्म हो जाए यह सोचा होगा, तो छोड़ दिया हमें हमारे हाल पे। अभी भी, मैं यही बोल रहा हूँ, आप पहले इंसान हो जो चार महीनों में बैठके तुम्हारा: तुम कैसे है, दिल में क्या हो रहा है पूछा, आप ही पहले इंसान हो। जो हम लोग को at least पूछ रहे हैं, कि इसको बाहर ला सके। तो ये बात: आप अकेले हों जो हमें पूछे, दूसरा कोई पूछने वाला भी नहीं था, या कोई बताने वाला भी नहीं था: "ये सेवाएँ है, इनको ले लो"।
Whenever all the family is not with us, So how can we expect the world or even the community. See, a human does not really need much:In their daily routine what they expect is food, a place to stay, and peace. These are the three things. And the other thing is, I'm not talking just about myself but the other members of our community as well. Some have good families. Almost 80% sex workers family do not accept them. Whenever the family gets to know, [the sex worker] is kicked out of their home. It is not even a question to go back to the family. This is what happens. So how do we expect the world to accept sex workers? When we wanted money to distribute [medicines], the family would say, "Why do you need it? You have a lot of money that you have looted from other people, or made it unethically." That is what they say. What we make is unethical [to them]. But what they do is ethical. How so? On what basis can you differentiate? That would really make us angry, but we could not vent out the anger due to the lockdown.Hindi language: ख़ुद का family ही हमारे साथ नहीं था, तो समाज और संस्था कहाँ से आएगा? देखो इंसान कुछ नहीं चाहता है: अपने daily routine में जो चाहिए एक तो खाना, रहना, और अच्छा सुकून चाहता है। तो ये तीन है। और दूसरा जो है, care करने वाले अपने ख़ुद के लोग ही हमसे दूर है, ये मैं अपने अकेले की बात नहीं कर रहा हूँ, जो हमारे बहुत सारे समुदाय के लोग है, उनकी बात कर रहा हूँ। और कुछ लोगों की फ़ैमिली अच्छी है। ८०% के family में कोई स्वीकरता नहीं मिलती है। क्योंकि जब पता चल जाता है, तो हम लोग को घर से बाहर निकाला जाता है। फिर वापस घर में रहना है तो दूर की बात, सोच भी नहीं सकते। तो ऐसा होता है। तो फिर समाज कहाँ से स्वीकार करेगा? जब [दवाइयां] distribute बात करते थे, बोलते थे: "तुमको क्या काम है? तुमने जो लूटे हैं, लोगों से, कमाया है हराम का पैसा, बहुत सारा पैसा है आपके पास।" ऐसा बोलते थे। हम लोग कमाएं: हराम का पैसा, वो लोग कमाएं: अच्छा पैसा। ऐसा कैसा? पैसे में कैसे अंतर है? ग़ुस्सा भी आ रहा था, लेकिन lockdown की वजह से ग़ुस्सा नहीं कर पाते थे।
Have you resumed your work?Hindi language: क्या अभी आपने काम शुरू कर दिया है वापस?
Akram Pasha: No. We have not resumed it now. All of our work is suspended till August. After August we plan on sanitising, and if we receive any form of relief, we should be able to continue. Right now everybody is frightened. So to avoid any further complications, we have halted everything. No we just contact each other via cellphones. Like for example to provide counselling or to get them any essential supply that they require, and if the doctor was available, they would discuss the problem with the doctor on the phone and ask for the treatment. You will be diagnosed just by saying what was happening to you. You couldn't go show your symptoms. You are back in the day we used to fight: We did not want a doctor Who was not ready to touch or meet us in order to examine us. But now, COVID[-19] Has made us desperate. It has made so many people's lives miserable beyond belief. It is like the thorn of a gum tree. Whenever you pick yourself with that thorn, it secrets venom. This is much worse than that. I'm not just talking about my life, but everyone's life. Poor, old-aged people: Everyone's lives are not in a bad condition. But for us sex workers, it is in a different way. Our lifestyle has been completely disrupted. It is snatched away all of our happiness.Hindi language: नहीं। अभी भी आज तक हमने काम नहीं किया है। August तक भी हमने अपना operation close किया है। August के बाद हम उसको sanitise करके अगर relief मिलेगा तो शुरू करेंगे। क्योंकि अभी भी डर है। तो कहीं दिक़्क़त न हो इसके लिए हमने बंद किया है। अभी हम सिर्फ़ फ़ोनों में contact करते हैं। जैसे कि, counselling करना, उनको जो चीज़ चाहिए, वो दिलाना, अगर doctor available है, जो भी कोई दिक़्क़त है तो phone में ही contact करके treatment लेते हैं। सिर्फ़ diagnose बोल के लेना पड़ता है, दिखा के नहीं लेना पड़ता। कभी कभी यही fight हम कर रहे थे, की कोई doctor हमें छूता नहीं, देखता नहीं, ऐसा doctor हमें नहीं चाहिए, ऐसा बोलते थे। लेकिन COVID ने हम लोग को मजबूर कर दिया है। COVID बहुत लोगों की ज़िंदगी नर्क बना दिया। ये कीकर का काँटा है ये: काँटा चुभता है ना तो अंदर ज़हर फैल जाता है। कीकर के काँटे से भी भयंकर चीज़ है ये। हम अपनी life के बारे में नहीं बोल रहे, हर एक की life में: हरेक ग़रीब, बुद्धे, बुजुर्ग: सबकी ज़िंदगी में भी यह बहुत ख़राब हाल है, लेकिन हमारे लिए अलग तरीक़े का है। हमारा lifestyle सब बंद हो गया। हमारी ख़ुशियाँ ही छीन ली।
Before COVID-19, could you easily avail any medical help that you needed? Or were there any hurdles?Hindi language: COVID के पहले जो आपको medical help, जो आपको सहायता चाहिए रहती थी, क्या आपको वो आसानी से मिल पाती थी? या आपको कोई दिक़्क़त आती थी?
Akram Pasha: Where? In hospitals?Hindi language: कहाँ पे? हॉस्पिटलों में?
