They are subject to abuse – physical and mental – because they are stress-busters for clients. Their souls are battered. Their bruises are deeper than what is visible on the outer layer of their skin. A number of them are threatened by the police who are supposed to protect them and are labelled as contaminated. After being pained beyond explanation, female sex-workers arecounselled and then trained in a vocational course to earn a living. Does this actually rehabilitate them? “Not as much. I always earned more doing sex work. The vocational training can be additional income but it doesn’t really help,” says Bindu, a 24-year-old sex worker. Without either encouraging or discouraging the female sex worker community from indulging in sex work, the Single Window project has opened multiple doors for the community to reduce their financial burden. “The needs of the community members are basic – food, water, shelter and education. The Single Window has helped the six community organisations Jansi Lakshmi, Pragathi, Pratibha, Sakthi, Ushodaya and Jyothi – with identifying government schemes and other social entitlements. This reduces their financial burden to a large extent,” points Upendra Nath, district programme coordinator, CFAR, Anathapur .
Majority of the community members have their ration cards and that takes care of their food. A good number of them have access to widow pension (`1000). “We are trying to induct as many children as possible into government schools and hostels, which reduces the mothers’ burden a lot more,” chips in Upendra, while adding, “There are quite a few women who still need to get access to these social entitlements. Around 383 vulnerable women – elderly, widows, single women and physically-challenged – applied for pension, but only 16 were sanctioned. It is still a good number and we are trying to pass on applications and speed up the process as and how they come to us.” In case of issuing Aadhar cards for the community members, the local government officials acknowledged their vulnerabilty and were liberal in providing them with the cards. “Most of them don’t have ration cards because they migrate frequently. Issuing Aadhar cards for them would have been difficult if not for the government officials,” says Upendra.
Besides government schemes, Single Window has also helped in getting loans sanctioned from various corporations – SC, ST and BC.
“The tribal corporation sanctioned a loan to set up small businesses. There was a woman who was selling fruits. She applied for a loan so that she could buy her own cart. She got it,” Upendra tells us. She is HIV positive and was hence given priority.
Another option that includes sex workers is social auditing from which 16 community members benefited Savitha, a 30-year-old community member, shares, “We were trained for a day and then went onto the field and did the auditing work for five days. Our job was to find out if the many government schemes are actually reaching people.” Not just making a note, but also ensuring that the gaps are filled. “We found one lady in Beluguppa mandal in Ananthapur who worked for 10 days but got paid only for five. We brought it to the notice of the field assistant and made sure that she got paid at the Maha Sabha held at the mandal level,” recalls Savitha. Same was the case with a 60-year-old lady whose pension application was left pending due to change in political parties. “We took it to the Mandal Revenue Office’s notice and processed that application,” beams Savitha. They were paid a total of `2500 for three days of work. Savitha discontinued sex work five years ago and does a number of such odd jobs. Her children are enrolled in local government schools. Other women make a living as hawkers selling household items, vegetables, fruits etc.