No, we were not allowed to enter the hospitals. There was only one ART centre. We would just go there. We had to cover our mouths, hands, and legs. They had allocated numbers. Using that number, one would go get the medicines and come back. We would get only two to three minutes there. There was no OPD centre. There was no consultation doctor. There was no admission. They had shut the gate.Hindi language: नहीं हॉस्पिटल में तो हमें entry हि नहीं था ना। फिर एक ही ART centre एक ही था। वो भी किया था, हम लोग को मुँह ढक के, हाथ ढक के, पैर ढक के जाना हैं, और हम लोग को सिर्फ़ नम्बर बोल के, दवाई ले कर वापस आ जाना है। सिर्फ़ 2-3 मिनट ही हम लोग को वहाँ पे रहने का मौक़ा मिलता था। क्योंकि कोई OPD सेंटर नहीं था। कोई consultation doctor नहीं था। या कोई admission नहीं था। मतलब बाहर से ही gate बंद कर दिया था।
Was this before COVID, or during?Hindi language: ये COVID के पहले था, कि दौरान?
Akram Pasha: No not in the beginning. During COVID. Before that, there were all the services. Things were at place due to the work our organisation had done. When we previously used to go, we would get the facilities.Hindi language: पहले, पहले नहीं: COVID में। COVID ये पहले सभी service था, OPD था, एक referral system सिस्टम था। क्योंकि हमने धीरे-धीरे एक जगह बनायी थी, जहाँ हमारा organisation था, हम लोग जो भी जाते हैं उनको पहले ही मिलता था।
Apart from this, have you faced any problems in the last three to four months?Hindi language: अपनी इसके अलावा पिछले तीन-चार महीने में कोई भी दिक़्क़त झेली जिसके बारे में आप बताना चाहेंगे?
Akram Pasha: So what do I even tell you, we've had so many problems. Like for example, some sex workers are from other places. They have left their families there and have come here. No they cannot go back and see their kids and their family. Some are from Agra, some from Kerala, and these people can't go back to their families. This is a big problem. They cry, saying, "What is this, What can we do? I can't even go back to see my family." And the other problem is nobody has their own homes. The rent of the last three months has aggregated to be more than the deposit sex workers paid to the landlord. Most of the landlords have said to vacate the place, or to pay the rent. Nobody is ready to lend us some money. So how do we take some loan to pay the rent? So many people have vacated their places and moved with their friends. Some people tried to pay off the rent by selling the things they owned. And some people are now homeless. And the money we had borrowed that we took, the loanee charged double-double interest and now, and now stands on our chest, "Are you going to return the money or not?". He will fight in front of our homes. So we are facing so many problems related to our home. Now we fear, when the loanee will come and argue, and humiliate us in front of the neighbours. When he would argue, he would intentionally say, "you aren't that good: you do this [sex work], you do that". And when the neighbours too, get to know, [we are sex workers], then we would have to vacate the place. That is another concern.Hindi language: Sir, मैं क्या बताऊँ आपको, बहुत सारी दिक्कतें जैसे कि कुछ सारे sex worker अपने गाँव से दूर रहते हैं। जैसे की अलग अलग दूर से भी आ के यहाँ बसे हैं। वहाँ पे अपने बच्चों को छोड़ के आया है। तो उनको देख नहीं है उनके पास जाने के लिए उनको नहीं हो रहा है। कुछ लोग आगरा से या कही केरल से आ के बसे हैं, तो उनको वापस जाके, अपनी फ़ैमिली और बच्चों को मिलने के लिए नहीं हो रहा है। तो ये भी बहुत बढ़ी दिक़्क़त है। वो लोग इतना रोते हैं, "ये कैसा है, हम लोग क्या करें, हम लोग से उनको वापस जाकर देख सके, ऐसा भी नहीं हो रहा है"। तो वो भी एक दिक़्क़त है। और दूसरी दिक़्क़त है: ज़्यादातर किसी के पास भी मकान नहीं है। मकान के लिए जो डिपॉज़िट भरा था, तीन महीने में उससे ज़्यादा मकान मालिक का किराया हो गया। बहुत सारे मकान मालिक ने उनको घर ख़ाली करने बोला है, या तो किराया देने के लिए बोला है। और कोई भी कर्ज़दार कर्ज़ देने के लिए तैयार नहीं हैं। तो कर्ज़ ले के मकान मालिक को कहाँ से देंगे? तो इसके लिए कई लोग अपना घर ख़ाली करने के अपने दोस्त के यहाँ रह रहे है। कुछ लोग अपना घर का सामान बेच के। कुछ लोग रस्ते पे आ गए हैं। और सूत के लिए हम कर्ज़ लिए थे, वो double-double interest डाल दिया, और अभी इतना छाती पे बैठा है, "आप पैसा दोगे या नहीं?" करके घर के पास झगड़ा करेंगे। तो घर के मारे ये सारी समस्या हो गई है। डर पैदा हो गया, कब कर्ज़दार आएगा, कब झगड़ा करेगा, कब आजू-बाज़ू हमारी इज़्ज़त चली जाएगी। जब झगड़ा कर रहा है, जानबूझ के बताएगा "तुम कौनसा अच्छे हो: तुम ये करते हो, वो करते हो"। पड़ोसियों को भी और पता चल जाएगा, तो फिर वहाँ से भी हमें घर ख़ाली कराया जाएगा, वो भी डर है।
In your last three-four months, your income was reduced or stopped: how did you deal with this reality?Hindi language: आपके जो पिछले तीन-चार महीने में ही आमदनी कम या बंद ही हो गयी: इस सच्चाई के साथ कैसे समझौता किया?
Akram Pasha: I had to come to terms with. Because there was no other way.Hindi language: समझौता तो करना पड़ा, क्योंकि और कोई चारा नहीं था ना।
Has a situation like this—like what happened during COVID—has that ever [happened to you?]Hindi language: क्या ऐसा आपके साथ—जैसा COVID के साथ जो हाल हुआ है—पहले कभी भी इस तरह का [हाल हुआ है?]
Akram Pasha: No, never in my life this has happened before. Yes maybe during my childhood, when there was a feud between Hindu-Muslims, so for a few days this is how the situation was due to the curfew. But that was not even comparable: It was not this long, It wasn't this big. [The country] wasn't closed like this. It is a very different time. We will remember it our entire lives. Even our kids are going to remember this their whole lives.Hindi language: नहीं, life मैं कभी ऐसा नहीं हुआ। शायद हमारे बचपन में, जब हिन्दू-मुस्लिम का जो घोटाला हुआ था, कुछ दिन curfew की वजह से, ये हालत थी। कुछ दिन के लिए। लेकिन इतना long और इतना bada नहीं था। ऐसा बंद नहीं था। ये समय जो था ना, बहुत ही अलग था, ज़िंदगी भर याद रखेगा। हमारे बच्चे ज़िंदगी भर याद रखने वाले हैं, ये COVID को।
What do you do when flu is spreading in Mysore? does your work halt for that time? Or do you take a different kind of caution?Hindi language: जब मैसूर में फ्लू चलता है ना, उस टाइम आप क्या करते हैं? आपका काम उस टाइम बंद हो जाता है? की आप कोई अलग तरह की सावधानी [लेते हैं]?
Akram Pasha: No we do it differently, Taking precautions. When there was H1N1 outbreak, there was the bird flu, and then malaria, What are used to do is use different methods. When they needed some advice, we would put together the information on a paper, and send it to them. During the time of H1N1, we didn't go, I would send them in ambulance, and get the information how their treatment was going on or what medicine they needed. We did the same thing during COVID. Pick up the precautions and did not meet in groups. We didn't go to other peoples home and spend time there without any purpose. We will just speak on phone. When we used to deliver the medicines we would wear gloves, masks, full t-shirts and also cover our heads for that.Hindi language: नहीं, अलग तरीक़े से, अपना precaution लेके। जैसे कि पिछले H1N1, और जो bird flu हुआ, उसके बाद मलेरिया: उसको हम क्या करते थे, हम उसमें अलग तरीक़े से करते हैं। ज़्यादा पास जाके नहीं, दूर: जैसे की उनको अगर कोई सलाह चाहिए, उसके लिए कुछ paper करते हैं, information डालते हैं, उन तक पहुँच जाते हैं। जैसे कि H1N1, हम लोग ख़ुद ही नहीं जाते हैं, ambulance को भेज कर उनका जानकारी लेते हैं। उनका कैसा है, उनका treatment कैसा चल रहा है, कौनसा medicine चाहिए। COVID मैं भी हमने ऐसा ही किया। precaution लिया और ग्रुप नहीं किया, कभी किसी के घर पे जा के time waste नहीं किए। बस ऐसे ही phone पे "hi hello" बात किए। जब medicine देने जाते थे, [...], तो gloves, mask full t-shirt, सिर पे टोपी, यह सब बाँध के ही जाते थे।
Would you say: When H1N1 [swine flu] was spreading—which was happening in 2009—was it much better in than now during Corona?Hindi language: H1N1 का जो समय चल रहा था, २००९ में चल रहा था, वो corona[virus] के मालमे में काफी बेहतर था, आप ये बोलेंगे?
Akram Pasha: That was much better. At least it did not spread in Mysore. But I heard the problems that were happening in Africa. But it was not that frightening. We were not nearly as afraid as we are, right now during corona[virus outbreak]. But [coronavirus] is worse than the problem of untouchability.Hindi language: बहुत बेहतर था। At least, मैसूर में नहीं फैला, लेकिन सुना था जो अफ़्रीका में क्या problem हुआ, लेकिन फिर भी उतना डर नहीं था। corona[virus] जितना डर उस समय नहीं था। लेकिन ये बीमारी छूत छात से भी ज़्यादा है।
What do you think will happen to your work after corona[virus] pandemic is over?Hindi language: आपको क्या लगता है, कि corona[virus] के जाने के बाद, आपके काम में क्या बर्ताव आएगा?
Akram Pasha: I don't even know if work will be possible or not, Or if it will be just like how it was before. I don't even know, The awareness that we spread among the community, If they still remember it or not. I don't know if the community is going to accept us or not. These are the questions. In their minds, they feel, "What is going to happen, let it happen. We will see." We know everyone wants to make money, But we don't know if our work is going to function correctly or not. I think it is going to be difficult to gather the entire community now.Hindi language: पता नहीं काम होगा भी या नहीं, पहले जैसा, मालूम नहीं। और दूसरा जो है, corona[virus] की वजह से उनके मन में जो awareness लाए थे, वो awareness है भी नहीं। community के लोग हमको फिर से स्वीकार करेंगे भी या नहीं, ये सब सवाल है। उनके मन में, "जो होगा सो होज़, देखा जाएगा": ये हो गया है। अभी हर किसी को पैसा कमाना है, हमारा काम ठीक से चलेगा ये नहीं बोल सकते हैं। क्योंकि आगे जाके हम लोग पूरे लोगों को इकट्ठा करना बहुत मुश्किल होगा।
Until when do you plan to continue working as a sex worker?Hindi language: आप sex worker का काम और कितने time करना चाहेंगे?
Akram Pasha: I'll do it till the time I can. Because apart from this, I do not have any alternate job. We do not have any other way to earn our livelihood if we leave this. We do not know how to do business, nor do I have my need to start my own [business].Hindi language: जब तक चलेगा तब तक, क्योंकि इसके अलावा हमारे पास और कोई भी alternate ना तो काम है। अभी ये छोड़ें तो हमारे पास दूसरा कोई रास्ता भी नहीं है। हम लोग को कोई व्यापार नहीं आता है, या कोई पैसा नहीं है, ताकि business करने के लिए।
During your work—as a sex worker—what are the things that you have learned in your life?Hindi language: आपने आपके काम के दौरान, as a sex worker, आपने क्या important चीज़े ज़िंदगी में सीखी है?
Akram Pasha: This is the wonderful question that you have asked, I really liked it. So what is the most important for me, it is: Not to cause any discomfort, or suffering to others. I never did that. Whenever anybody would come, I will always satisfy them. And the other thing is, I would always hope: Nobody else contracts [HIV] because of me. And what I did: Unlike them other people who are not honest, I was always never corrupt. I never ever stole or snatched away someone's money. Apart from that I also give importance to my own health. So until the time I am healthy, I will have a good life. So I give importance to my own health.Hindi language: एक तो बहुत बढ़िया आपका सवाल ये जो है, बहुत अच्छा लगा: क्योंकि मैंने ज़्यादातर important क्या है: किसी को भी दुख देना, या दूसरों को तक़लीफ़ देना, ये मैंने नहीं किया है। जब भी लोग आते थे, उनको ख़ुश करके भेजता था। और दूसरा जो है, मैं कभी भी यह सोचता था, मेरी वजह से किसी को infection ना हो, मेरे से कोई तक़लीफ़ न हो। और मैंने क्या किया: जैसे दूसरों का—जैसे कि कुछ लोग इसमें ईमानदारी नहीं होती है—कभी भी मैंने ईमानदारी से ही किया। कभी किसी के साथ उनका पैसा चुरा लेना, छीन लेना: ये मैंने नहीं किया। उसके अलावा और मैंने अपने स्वास्थ्य को importance दिया, ताकि जब तब मैं अच्छा रहूँगा, तब तक मैं अपने life मैं अपने आपको और अपना health को अच्छा रखूँगा, तो जी पयूँगा। तो इसके लिए मैंने अपने health को importance दिया।
As you had said the only thing you got from the government was that kit, nothing other than that: What are the things the government should have done differently so your situation would not have been so bad?Hindi language: जैसे आपने बताया कि इस बार government से इतना कुछ नहीं मिला, वो kit के अलावा और कुछ नहीं मिला: government को क्या-क्या चीज़ें अलग-अलग तरीक़े से करनी चाहिए थी, कि आप लोगों की हालत इतनी ख़राब न हो?
Akram Pasha: If this is how the reality is, So before declaring the lockdown they should have generated some sort of scheme. We are not alone, I'm not just speaking about myself, and not just about the community, but those who are poor, who are dalit, those who are beggars: They should have done something for these people as well. Now they are announcing plans for crores of rupees—What is that for us in that? There is nothing allocated for people like us in that. Before taking these steps they should have thought about us. Now they are providing the suicide ration. They're are distributing 10kg rice. What should we do of that rice? Dissolve it in water and drink it? Can we even cook that rice? That rice is of such a terrible quality. What do I even say about that? Should have thought of some other options so that others could survive too. That others could do something too. There are so many migrants, So they should have made sure the migrants could reach travel back to their places before implementing a lockdown. They didn't think all of these things, they thought lockdown was the only remedy. This was not right. They should have thought a little bit. Taken someone's opinion. Not necessarily just from India. Maybe they could have asked someone from outside: There are many. But they didn't think about it then. And they are not thinking now. They did not think about us.Hindi language: पहले इस चीज़ को, अगर ऐसा हो रहा है, तो lockdown करने से पहले कुछ scheme जारी करना था। हम लोग अकेले नहीं हैं, मैं अपनी ही बात नहीं कर रहा हूँ, जो अपने community के हैं, उनके साथ जो जो ग़रीब है, दलित है, और कुछ भिखारी हैं: सभी लोग हैं इसमें, तो कुछ न कुछ तो इसके लिए। अभी वो इतने करोड़ रुपये का यह जारी किया है, उसमें हमारे लिए क्या है? एक रुपये का भी हमारे लिए उसमें पैसा नहीं है। तो ऐसा करने के पहले इनको हमारे बारे में कुछ न कुछ हमारे बारे में सोचते। अभी बोल रहे हैं की राशन दे रहे हैं society में, हर एक को १० kg चावल। चावल को लाके क्या करना है? पानी में घोल के क्या, पी जाना है? और वो चावल को भी क्या पका सकते हैं? ''इतने गंदे'' चावल रहते हैं society के। इसके अलावा मैं क्या बताऊँ? सरकार को कुछ ऐसा option सोचना था, ताकि सभी भी जी सके, सभी भी कुछ कर सके। जो कुछ लोग migrant है, तो वो migrant वापस अपने घर तक पहुँच जाए, वो करके ही करना था। उन्होंने कुछ भी सोचा नहीं, बस एक lockdown ही उसका दावा है, सोच के उन्होंने lockdown कर दिया। तो ठीक नहीं है। पहले थोड़ा-बहुत सोचना था, या किसी से राय लेना था। सिर्फ़ अकेले नहीं हैं, जो हमारे भारत देश में, बहुत सारे-एक है। लेकिन अभी भी नहीं सोचा। तभी भी नहीं सोचा, अभी भी नहीं सोचा। हमारे बारे में कुछ नहीं सोचा।
These were all the questions I had for you, Akram. Thank you for taking this time to talk to me.Hindi language: जी अकरम जी, मेरे पास आपके लिए इतने ही सवाल थे। आपने मुझसे इतना बात किया, समय निकाला, इसके लिए धन्यवाद।
Interview with a female sex worker
The names have been altered in the following interview, and has been translated by Sana.
Jaya: Hi Agastya. Nice to meet you.
Same here Jaya. Are you doing okay?
Jaya: Ya ya.
Can you please tell me about yourself?
Jaya: Just I will give my introduction [...] I am a sex worker and I am living with HIV-positive for 15 years, and I am practicing sex work for past 15 years also.
So, I was in a middle class family, our town was [North Karnataka], so when I was studying in college only, I fell in love with a boy, and because of his caste my family did not accept him and so I left home. I left home and I came, I came to his sisters house. He got me and kept me in his sisters house. So, when I was in his sisters house, things happened and I got pregnant. When I came to know that I am pregnant, I started forcing him to get married.
And after that when he started avoiding me, his family planned to marry him off, and they did not tell me about their plan. He told me to stay in his sisters house only, and said to me that he is not well and will be back in about two days or a week. He took his sister along with him as well. So they both left. I did have my doubts because I though both of them are going and it might be something important. But I did not know a lot about the world back then, I was from a very strict family, and I was allowed to have deep friendships with anyone, and I really did not know much about the world, I did not know that these type of people existed. So anyway I started trusting them.
It was a week...then it was 15 days and they had not come back. As they were not back, I asked my lover's sister's husband about them and he suggested that I go where they had gone and check myself. I took their address and went there, and upon enquiring from the neighbours there, I came to know that he is getting to married to so-and-so girl in a temple. Then I told all the people in the neighbourhood there about my story, I told them that he got me and now he has cheated me. But I was alone, who will listen to me? I had no support right so they all just ignored me and told me to come back and talk to the family when they came back.
When I came back to his sister's house, his sister's husband had locked the door and went away.
So yeah, when I came back the house was locked, his lovers brother-in-law was missing, I did not know where he was and was not able to find him. So I had no place at all. I went to the city bus stand and sat there, the suburban bus stand. I just sat there from the morning till the evening, I was crying, I had nothing, nothing to eat, nothing to do… just nothing. People kept looking at me in a really peculiar way, but somehow I spend the night there. Morning I went to his sisters house again, the family was back. Maybe the neighbours told them I came looking or something, so they had gone to the police and had made a complaint. As soon as I came to the house, the police… a lady constable took me to the police station. They enquired about what happened to me, and then asked for proof for whatever I told them, they asked me to prove it was him I had ran away from my house with, they asked me to prove that the baby was his only. They asked me all of this. They told me to get someone who was on my side on this, I told them that I had no one. They took the address of my home, the superior at that police station made arrangements for me to go with the lady police constable to my town, [in North Karnataka]. We went there. When we reached my home, what happened was… they did not accept me, they outrightly told the lady police constable that I was not their daughter. They told her that their daughter was dead, they told her they did not want me. So again my family just rejected me.
We got back to the police station. Police told me that I had absolutely no one, no family, no one to support me, just no one. I think because of the influence the family of my boyfriend had, and maybe they bribed the police, the police told me that they would file a case on me if I did not leave my boyfriend's family alone or if I create any trouble. I also thought that I could do absolutely nothing by myself and just went back to the bus stand and sat there.
I came back to the bus stand and stayed there the entire day. People at the bus stand started having doubts about why I was at the bus stand all day, both today and the other day. There was a lady there, Rajamma, she worked in the bathrooms of the bus stand. She came to me, sat with me, spoke to me and asked me what had happened and how it happened. Actually she was a broker and I did not know that. I told her all my problems, I told her I was from [North Karnataka], I told her I have studied till class so-and-so, that I was brought here, and then got cheated on. She asked me what I was studying now, I told her I was doing my Pre University Course, PUC. She asked me if she gave me a job would I do it? She asked me how long I will just sit here and cry? She told me that the people here are not good, and that they all looked at me as though I was something really useless and was attracting trouble. She told me that the police are not good either. She asked me what I would do if they were to lock me up in a jail. She told me that I have to be careful also because I was pregnant. She consoled me. And I trusted her also sir! I trusted her, thought about my situation, I had nothing to eat, there was a baby growing in my stomach and so I said yes to the work.
She asked to be in the bus stand with her till her husband came in the evening when her would be over. She told me if anyone came and asked about me, to just tell that I was with Rajamma and that she would come and talk to them. After giving me that trust and confidence in her she got me that days lunch. I had lunch. Her husband came that evening, they took me to their home, it wad a small house, only the husband and wife lived there. They both spoke to me, told me that they will take me to a big city. They told me that I can just keep doing my job there, and that way I would earn a lot of money as well, could have a place and not just keep sitting all day here and there. I agreed. The day after the next day, as I did not have any clothes, she gave me about four or five of her sarees, helped me pack and took me to the railway station. They took the tickets, settled down, I just remember having a bun and a coffee, that's all. That, is, all I remember. I woke up and was conscious directly at the Mumbai railway station. That is when I realised I was in the Mumbai railway station. In fact, I did not know it was Mumbai, I had only heard of a city named Mumbai, but had never seen it. I was just thinking at that time if I could get a job in such a big city, but was not scared because I knew they were with me. With the confidence I had in them I just went where they took me.
I did not know if I would get a job in that city, but I felt safe that I was with them and just went where they took me. When I went there, it was a huge house, like a really huge house. There were many young girls there, they were all wearing a lot of makeup, and were standing in the corridors and the balconies of the house. I was shocked when I saw this. I did not understand what that place was, but I had seen something similar to this on TV. Now I was scared. Rajamma and her husband told me not to worry, they told me this is my life now and I have to live like this. They advised me to just keep doing my work and everything else will work itself out. But they did not tell me what exactly was the work that they wanted me to keep doing. They told me all the girls here are just like all the other girls and told me that I don't have to worry. They told me that there was a lady in that house who was very close to them, and promised me that she would give me a good job. They took me the house, settled me down there and left.
The first day went by, the second day went by, and then from the third day on they started dressing me up. I did not like it. I told them I did not it and I told them I will not do what they were asking me to do. They told me that I can not doing it now. They told me that Rajamma and her husband had sold me off for money. They told me that they paid for me, that they paid ₹60 thousand and have to recover the cost now. They told me that I had no choice and I had to do it. That is where my story started. I just kept crying and crying. I stopped eating food. There in that house, there was a girl, she was a Kannadiga, she was from northern Karnataka, she became my friend. She told me that she has the same story too, and that once you come here, they just don't let you go. She asked me for how many days will I just keep crying like this. She told me as I am pregnant also, I at least should do this to have a future for my child. She told me that she will help me.
She told me to just agree to do what they were asking me to do. The tradition there was whenever a new girl came to the house, a Seth [merchant] would come, he is the first client for everyone in the house. Everyone new had to do him first. She told me that Seth was a very nice person, and that if I tell him my story he might help me. I agreed to do the work after this. Once I agreed, he was called. I told him my story. He asked me not to worry. He told me that he will not touch me. He said that he did not want the sin of doing a pregnant woman. He told me to be ready in the morning. He told me not to speak to anyone about this in the house. He said that he will talk to the lady in the house and sort things out. He told me that I will be picked up in the morning. I don't know what he told he told the superior or the lady at the house. I think he told her that he will come in the morning to pick me up. He came to the house the next morning. I was ready when he arrived. He picked me up from the house and took me directly to the railway station. He got me a ticked back to Bangalore. He told to go back to my town, not to trust anyone and to never come back to Mumbai. He gave me some cash, in fact, he also packed food for me for the journey.
Then I came back to Bangalore. As I did not know much about Bangalore. I came back to Mysore. When I came back to the bus stop in Mysore, Rajamma was there. As soon as she saw me she started running away. I went straight to the police station nearly after I saw her and complained there about her. I told them that they took me to Mumbai and sold me. The police caught both of them after that and they were jailed. I never saw Rajamma after that. There I was introduced to Ratnamamma aunty, she was also working in the bus stop. She asked me about my story. I told her everything. She told me that people here are not good and all. I was scared that she would do the same thing what Rajamma did. So I did not pay a lot of attention to her. Neither was I listening to anything she said and did nothing she was asking me to do. A few days later Ratnamma aunty fell in love with a boy working in one of the buses there, Seemanna. They both soon started living together. Seemanna also told me that the people here are not nice and that they might harm me. He told that I am not strong either. He told me that his partner also does the same job. He told me that I could stay with them [Ratnamma and Seemanna] until the delivery. They told me that I did not have to do any work, and that they would never force me to work. But I did not go to their house for two days after they had offered me a place at their house, I was scared the same thing would happen to me again. But after that I went to their home. They took care of me really well sir. They gave me food and treated me well. And never once told me to go work.
Time just passed by like that and I delivered my baby. Baby came and then came a boy in my life, Raju. He was one of the staff in the caterers team. He used to cook at big events like marriages. He asked Ratnamma aunty if he could marry me. He told her that he too had no one, no father, no mother. He also told that he will accept and support the child I had. I agreed. Ratnamma and Seemanna arranged for a room for the three of us near Teresian College. That is when I started my lifethree He was good to me.
Some time after all this he lost his job. Then he started forcing me to go work. He kept telling me that knows I was a sex worker. He kept telling me to stop lying to him about it and just go to work even though I just did not want to do it. He told me that he had given me a chance at normal family life and all that. He forced me to go to work at least for the sake of the child. He started drinking. He would come back home drunk and hit me. So that I would go work. He kept forcing me and at the end I started working as a sex worker.
Whenever I could not earn enough he would get drunk and hit me. I started drinking then actually, I would drink with him too. It had become a routine, when there was money, we would drink, get food and have a good time. When there was no money, he would still drink and hit me. I was just living like this and I met Raghu then. I met him because he was there in the area in which I operate. Before the project came, we were all in our own places. We were good friends, we would share our clients. We told each other about the sex with clients. We used to discuss our problems. We used to do all this and we shared a very special bond, like the bond of siblings, he was like a brother to me. When the members of the project asked Raghu about the female sex workers, he introduced me to them. That is how I became a part of Ashodaya.
I was living like this and one day Raju just started falling ill. We were referred to JSS from the project itself. Dr Sundar from the project referred us to the JSS hospital. They told us that Raju will be tested to see if he is HIV-positive. The results came, and he was HIV-positive. They sent me to counselling and then I was told that me and my child should also be tested for HIV. Both of us got tested, I was HIV-positive and my daughter was HIV-negative.
How old [were you] when all of this happened?
Jaya: I was 16 when I left home. I was 18-19 [when all of ''these'' things happened].
How has your life changed since you were diagnosed with HIV?
Jaya: A lot has changed sir. I thought that the life I had with Raju was all I had. Then I was connected to Ashodaya. I sent my daughter to a hostel, so that she has a good education. I don't want her to have the life I had. I joined a de-addiction centre because I wanted to stop drinking. I do not want the life I had for any other girl, so I started doing things to help beside my sex work. I want to be there for them to help them make the right decisions at the right time. I want to show them the right path. Then I started mingling with everyone so that I could help, I treat them like my own children. In the meetings, we all discuss our problems, everything else that happened with us. After Ratnamma died I became very involved with the community after that.
How does a normal day as a sex worker look like for you?
Jaya: It is very similar any other household, I am just like the other housewives. I cook breakfast, then I clean the house, then make lunch. Actually not many clients come in the morning. They usually come in the evenings. When I did not have a house of my own I spent most of my day outside, in the parks, in the movie theatres, for time pass, and in the evening I did the sex work. But once I had my own house, I did it most of the times in the evenings only. I am just like the other ladies my age. But I never like telling anyone that I was a sex worker. And I could not tell any one about my problems, because people cringe when they know that I am a sex worker, let alone sharing things with the general population or just a kind neighbour about it. People, especially until a dew years back hated any sex worker in general because they thought that HIV and AIDS exists because of us only, like we were the virus, and not someone infected by the virus. They did not know the main source, most of them. The stigma became lesser and lesser as people were more educated about this. But even today, sex works means some sort of dirty, forbidden taboo. It is considered a bad job, people think it is something horrendous to do.
What are the things that you like about your job? And what are the things that you do not like about your job?
Jaya: The thing I like the most about this job was that led to understand the pain there is in the society, not just for me, but for everyone. I used to think that I was the only one facing such horrible things in life, but when I interacted with people from the project, I understood that there were many more people facing more difficult problems than me, and have had a tougher journey. Most of them just started doing the sex work because they did not want to die of starvation, or without being able to afford the medicine. If someone is educated they have many options from which they can choose to work, and they also have the support of their family. But we have no support, no skills and it is very difficult. But you do learn a lot in this profession, when we talk to each other, we tell how we got out of so-and-so situation and that is a lesson for everyone else. It is so fascinating sometimes, one person says they have a problem, and before she even finishes telling her problem completely, another person gives a solution, because we share common experience. What I do not like about this is how the society looks at us, it is like we are a big pimple on the face of the society. They don't see sex work as a job, they look at it in a way that is hard to describe, like it is some sin. What they do not understand is that we are not hurting anyone, we aren't robbing anyone, not creating any trouble anywhere that disturbs others or things like that. We offer our body as a service and are making money offering that service. I really want to make them see the point here, I want them see the point, I want to tell them this. People still are not educated and okay about this, and that is something I dislike about this job.
Could you tell me more about the work that you do with Ashodaya?
Jaya: Ashodaya works for the people of our community. They work for male, female and transgender sex workers. It could be financial help, it could be social help, or even political help. They take care of our health along with our position in our society. We help people of our community come to the main stream. Once people hear the name of Ashodaya, they come to know that it is about the sex workers. There are many things that the people in our community did not have, be it Aadhar card, ration card or a bank account. We got them all these documents, so that they have a proper identity in the society. We did so that they have a equal access to the rights in this society like anyone else. It is hard to do this job and give a proper education to kids, so we connected with many principals and got them admissions in schools so that they could have a good future ahead. We wanted to a mainstream part in the society just like all the other citizens, we took part in many protests, like when there was bomb blast in Bombay, the protests against corruption, the protest for Kavery water etc. So we mingled with all the other people of the society, because we are also a part of the society legitimately and wanted to be highlight that. We wanted to be seen like any other citizen of the society. If there is a death in our community and if the family does not claim the body, we give them a proper farewell with all the last rights. We give help that is required by the members of our community.
Not just that, we have made a co-operative now, because initially we all think that our boyfriends are our only [financial] security and there is a lot of abuse because of this. Now it is Ashodaya is some kind of a [financial] security for them. Before this the people in our community gave all their money to the boyfriends if they had any, but now it is not like that we give them the confidence that they can have a future of their own. So we build this, and many are saving in this only.
But in this COVID situation our lives have just become very difficult now, because first of all we have the burden of one disease, AIDS, and if someone catches Corona, it has not happened yet, and I hope it does not happen, but if it does it is a very difficult thing to handle. Many of us don't have an earning now, we aren't paying the rent, and many have lost their homes because of this. Except a few, most of the members in our community are struggling a lot. We can give so much help at this time now, it is just not possible to give them groceries or medicines that will last for a full month.
Do you make enough money to live a comfortable life?
Jaya: No sir. First at least we could earn and save, now it is not even possible to earn. Same like how the daily wage workers are facing problems now, we are also having troubles. We don't have a house of our own, no money to pay the rent, it is difficult. We have to look after the education of our kids, we have to look after our own needs, we have to think about the future also sir. It is just not possible with the money we earn.
Generally how often do you seek medical check-up?
Jaya: We go for check ups every month. We take medicines and survive. A few of them who live far away from the hospitals do it once in three months.
[The Ashodaya volunteer, the translator, mentioned: There was a full time clinic before the lockdown at our Ashodaya office. Most of the sex workers are health-conscious. That is the biggest challenge for us now, in the lockdown the HIV patients are not able to access their drugs that they need. We have started giving prescription and counselling online.]
A few of us are TB patients also, for them we took the permission of police and are delivering drugs to their home. We have asked the government, written many letters for the help for our community during the time of COVID, but we aren't getting much help from there.
How have the last three months for you been like?
Jaya: As I said, they have been very difficult for us, not just for me, they have been very painful for most of the people in my community. As I am one of the leaders in Ashodaya, I call up many people daily to tell them about COVID, to educate them, But what I hear from them is very saddening, they are in a lot of pain and trouble. They are depressed, they see no way of earring now. A few of them have their old parents with them, they do not know how to take care of them anymore, they are worried about their children's education. They tell me that they are not even able to get one proper meal a day, because there are absolutely no clients. We have requests like these everyday for help. We are trying as much as we can to give them groceries or connect them to a doctor. But the most important thing that they need now is food. We are trying to deliver food daily, but we can't do that for a long time, because the cases do not seem to be decreasing, we don't have the resources to keep going like this. We have been thinking a lot about the girls in our community, many have lost their homes, we are trying to find them all a place to live. But this has been one of the very harsh times our community is facing.
There is a girl from our community near my house, she was crying and telling me that Corona has made their life very difficult, we got little money as a sex worker, but at least we did, and we somehow managed our kids and our needs, but now it is very difficult. She told me that wants to die of COVID because that would end her sufferings. I have to talk to her after this interview now. She too is HIV-positive, and when things like this happen, they get very emotional, there is nobody to support them, and they fall into deep depression. I am also thinking about how we could get all these people who are depressed out of depression.
You said that you wrote to the politicians and the government of India, and the ministry of health, did you hear back from them? Did they say anything?
Absolutely nothing sir. Till now we have got absolutely nothing sir. That is the biggest problem here actually, we spoke to many senior officers, but they all say that it is lockdown and it is not possible to help now. They ask us to come back when everything is normal again. Nobody gave us anything that we could use to help. But we will try again.
Tell me about the safety precautions that you have taken during the pandemic.
Jaya: We don't go out without a mask anywhere now. We are using sanitisers. We are maintaining social-distancing. We have made a batch system. If one goes out one day, then to go out again she will have to wait her turn. We are trying to make the conversations to the phone as much as possible. And if we go out, we come back, wash our hands, legs, face, we then bathe, and wash our clothes. We are also asking others to do the same.
Did you have access to an N-95 mask?
Jaya: No sir, it was very difficult to get it, but we are using the ones we made at home. Ramdas [local MLA] and ministry of health gave a few masks and some groceries, but we are not supposed to use them after a certain amount of time [3-4 hours], it is not recommended.
Did your family support you financially during these few months?
Jaya: No sir, no. I have left my family long back, no support from them. This is my story, the others, they have a different story. As I have no family, I am the only one who has to think of my daughter. But for a few, it is not just their daughter, but the full family that they have to take care of. Most of the sex workers are alone, they don't have a family, or, they are the one member in the family who earns.
What about your partner? Did they help?
Jaya: Most of the partners of the sex workers I know are dependent on the sex workers themselves, so no, they don't help. And even if the partners did help, how much can they help? Not much. They aren't in a good job or anything. Not government jobs, just coolies or things like that. And they also their own families to take care of. Also, they too are very scared to go out and earn in such a situation.
Did you look for any alternate source of income in the last three months?
Jaya: Most of the people in our community are not well educated. A few who have studied a little try to take tuition to the kids in their neighbourhood. But now the schools are also closed. And to be careful during this time, the kids don't go to tuition. But as most of us are not well educated it is difficult for us to get or do any other job. We are teaching the members of our community to make masks and sanitisers at home so they can for ₹10 or ₹20. A few of them are going as daily wage agriculture labours. I mean they have to do something, their needs, rent, kids, family, and parents in a few cases, and if things go wrong they need to see the doctor, and if medicines are prescribed, they need to buy those, can't prioritise in this. It is just not possible to survive without earning. No matter what, at least ₹2000 is required if you want to have a roof over your head.
When did you first hear about coronavirus?
Jaya: March 21st sir. Initially I thought it was just another virus that caused fever and nothing as serious as HIV. But eventually I realised the gravity of the situation. At least for HIV there is a treatment that is available to the public, but it is not so with COVID, that is my main problem now.
What was your initial reaction to the spread of coronavirus and the lockdowns?
Jaya: I was really shocked when I heard about the lockdown, I knew what that would mean for the people in my community. This is nothing like the troubles I have faced earlier, I am very worried about the future. I just can't stop thinking if this is how I would have to spend the rest of my life. Many others in my community are thinking the same thing.
When did the effects of COVID-19 start reflecting in your life?
Jaya: Started effecting my life more than three months ago sir.
Did you ever get a chance to work in the last three months?
Jaya: There are absolutely no clients. The clients themselves are very scared, no sex work at all from the past three months.
When do you plan on resuming your work?
I just can't predict sir, because this is a chronic disease, and there is no vaccine, I really don't know how the situations will turn out. A few people in my community are ready to wait and struggle for some more time before starting to work again. But the few who are really broke, they really need the money, so they are ready to start working again. Life is really important for them, they don't want to die of starvation, so they really can't take precautions. I am very worried about these people, and just can't stop thinking about the vulnerability of the situation. That is why I am making a lot of phone calls daily.
When you start seeing the clients again after the lockdown, what are the precautions that you are going to take?
Jaya: Firstly, I really can't practice social-distancing with them. If not the client, we will definitely wear a mask all along. It will be compulsory for the client to use a sanitiser. I will just ask him to take what is available and leave [giggles]. Just can't touch anything, you know. We are actually not allowed to travel for sex work now, so we are planning to do whatever it is online only sir. Like tempting them over phone, and having sex over phone. Like setting them up to the mood of sex over phone, but they should satisfy themselves as we help. And they can pay over Google Pay or something like that. Even for those who come to us, we are planning to ask them to sit a certain distance apart, we will help them set the mood for sex, and help them, while they satisfy themselves. But touching them is too risky. That is what all the people in the community are discussing these days. We need to avoid physical sex, and stick to tele sex. Few sex workers in Africa and in the Asia sex workers network proposed to change the positions for better safety. Nothing is sure yet, but sex is physical most of the time, it is going to be hard to maintain social-distancing.
Apart from Ashodaya community did any other community, NGO or government provide any aid or any help?
Jaya: Absolutely nothing sir. Some send over some groceries, except that nothing. The government has a few schemes, but there are problems even with that, most of the aid would go the Schedule Caste or the Schedule Tribes in our community, and that they would have more preference. But our community has people from all the casts, not just the SC/STs. And if most of the aid goes to them, what are the others supposed to do? Groceries somehow we are managing. We have written a letter about the medicines also, but we don't know what their reply to our request will be. And with the schemes, this is the problem. And importantly, we need a shelter, as rent is not affordable anymore. Even though we are working as sex workers, our relatives, neighbours, and friends don't know that. We go the same time the other ladies in the neighbourhood go to work, and its kept a secret like that. And the neighbours are getting doubtful and skeptical about us now, they are stigmatised more now.
How is this situation different from 2009, when H1N1 Swine Flu was going around?
Jaya: We did not have much issues with it because the treatment came right away and the spread was this fast either. That did not seem very difficult to us, honestly. But here, someone could have no symptoms but can harm you.
How old are you and how long do you plan on doing this job?
Jaya: I am 40, almost approaching 41 now. I am planning to do it as long I can sir. My daughter also has completed her BA [Bachelor of Arts] and BEd [Bachelor of Education] and has a job now. Once I marry her off my responsibility is less. After that I plan on starting my own business or something.
What are the important things you have learnt during your time working as a sex worker?
Jaya: Majorly, thinking that life will stay the way it is, or the way it is planned it not true. There is too much to learn in life and with that we can make a successful life for us. If one assumes that this is all I can do and just stops putting in the effort, it is not possible to empower oneself with that mentality. We might be in a horrendous situation, but we often forget that we also the skill to deal with that situation. If we just use that skill and try, we can empower ourselves, we can do anything, we can achieve anything, this is a lesson that I have learnt. It is like the saying "Failure is the first step towards success in life". Be confident.
What are the things that the government should have done differently, according to you, so that the situation was better handled?
Jaya: They should decriminalised the sex work. Just like how the other jobs are considered a job, if sex work was treated the same way, we would have received the same equality that someone else gets, we won't be stigmatised. That way we could freely be with people and stay in a time where everyone is treated equally. We could have saved ourself a lot of harassment and trouble if things were like that. I want the government to have not just equality of religion or caste, but equality of work too.
Well those were all the questions I had for you. Would you like to add anything?
Jaya: One request I have is, just writing this article is not important, I want people to understand what the sex workers need. I want to be an example for everyone. Life is much more than just being a sex worker. People need to understand that a sex worker is also a human and will have problems any other human would have. I request the government to help us better in actually delivering the help they promise us. I don't want this article to be read and written with empathy and not sympathy. I want people to just understand our lives through this, and not pity us or feel sad. We want peoples support, not sympathy.
Well, thank you very much for your time, for discussing this and sharing almost everything that you could possibly. It was really nice speaking to you. I wish you good luck for your life and have a good day ahead.
- 200 in New Delhi, India drink cow urine to fight off COVID-19, March 17, 2020
- Wikinews discusses International Women's Day celebration with Mysore Divisional Railway Manager, March 8, 2020
Categories this article belonged to
- Crime and law
- Human rights
- Infectious disease
- Politics and conflicts